Press Release Writing: 12 Tips To Attract the Attention of Journalists

052115Writing a press release may seem like a chore, but it’s really a great tool to use to share information about your organization, association or company. But it’s important to be succinct and clear – journalists spend on average, less than one minute reviewing your press release before hitting the delete button or deciding to get more information or use it.

Tip #1: Use a clear, eye-catching headline. A well-written attention-grabbing headline that shares the most important and newsworthy nugget of information in your press release is key. It’s important though not to be too clever. Being obtuse, silly or anything that renders your news unclear, will get your press release deleted.

Tip #2: Sub-headlines can be helpful. I’ve always been a fan of using a sub-headline, usually in italics below the main headline, to offer additional insight or include source information.

Tip #3: Think carefully about your subject line for your email. In a study last year on journalists and press releases, 79 percent of journalists said subject lines greatly influence whether they open an email with a press release or not.

Tip #4: Get to the point right away. Your first sentence should really summarize in a nutshell the main news you are sharing. This is no time for you to set a stage and build up to your announcement at the end of the paragraph (or even worse, a few paragraphs down). Just spill the beans, please.

Tip: 5: Use Associated Press style. At least give a deferential nod to AP style. Journalists know it and use it. Easy things to fix – state abbreviations in your dateline. There are plenty of AP style tips online.

Tip #6: Use numbers. Statistics, data and numbers bolster your cause and provide context and amplitude. Even if your press release is discussing an interesting situation or observation that is anecdotal but that you think may be a bigger problem, you can sometimes find data in other sources that you can cite in a press release. The point is to give a sense of scope and to verify what you are sharing.

Tip #7: Offer infographics, photos or video if you can. These additional assets can help time-stressed reporters and bloggers access your information and are especially useful if you are reaching out to smaller markets. It’s usually best to have these materials up on your website and link to them in the press release. Do not send them as attachments.

Tip #8: Avoid using a lot of acronyms and internal language. This is where I often see nonprofits struggle, especially if the press release must be “approved” by a committee of people who don’t all work with the media on a daily basis. Internal jargon does not belong in a press release. If you are making statements like, “we had to include this sentence to keep so and so happy,” and not “we had to include this sentence to make the press release more interesting to reporters” – then your release may be set up to struggle at getting attention.

Tip #9: Include a relevant quote written in an informed, conversational tone. While some journalists have remarked that they find canned quotes on press releases to be a pain and never use them, I’ve also seen a lot of journalists use them for sake of expediency. It’s fine to include a quote in your press release. Frame it about the topic, say something interesting, and do not be purely self-promotional.

Tip #10: Don’t regurgitate your boilerplate again at the bottom of the release if you don’t have to – you are just adding to length. If you have a standard news release boilerplate containing information about your organization, association or small business, and you include some of that information in your release copy, then don’t feel the need to regurgitate all of that information again in the boilerplate. You are just adding to length.

Tip #11: Keep it brief. One page is great. Two pages maximum.

Tip #12: Include contact information. Make sure that you include clearly labeled media contact information with a name, phone number and email address for someone who can (and will) respond promptly to any media inquiries or needs.

Bonus tip: Deliver your release pasted into the body copy of an email. This may not be a writing tip, but it is very important. Do not send your release as an attachment. And don’t send only a hyperlink to your press release in an email with a headline and no body copy – this forces a journalist to click and go see the press release on your website. Over the years, I have had clients tell me that releases should be sent as attachments, or only sent as hyperlinks so journalists can “see their branding.” You need for journalists to see your news in your press release and decide to do a story or to keep you on their list of people with interesting story ideas who can make my life as a harried journalist easier. They won’t see your news at all if you send your press release as an attachment or a lonely hyperlink. After they read your news, you can worry about your branding (which should be more about authenticity and less about stunning people with logos).

 

Photo credit: Image courtesy of Kristen Nador and licensed under a Creative Commons license.

 

Ami Neiberger-Miller is a public relations strategist and writer. She is the founder of Steppingstone LLC, a virtual and independent public relations practice near Washington, D.C. that provides public relations counsel, social media engagement, writing services, and creative design for publications and websites. Ami is also a member of IPRA and serves on its marketing committee. Follow her on Twitter @AmazingPRMaven.

Q&A with Kelsey Pospisil

Author: Cara Richards, Marketing Coordinator, IDEA; PRSA-NCC Membership Committee Member

How to Get Involved with Our Local Chapter

Last month, you heard from Kate about how networking through PRSA-NCC led to her current job. Joining and becoming an active member of the D.C.-metro-area chapter opens up all kinds of opportunities. This month, I spoke to Kelsey Pospisil, Co-Chair of the New Professionals Committee, about her experience with the chapter. Kelsey shares what she wishes she had known when first joining and her secret to becoming a successful PRSA-NCC member.

Kelsey Pospisil

Above: Kelsey Pospisil, Co-Chair of PRSA-NCC New Professionals Committee

Q: How long have you been a PRSA member? PRSA-NCC?
KP:
I joined PRSA-NCC right when I joined PRSA, which was almost two years ago. Membership and engagement with the chapter has enriched my life greatly – personally and professionally.

Q: Since joining PRSA-NCC what types of events have you attended? How have you gotten involved?
KP:
One of the best things about PRSA-NCC is that there are events for everyone. I’ve gone to a lot of Professional Development and Membership events. Also, I am one of the co-chairs of the New Professionals committee, which has been incredibly rewarding. We host networking happy hours, professional development events, sporting games, etc. There are so many new professionals eager to get more involved in the industry and PRSA-NCC.

Q: What kind of benefits have you seen from being a part of the local PRSA chapter?
KP:
Meeting great people is hands down the best benefit. The takeaways I learn at every event are fantastic, but the people are what make PRSA-NCC what is it. Genuine, helpful, generous people make up PRSA-NCC, and that is by far the greatest benefit to my career and personal life.

Q: Is there anything you wish someone would have told you when you joined PRSA-NCC? 
KP: I wish someone would have told me to try not to be so shy in the beginning. It’s very easy to have the thought in your head, “Oh everyone already knows each other, so I’ll be out of place.” That couldn’t be further from the truth. Yes, people know each other, but PRSA-NCC members are welcoming and eager to make you feel comfortable – I’ve learned that firsthand.

Q: What advice do you have for new DC-area professionals entering the industry?

KP: Be confident enough in yourself to know you’re good at what you do, and that there are a lot of people who want to help you grow in your career. PRSA-NCC is a great outlet to meet those people. But I think the most important advice is not only to join PRSA-NCC, but to get involved as well. It’s easy to join a committee, and they’d welcome you with open arms!

 

Sponsored Content: The New King in Town

By Karen Addis, APR

We’ve all heard that content is king. But nowadays, sponsored content — also known as native advertising ― is the new, reigning king. What is this trend that is popping up everywhere and gaining increasing traction?

While terminology varies depending on who you talk to, sponsored content is generally defined as content an organization writes and pays to have placed in key outlets, outlets with which their audience engage. Think of an advertisement in the form of content versus a display ad.

But unlike advertorials of the past, today’s sponsored content tends to be more factual, with less of a marketing or sales bent. Sponsored content may serve to bring awareness to an issue or a cause, or inform or educate the public about a topic. It differs from true journalism because it tells the story from one side, the content creator’s viewpoint.

Sponsored content is everywhere. It appears in national news publications, such as The Washington Post; it appears on internet content platforms, such as Outbrain or Taboola; and it appears on internet portals, such as Yahoo.

From left: Kelly Andresen, Washington Post; Matt Bennett, moderator; Joan McGrath, Atlantic Media Strategies; Jonathan Rick, the Jonathan Rick Group; and Jeff Pyatt, Outbrain.

From left: Kelly Andresen, Washington Post; Matt Bennett, moderator; Joan McGrath, Atlantic Media Strategies; Jonathan Rick, the Jonathan Rick Group; and Jeff Pyatt, Outbrain.

When done well, sponsored content can be a highly effective way for organizations to engage with their audiences, according to a panel of speakers at the April 22 PRSA-NCC workshop, “Going Native: How Sponsored Content is Shaping Advertising, News and Messaging.” The 70+ attendees heard from leading experts about why sponsored content is here to stay and how major news organizations, such as The Washington Post and The Atlantic, have jumped into the fray, many of them launching in-house agencies created specifically to capitalize on this trend.

WP BrandConnect, for example, was launched by The Washington Post two years and has seen enormous growth in popularity, said Kelly Andresen, director of ad innovations and product strategy. “We are looking at how to best integrate content across all of our various platforms,” she said.

Joan McGrath, who oversees The Atlantic magazine’s in house agency, Atlantic Media Strategies, said nowadays it’s all about building digital strategies that engage readers.

Jeff Pyatt, head of global PR, direct response and local initiatives for Outbrain agrees, observing that sponsored content has overtaken banner ads in terms of how organizations are communicating with their audiences because people are suffering from “banner fatigue” and view sponsored content as “more authentic and engaging.”

But sponsored content is not cheap. The minimum buy for BuzzFeed, a highly popular content publishing company, is $100,000, according to Jonathan Rick, president of The Jonathan Rick Group, a local firm that specializes in content strategy.

However, there are less expensive ways to produce sponsored content. Both Andresen and McGrath said their organizations work with clients, such as associations and nonprofits, that have more limited budgets.

But before an organization jumps into sponsored content, panelists offered some parting advice.

“Content creation is really hard,” said Andresen. “There’s a reason The Post has 600+ journalists in the newsroom.”

“The quality of the content is critical,” said McGrath, who noted that The Atlantic does not accept all sponsored content that is submitted.

“Balancing between advertising and journalism – it’s a tricky thing to balance,” said Rick.

But, noted McGrath, quality sponsored content goes back to the fundamentals of good writing, something all panelists agree serves only to strengthen and solidify the need for PR professionals in the future.

Karen Addis, APR, is senior vice president at Van Eperen & Company, a full-service public relations and marketing communications agency in the Washington, DC, area.

How to Keep Your Online Video Out of Court

Sue Stolov

Sue Stolov, director, producer and writer with Washington Independent Productions in Washington, D.C.

Chances are pretty good that if you have been producing online video for your clients, you’ve probably included several of these:

  • A TV news clip
  • Stock images
  • Government provided b-roll
  • Several seconds of a song

Think you can do all that? Think again.

While new technology has made it easier to edit and post quicker, the laws are still the same. In fact, according to media and internet law attorney Laura Possessky “it’s gotten pretty challenging for PR to avoid legal issues with online video,” because “PR use is by definition not necessarily a commercial use, and it is not necessarily a news event, so the legal rules on this are more gray than black and white. That means PR professionals are always having to make that critical judgement—what is the piece going to represent and what is the context here.”

Combine that with the latest trend—the ramped up speed with which YouTube and other internet distributors pull down a video even if there is only a hint of copyright concern, and you’ve got a challenging situation. No one wants to waste their client’s money by producing a video that gets pulled, and no one wants that client’s video to wind up in court.

So how do we improve critical judgement skills? Learning some basics about copyright and fair use will empower you to know what you can and can’t do. And making some of these tips part of your video modus operandi can go a long way. So here’s what to look for with each of the above scenarios:

Using TV News Clips

This is probably the copyright issue that comes up most often in PR, and it’s where you really get to flex your judgement skills. Remember the Fair Use Doctrine that you studied in college? Here’s where it applies. At risk of simplifying something complex, media and internet attorney Joy Butler says it’s ok to use copyrighted material without obtaining permission under certain circumstances including “criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship and research.” This has been such a gray area, American University’s Center for Social Media and Washington College of Law put together a Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Online Video. It’s a great document and worth taking a look at. A co-author cautioned me that it focuses on online video and not specifically online PR video, and they would love to help our industry come up with its own code of best practices for PR video! If this is something that you think would be beneficial to PRSA membership, please let me know and perhaps we can form an exploratory committee.

As with most copyright issues, how you use the material is key. Using a snippet of a TV news clip to show how something was covered in the news media at the time would likely be considered fair use, as long as you’re not indicating that the news station endorsed your subject or product.

Using Stock Footage

Most people assume that paying a stock company for footage or images has them covered, but that is not necessarily the case. Butler, who has written a useful book and companion blog, The Permission Seeker’s Guide Through The Legal Jungle: Clearing Copyrights, Trademarks and Other Rights for Entertainment and Media Productions, says it’s really important to look closely at rights. Most stock footage releases permit use in promotional videos, but not videos about sensitive material. And she says a good example of this is a case filed against Getty Image in which a stock shot was used in an ad that implied the talent was HIV positive. The talent was not and she sued. “The license granted by the stock house frequently includes only rights related to the copyright of the image,” Butler explained, “and leaves the PR firm on its own to clear any additional rights triggered by the use of the image like privacy, publicity and defamation.”

Working on a Federal Government Project

Copyright is approached differently on government projects. Videos made by the federal government, by government employees, are not protected by copyright—that’s not a green light, though, to use footage from a government video. While copyright may be a non-issue, you’re still responsible for any privacy issues or releases from the people who appear in the video. And, if your firm’s producing a video for the government, you’ll need to have the producer sign a work made for hire agreement, otherwise the producer retains the copyright, even if it is paid for by the government.

Can I use that song I heard on the radio last week?

Only if you have a very big wallet and at least a month to obtain clearance! Any music that is used to move along a piece or create mood must be licensed. Get a copy of this license from the producer so you’ll always know how long you can use the music and you will have it if you or your client ever needs proof. Once the term is over, delete the video from the site. Even if you keep the video on a back page that no one can find without a specific URL, content trollers will find it. Music licensing companies have software that locates their music anywhere online, and they will bill you $1,000 or more if the rights were never purchased or expired—that’s what you could be charged even if your original cost would have been $75. No one wants to have to come up with that kind of money five years after a project has been completed.

Two Additional Tips

Both Possessky and Butler were pretty clear that there are steps you can take to minimize the chance you’ll need a lawyer after your video is posted.

  1. Plan Ahead

Possessky says that getting your ducks all in a row at kick-off is probably the most cost-effective way to avoid legal issues. From the start, think very carefully about how you will use the material. Will it be shown at a conference? How many people will see it? Will you use footage provided by a third party and if so in what context? Will it be online and how long?

  1. Review Release Forms

Release forms are especially important for PR firms because our clients will often use footage many different ways, over a period of several years. With most releases, the more encompassing you are with your intended use, the better. In her book, The Permission Seeker’s Guide mentioned earlier, Butler includes rights clearance checklists and sample releases that cover people, location, music, company names, products and 3rd party footage. This sample release from her book, “The rights I grant to Producer are irrevocable, perpetual, worldwide, and include the right to use the interview in any form, media, language or technology, now known or later developed,” would likely keep you covered for many years, and cover use in future mediums.

So it’s important that before you upload, you’ve clearly thought through how you are using the material as it relates to releases and rights. That will likely be your best shot in any video you make, and will keep you and your client’s beautifully produced video, online and out of court.

A longer version of this post will appear in the O’Dwyer’s Video & Social Media April issue.

Susan Stolov is a director, producer and writer with Washington Independent Productions in Washington, D.C. She currently authors the video tip series, Beyond Point and Shoot. Follow her @SueStolov and connect with her on LinkedIn.

Earning the APR

Written by Deanna Johnson, APR, CEBS, MSHRM
Director, Membership
American Benefits Council

Thanks to earning my APR back in 2002, I can actually see the forest for the trees on most days. In fact getting my accreditation opened up a whole new world of public relations theories and ideas with which I’d not been familiar, even though I’d been “in the business” for more than a decade. Like many, I came to PR from somewhere else: newspaper reporting in my case. In both professions you do a lot of writing, editing, interviewing and fact checking. But I found there’s an entire science to PR that I’d missed from “the other side of the notebook.”

Public relations is so much more than counting clips, tweets or ad imprints. You can tell the boss WHY something works when you apply PR theories and the “RPIE” (Research, Planning, Implementation, Evaluation) process in your every day job. It helps all the time that I can quickly sketch out in my head what a goal to resolve a problem might be, obtain the information I need to frame that issue and determine who my prime audience to address is. Next is deciding what behavior I plan to make them change, how I’m going to measure that, what strategies and tactics will best communicate that message and allow me to gauge the result, and to learn from what I’ve done and apply it to the next challenge. Earning the APR designation gives you the tools to control the chaos of an everyday work issue or your organization’s sudden need for/to avoid publicity.

Earning the APR

10888776353_9c71574e19_z-620x248To be clear, earning the APR will take time and effort. The usual recommendation is to have at least five years of PR experience and that you plan to spend about six months to a year undertaking this course of study. Candidates usually begin by taking a mini Jump Start course —the next course for PRSA-NCC is scheduled for May 29. You may opt as well to take the PRSA on-line course offered in addition to studying the recommended texts and forming a local study group. You’ll then submit a written statement of why you are earning your APR and a PR campaign that you plan to highlight in your Readiness Review. An application to proceed also goes to National at this time. At your Readiness Review, you present to a panel of APRs a public relations campaign that you’ve completed and explain how you have applied your studies to that work. If the panel feels that you’re then “ready to advance”, you’ll receive authorization from PRSA’s national headquarters to finish your studies and sit for the computer-based exam. For those in the military or with Department of Defense responsibilities, the process of earning your APM+M designation is similar.

Not every candidate will advance from that initial readiness review or pass the computer based exam on the first sitting, though NCC candidates do have some of the highest passing rates in the country. Our chapter provides great mentors who will support you through each hurdle and cheer you on to the finish. And IT IS worth the study, the knowledge gained, the self-confidence acquired, and the wonderful relationships you make with the peers you meet along the way. Earning your APR means you put out fewer daily fires and instead build a solid platform for your career and your organization.

 

Networking Elevated My Career

By: Kate Jones
@KateJonesPR

Katharine JonesNetworking, in our industry and especially in this city is standard. It is just as important as knowing how to write a great press release or pitch the media.

How did I grow my network? At first I didn’t really have one. I wasn’t working in D.C., making it that much more difficult to really commit to building my network. However, I knew that to grow professionally and personally I needed to put myself out there. I attended PRSA events monthly and joined the membership committee to elevate my involvement.

While attending a PRSA Young Professional and New Membership networking social, I met and became great friends with a fellow PRSA member. This connection not only developed into a great friendship but also led me to my current employment position.

By networking with industry professionals you inevitably meet peers or mentors that influence your career journey. PRSA networking events are more than chatting and a good cocktail. They are the spark to creating long-term friendships and professional relationships that elevate your experiences and career.

So when you’re super busy or tired or just not in the mood to socialize, just remember that all PR professionals need a strong network to grow.

 

Learn more about PRSA Membership

Prepare Thy Self: 5 Ways to Make Yourself a Better Media Trainer

Peter Piazza of Live Wire Media Relations, photo credit: Jay Morris

Peter Piazza of Live Wire Media Relations, photo credit: Jay Morris

By Nicole Duarte

To help your clients prepare for anything, you must first prepare yourself. In an April 9 reprise of a popular Independent Public Relations Alliance media training seminar, Peter Piazza and Angela Olson of Live Wire Media Relations, LLC outlined five ways PR practitioners can improve their training sessions.

  1. See what the reporter will see

It’s an often-skipped step, but research can make or break your training session. Before you meet with your clients, do a public record search to uncover any potential landmines. An ugly court case, embarrassing social media post, or past professional controversy may be just the ace a reporter will play to shake up the conversation or get the upper hand over your trainees.

  1. Shock and awe

Manufacture the anxiety clients will face in a tough interview to give them a chance to work through it. Managing anxiety and scrutiny is a skill like any other, and proficiency comes with practice. Trainers should use the first moments of their media training sessions to try to rattle interviewees, make them defensive or angry, and try to provoke them into saying something provocative or contentious. Hot lights, a live video camera, and some record of a prior embarrassing moment are all tools to unsettle your interviewees. Once you see them at their worst, you will be better able to help them get back – and stay – on message.

  1. Speak the truth

Your clients are relying on your expertise. Insist they hear it. Many staff media trainers pull their punches, hoping to keep the peace or avoid ruffling feathers, but it’s better if your client is embarrassed for a moment in your presence than humiliated on the Internet indefinitely. Be diplomatic, but don’t avoid telling your trainees if they have any distracting nervous habits, speak too fast, overuse jargon, come across as arrogant or defensive, or display any other behaviors that would make them look foolish or unprofessional.

  1. Play if Forward

Most media trainers do some form of practice or role-playing that simulates real interview conditions. However, media trainers need to apply their own news judgement to these conversations. Help your trainees refine their message points by asking tough questions and then pushing for clarity until you hear the quote the reporter should use. Questions like, “Why should anyone care,” “So what,” and “Prove it,” should elicit quote-worthy answers that move the story forward, and if they don’t, keep pushing.

  1. Add Value

Editors insert themselves to play up drama and tension. Reporters have a point of view and may be biased based on their sources. Both are outside your control. The best way to avoid surprises in how your clients’ quotes appear — or don’t appear — is to anticipate the reporter’s story and craft your message points to add value. Statistics and anecdotes can add context and color. Think about how your issue affects the heads, hearts, and wallets of the audience members, and illustrate your message points with examples and metaphors to which the audience can relate.

Just as organizations rely on their directors to lead with their expertise in their industries, your trainees will rely on your expertise to guide them through the news media landscape. You need to help your clients strategize how they might help reporters write better stories. Keep in mind how journalists do their job to think through how you can you help them do it faster and better. Your clients may be expert sources, but it is your chops and preparation that will ensure their expertise gets recognized.

For more information, see this refresher from Live Wire:  http://livewiredc.com/2013/08/a-quick-refresher-on-the-art-of-media-relations/ or check out the PRSA recap of the last Live Wire event: http://theprsanccblog.com/2013/10/30/teaching-old-dogs-new-tricks/

Nicole Duarte is Senior Communications Manager at the Center for Community Change.
Connect with her on LinkedIn at: http://www.linkedin.com/in/nicoleaduarte