Over two recent days, I received 50 press releases in my inbox — only one wasn’t deleted.
As a journalist, I can tell you that most press releases just don’t work. This is partially because the medium is a relic of another age. There was a time, not long ago, when press releases would arrive at one central newsroom fax machine and would be sorted and distributed by an editor. It was an industrial process and had a certain amount of efficiency. Now, the same press release can go to every reporter in a news organization, taking a little time from each of us. We skim through the first paragraph and make a quick decision before we move on to the dozens of other e-mails that demand our attention.
It’s not that the communication form itself doesn’t work. The press release is a helpful tool when it gives reporters and editors the basic information they need, filled with concrete facts and figures and a clear story that’s relevant to what they cover. Those types of press releases aren’t the norm.
Here are three suggestions for making your press releases more effective and moving beyond them to better ways to work with reporters:
1. Don’t bury the lede and keep your audience in mind. Most journalists don’t want a walk-in story with a clever lede, they want you to get to the point. Remember that reporters and editors have to deal with dozens of press releases a day and skim the content. You get bonus points if you put key, newsworthy numbers and concrete nouns in your subject line.
3. Understand the reporter. Targeting a pitch now may be easier than it ever was before. Many publications are trying to build a brand for each reporter, giving them profiles on-site profiles and easy links to archives of their stories. Even a quick Google or Twitter search will help you better understand what a journalist cares about. A personal note, even three lines above a press release in an e-mail, shows that you understand what the reporter is looking for and will probably get you at least a response e-mail and a chance to open a relationship.
4. Become a resource. Reporters aren’t looking for press releases, they are looking for stories and sources. We are all pressed for time and many of us don’t get out of the office as much as we would like to, so we need you to help us know what’s going on. We want to hear from you even when you don’t have something you’d like us to cover. Let us know if you are seeing any trends in your field or in the geographic area, even if it isn’t related to your organization. Ask a key local reporter or editor out for coffee to see what they are working on and how you can help.
I know what I’m suggesting isn’t easy, of course. This is something that takes time, but you’ll find your time — and the time of the reporters you work with — will be better spent.