Category Archives: Community

7 keys to a successful press release

Marty Karlon: The Blog (NASDAQ: MKB) is pleased to announce an innovative, full-featured post that contains cutting-edge common sense in a simple, easy-to-use interface.

“We are pleased to share this post with our valued audience. We feel it provides the out-of-the-box thinking and industry-leading best practices that people have come to expect from …”

(Cue fingernails on chalkboard).

SCREECH!

If you’re still reading – and I pray you are – you’ll know that the first two paragraphs were an unsuccessful attempt at parodying a press release. I say unsuccessful because it would only work as a parody if it wasn’t so darn close to the real thing.

As an editor, I was on the receiving end of some comically bad press releases. I probably should have saved some for laughs, but, honestly, there were so many that it wasn’t worth the effort.

Although I firmly believe inbound marketing is where organizations should focus their energies these days, a well-crafted press release can still be worth the effort. With perpetually shrinking staffs, editors are often just looking for something (anything) to fill a hole. While the merits of this approach to journalism are debatable, it’s become a fact of life in many newsrooms. An entertaining, informative release can catch the eye of a harried editor looking to assign a quick turnaround story. And even if it doesn’t, a well-written press release that reads like a news story is more likely than ever to be run by smaller papers that no longer have the resources to do everything themselves.

Here are the seven elements of a well-crafted press release:

1. State your business: In the first two paragraphs of my attempted parody, the subject of the post is never mentioned. You have to read further down to get to the point. And guess what? Ninety percent of readers won’t ever get there.

2. The “So What?” factor: Why is this news? What does it mean for your customers, or the public in general? If your announcement doesn’t matter to anyone but you, it isn’t newsworthy.

3. Be clever: Pretend, just for a second, that everyone isn’t anxiously checking their inbox, waiting for your next press release. Pretend that you have to actually make it interesting. Ask yourself this question: “If I didn’t have to write this, would I actually read it?” If the honest answer is no, then spend some time looking for an angle that would make you – and others – want to keep reading.

4. Close the thesaurus: Everything isn’t “innovative” and “game-changing,” but that doesn’t mean it isn’t useful. Be conversational and don’t let hyperbole get the best of you.

5. Skip the useless quotes: Don’t plug in a series of repetitive, redundant quotes from the CEO, COO, SVP for Global Strategy, etc. If you quote someone, make sure they say something that adds to the narrative, or something memorable that might get used in a “real” news story. (Since most of these quotes are ghostwritten anyway, save some time and don’t even bother making them up.)

6. Provide useful contact info: As an editor, I occasionally received press releases interesting or meaningful enough for me to want learn more. On more than one occasion, however, the contact person knew little or nothing about the actual content of the release. If you’ve done a good job convincing a news organization to pursue your release, don’t mess things up by making them jump through hoops to speak to the person they need to reach.

7. Write a good headline: Don’t oversell, but make it clever (see No. 3).

There’s one more thing, although it’s so insultingly obvious I didn’t include it in the list: Don’t lie.

Several years ago, one of the two local hospitals my newspaper covered sent out a press release saying they were the first one in the state to have a new type of medical device. My paper dutifully assigned a story, and the morning it ran, the other hospital called to say they’d been using a device that did the same thing for the past year. When we followed up with the first hospital, they said their machine was from a different manufacturer, so they actually did have the “first” device of “this kind” in the state. That answer was, to be polite, total crap, and it made everyone skeptical of their PR department for years.

The lesson: Make sure you don’t bend the truth, leave out pertinent facts or oversell your news. If you do, and you’re caught, you may never fully recover the trust you lose.

If  you follow these steps and your release gets published or becomes the basis of a news story, let me know. Just don’t tell me you are “pleased to announce” the news.

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The care and feeding of a potential brand evangelist

I miss Nancy.

Not that I ever met her face-to-face, but we spoke on the phone many times when I was editor of a weekly newspaper.

Nancy (not her real name) was, depending on your perspective, a pain-in-the-neck old lady or the conscience of our brand. I prefer to think of her as the latter, although, admittedly, getting a call from her on deadline could sometimes change my opinion, briefly.

In a nutshell, Nancy would call me up when something was wrong in the newspaper. Usually, a church listing concerning her congregation, but sometimes complaints about why we put the story about the teenage drinking party on the front page and the story about a local teen volunteering for City Year on the back.

A younger, more tightly wound colleague couldn’t stand hearing from her, but to me, she was something the newspaper had far too few of – a reader who cared deeply about her community and her local paper.

Our first chat concerned a messed up church listing. In it, she explained that she first went to the church secretary and the pastor, who told her that they didn’t bother calling the paper because they didn’t think we cared about things like church listings. Nancy told them she’d take care of it, and she called me straight away. When she explained the chain of events to me, I thanked her for caring enough to let me know. I explained to her that the newspaper wanted to know when it was doing something wrong, and too many people would rather badmouth us over an error than actually contact us to get it fixed. I invited her to call me anytime she saw something wrong or had a question.

She took me up on the offer.

I didn’t really think about it in marketing terms at the time, but in hindsight Nancy was a critic who cared enough about the product to become a brand evangelist.

Just from talking to her, I knew she wasn’t one to mince words and that she gladly shared her opinion with anyone who would listen, so I knew that if we fixed any mistakes she pointed out or gave her a reasonable explanation of how and why we played certain stories, she’d tell her neighbors that the paper really cared about getting things right and making reasoned decisions.

I didn’t do this to turn her into a brand evangelist. I did it because it was the right thing to do, and any editor or reporter who blows off people like Nancy is shooting themself in the foot.

Even though about 80 percent of what Nancy called me about concerned things we were doing wrong – or what she thought we were doing wrong – I found myself enjoying our chats. She was always civil and pleasant – it was like chatting with my grandmother. On many occasions, we agreed to disagree, but we always ended out conversation on a friendly note.

So what’s the point of this trip down memory lane? It should be obvious. Every brand has its Nancys, and every organization needs to realize that they aren’t necessarily the enemy.

I was Bruce Ismay on Twitter

I conceived and implemented my first live Twitter event in less than a day last week. It didn’t work out nearly as well as I hoped, but I still think it has some potential.

Potential for what, I have no idea.

Maybe it’s the next Fake AP Stylebook or maybe it’s clever enough that an employer will see it and hire me on the spot. Of course, that’s not why I did it. This was just for fun, which, it seems to me, is how a lot of good things start out.

Anyway, flash back to last Tuesday night, when I saw a reference about the April 15 anniversary of the Titanic sinking from someone I follow on Twitter. Somehow, I got the idea that it would be fun if I could get a bunch of my friends to create Twitter accounts representing real people on the Titanic, spend a few minutes researching who they were, and then tweet in real time for a few hours leading up to when the ship went down (2:20 a.m., April 15, 1912).

I figured that I knew enough quick wits with a penchant for gallows humor – i.e. current or former journalists – and other assorted wise-acres that if we could reach a critical mass, we could share some laughs.

I made the pitch on Facebook, sending a message to a dozen or so friends. Or course, since I thought this up at 8 p.m. on a work night – which also was the night when “Lost” had a new, Hurley-centric episode and “Glee” was back after a four-month hiatus – I didn’t have a lot of success reaching people and only got three others to play along.

It wasn’t enough to make the event, which was a little too heavy on foreshadowing and a little to light on really killer tweets, super memorable. Still, I’m grateful for their efforts, which produced exchanges like this:

You can click here to see the whole thread or search Twitter for the hashtag #titanicsinking.

Now, this being the Internet and all, I’m 99 percent certain someone else already came up with the idea doing limited-duration, real-time historical parodies/reenactments. However, a non-exhaustive Google search only turned up examples of ongoing parodies and legitimate historical reenactments on Twitter, which I already knew about as a follower of “UK War Cabinet.”

So, what’s the future for these events? I’d like to try to do others with more lead time and see how they turn out. The one that comes to mind right now is the fiftieth anniversary of Election Day 1960 (“AmbassadorK: @jfk – Mayor D says people are ‘dying’ to vote for you in Chicago, wink wink”).

Anyone have other ideas?

Springtime in my town

Flood 2010, Version 2.0

There’s a road under there, somewhere.

Why my town hall should tweet

I just looked to see if my town has a Twitter account.

I was heartened when the search results came up and (mytown)NH showed up, with the town seal as the picture. But it turned out to be a local real estate agent listing places for sale plus a few random comments.

Now, I have nothing against real estate agents using Twitter. In fact, I think it’s a great service for home buyers and I wish it existed the last time we were looking for a new home. The thing that disappoints me is that my town isn’t tweeting.

We recently had a massive rain/windstorm that closed roads and knocked out power for days and the town did a great job dealing with it and keeping people informed via the Web and an automated phone alert system (which it bought earlier this year for several thousand dollars in the wake of the even-more-disastrous ice storm in December 2008). But for people with mobile devices who had no power and, in some cases, no phone service, a Twitter feed would have been additionally helpful – and wouldn’t have cost the town any extra money.

I can see this being useful for more mundane news, as well: Reminders about dog license renewals, info on when the DPW is doing road work are, scam warnings from the police and even notifications of when meeting agendas and minutes are posted on the Web. This is the kind of content that daily newspapers have long since abandoned and which may be too time-sensitive for weeklies to accommodate.

Sure, somebody at Town Hall (actually several somebodies) would need to send this information out, but think of how useful it would be for residents, how it would build, dare we say, “brand loyalty” for town government. Maybe, down the road, if enough residents subscribe, it could supplant the newspaper as a repository for the legal notices the town is required by law to disseminate, thereby saving money.

I’ll be reworking the essence of this post into an e-mail to my town administrator. I’ll let you know how this works out. Does your town or local public school tweet?