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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).


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.


15 ideas in 15 minutes: A Slice of NH

A pair of good friends recently started a really cool blog – A Slice of New Hampshire.

Their self-stated goal – “Touring the Granite State to create the ultimate guide for the ultimate food” – is to eat their way through the state’s pizza joints, one pie at a time.

Their site is a work in progress. Over a recent lunch (surprisingly, not pizza), I offered to share a few suggestions with them and they agreed to let me blog about it.

The shtick of this post is that I only gave myself 15 minutes to tool around the site and I had to come up with at least 15 viable, not-too-difficult ideas concerning design, content, or marketing.

Here goes:

1. Give the most recent review a more “centerpiece-style” look to give the home page more impact.

2. Whether you go to a centerpiece module or not, there are too many reviews on the home page. Try limiting the home page to four or five posts, tops.

3. Even if you’re unable to consistently go statewide, try to get a bigger geographic sampling of reviews. Maybe plan weekend getaways to the North Country, Upper Valley, Keene, etc. and hit a couple places that way. Maybe as a gimmick, go to the northernmost and southernmost pizza places in the state.

4. Once you get more geographically spread out, a Google map of the state with push-pins marking places you reviewed would be cool. In the short term, add a Google map to each review page so people can get directions easily if they want to act on your recommendations.

5. Create a gallery for all the pizza photos you have. Ask readers to share their pizza photos, too. Maybe take some funny shots with slices arranged like Pac-Man or a Jack-O-Lantern and/or ask readers to submit their own creative “pizza art.”

6. A weekly poll question would be fun for the home page – pepperoni or sausage, all veggies vs. all meat, etc.

7. Add a Twitter feed to the open spot on the right rail of the home page that tracks any references to @pizzanh.

8. A couple design tweaks: On the little wrap-around banner above each review, take the hyperlink to the home page off your names, it makes it really hard to read with the red background and since you are the only two reviewers you really don’t need a link there. Also, the plus-sign graphics next to the county names makes me think they would open a collapsible list, which they don’t. Use a different kind of bullet.

9. At the end of the reviews, put a “rate this review” widget so people who don’t want to leave a comment can still participate in the conversation.

10. Think about adding videos – maybe interview a pizza chef about secrets a home cook can use, or do a tongue-in-cheek video showing the best way to eat cold pizza. Nothing fancy, just fun.

11. In terms of monetizing the blog, try selling ads. You can also offer to post full menus of places you reviewed for an annual fee.

12. Notify a pizza place after you review them positively and invite them to post the review on their bulletin board – it’s a free ad for your site.

13. When you review a place or two in a new geographic area, send a news release to the local paper. If they run anything, it’s free PR for the site.

14. Offer your reviews to print publications, such as Hippo Press or the Union Leader’s NH Weekend to build influence and reach for your blog. You could also try to land a weekly gig on a morning radio program.

15. Find and link to all other NH-related food sites and see if you can get links back to your site. Also, if there are any sites that list NH blogs, add your blog to the list.

The right content for the right channel

A new report from Pew Internet & American Life Project on “Understanding the Participatory News Consumer” has some interesting data:

 In this new multi-platform media environment, people’s relationship to news is becoming portable, personalized, and participatory. These new metrics stand out:

Portable : 33% of cell phone owners now access news on their cell phones.

Personalized : 28% of internet users have customized their home page to include news from sources and on topics that particularly interest them.

Participatory : 37% of internet users have contributed to the creation of news, commented about it, or disseminated it via postings on social media sites like Facebook or Twitter.

This is useful information to be sure, but I hope small and mid-size media outlets – or any content-producing organizations, for that matter – don’t take the key findings simply as marching orders to push more random content out onto mobile channels and stick more random widgets on their Web pages.

 After working in journalism, where instant analysis is valued – and sometimes overvalued at the expense of actual market research – I can imagine the dialogues in some places:

Publisher: “I just read the new Pew survey. We need to make all our content more available for mobile users, we need to make our Web site customizable, we need to allow users to share our content on as many social media sites as possible and we also need to push this content out to those platforms ourselves. And get it done before May 1.”

Managers in online and editorial departments: “OK, boss. We’ll get right on it.”

What’s missing in the script – and will be missing in many places – is an in-depth exploration of what kind of content do mobile users want and what kind of content do they want to share. More questions: How do they want it? When? How does it differ from the traditional news content we’re currently cranking out? What unique, location-specific content can we offer better than anyone else? Do we have the resources to provide it? How will we measure the success of these efforts?

And, once we know those answers and many others, what do we hope to gain from the effort?

Finally, if this is, in fact, a priority initiative, can we create an organizational infrastructure that makes it a priority?

 That last one is tough, especially for resource-starved organizations that are already trying to do too much with too little (and are doing it progressively worse as a result). The lack of resources and the relentless pressure to generate content traps many organizations into fighting an endless series of daily skirmishes and prevents them from ever stepping back and assessing the entire battlefield.

As I noted in a previous post, convenience plus content equals customer loyalty (I think I made that up myself, but am leery of taking credit because I’m sure it’s got to be floating around elsewhere in the blogosphere). If you buy that equation, try these variations: Convenience plus infrequent, spotty content equals running in place. Convenience plus bad, useless content equals irrelevancy.

In other words, focus on the content strategy first and the tactics will become obvious.

Of course, some organizations (hopefully including my former company) will take the time to step back and figure this out; we’ll be able to tell which ones did because they’ll be the success stories that everyone will be copying next year.

Papa’s got a brand new blog


This site has been set up to showcase my writing and design portfolios, although I know I won’t be able to keep from blogging about media, politics, pop culture, fantasy baseball, New Hampshire and whatever else comes up.