I first came across the art of the press release at my community college when I was the editor-in-chief of the school newspaper. As someone very new to journalism at the time, seeing the flood of press releases in my inbox was helpful in generating story ideas for the paper.
But after a while, the flood can get a bit overwhelming.
While I would get dozens of press releases a day emailed to me, what we were looking for was always the same: We needed content that would be relevant and interesting to the students. What would they care about?
This is true for any newspaper. I worked as the copy chief of EMU’s Eastern Echo, and today I work as a copy editor for my hometown newspaper. Every newspaper has readers with different interests and values.
Anything that doesn’t catch our attention, even from the email subject line, is overlooked because there simply isn’t enough time to read everything in-depth. (And if someone “shouted” at me in the subject line with all caps, I’m pretty sure I just deleted it right away.)
Here are some tips to get journalists to pay attention to what you’re pitching (without shouting):
Know who you’re talking to. You’ll be much more likely to get interest in what you’re pitching if it is relevant to the audience of the news organization/reporter you’re contacting. Check out what they cover. Just today at work the city editor got an email from a PR person about a TV station in a different state, then she got a follow-up call. For one, they’re in a different state, and two, we’re print, not TV.
Be clear/focused. After you snag them with your awesome headline/subject line, make sure what follows is clear and to the point. And make sure the copy is clean.
Make it human. The facts are always great, but what about the people? Who does it affect? This will show reporters why they should care about what you’re saying.
Be accurate and available. Any false or inaccurate information will damage your credibility, just like in any profession. But it also helps to be available after sending out information so the reporter can contact you if they have questions/concerns.
Be timely. Just like with anything, timing is everything. And timing to journalists is especially important with those tight deadlines.
The PR/journalism relationship is mutual – we each can benefit and learn from each other.