Below are some basic tips I've learned to get media coverage and make the most of a press release:
- Mondays and Fridays are often bad days for distributing press releases. I’ve heard many theories for why this is true but I suspect it is at least partly common sense --- we all
prefer not having more things to-do on Mondays and Fridays. We are either rushing to catch-up from the weekend or rushing to enjoy it.
- Check to see what other newsworthy events are taking place on the day you distribute your release. It’s always a bit of a crap shoot. I once had a confirmed story in a
celebrity-oriented magazine overshadowed by a photo of a celebrity doing drugs in a bathroom. Nevertheless, check the local and national news to see if anything big is happening.
- Make sure your title is catchy enough to capture the editor or writer's attention.
You write the press release for information purposes but you write the title to capture the eye of a decision maker so that he reads the release. For example, the title Hunger Charity Holds First Annual Special Event doesn't inspire much interest. Hunger Charity Prepares to Feed 1000 Local Homeless sounds like something significant is happening.
- Make sure your press release is newsworthy. Ask yourself how often have you read stories with a similar theme? If not often, think twice about sending it. I know many charities think they’ll send additional press releases when they have updates. Unfortunately, this reduces the chances that the media will cover your story. If you write one press release, your chances are greater. The writer has more information with which to work and the story is more likely to be newsworthy.
- Include quotes from key people in the press release. If you are asking a high-profile
person for a quote, you may consider sending them a "suggested quote" that you have written for them. Do a little research on their previous quotes and comments to see if you can capture their speech patterns. If you do this, it’s more likely that they will accept your suggestions, which is great because you have, of course, made sure the quote hits all the important points. The quote will also sound more authentic to the reader. I’ve read many quotes attributed to professional athletes with whom I’ve worked that sounded nothing like them. Writers and editors are less likely to use these awkward quotes because they sound canned.
- Most writers will pull sentences directly from your press release so make sure it is simply and clearly written. The standard recommended reading level is sixth-grade. Some Microsoft Word versions will tell you the grade level for a document you have written.
- Carefully consider what information you include in the About section of the press release. This is the section at the bottom of the press release in which you summarize your organization for the writers and editors to reference. If you write a very thorough but long description of your charity, the writer may pluck one or two less relevant sentences. You may want to consider a brief, more targeted description.
- If you have pictures to go with the story, upload them to the Internet and include a link in your press release so that writers can easily access them. If writers have to call you to ask for pictures, and don’t receive them by their deadline, it could make the difference between covering and not covering the story.
- Add an action item to the press release. How can people who read about your story help your charity? A story without an action step is a wasted PR opportunity. Does donating
$25 feed a child for a month? Does buying a $250 VIP ticket to an event educate one child for a year? Be as specific as you can. Ideally, your website should allow visitors to quickly and easily take this action step. Remember my mantra, make it as easy as possible for people to take the action you want. Require fewer clicks and fewer phone calls.
- Make sure you update your website to accurately reflect the information in the press release. If a potential donor visits the website after reading a story only to find conflicting or missing information, they may think twice about making their gift. Don't give them an excuse.