Do you ever wonder what really happens to your news release after you hit the send button? Well, I have been thinking about it a lot lately. More and more, it seems like the “press” as we know it is shrinking. Newspapers and TV stations are laying off staff to protect profits and social media is driving much of the headlines today.
Certainly, I have my own opinions about the value of a well-written news release, but I’ve been curious to know if the media actually pays attention to releases. As a result, I agreed to participate in a recent panel discussion at the Connect 2014 Conference in Columbia, S.C. The International Association of Business Communicators and the South Carolina Chapter of the Public Relations Society of America hosted the conference.
Our session was titled, “The Life Expectancy of a Press Release.” Participating on the panel with me were Bertram Rantin, a reporter with the State newspaper and Sherranda Neal, Content Manager for WLTX News 19 in Columbia. Initially, we discussed the elements of a good release. Both Bertram and Sherranda emphasized that releases needed to provide “complete” information. They cited many instances of releases that omitted locations or important dates, etc. While this was interesting, I really wanted to know whether they actually paid any attention to releases at all.
Much to my surprise, they both indicated that they did pay attention to releases that came to their personal email address. While they both process a lot of emails each day, they have systems to handle them and actually use the releases to help guide their story selection.
So, what were my takeaways from the session and how can you put these to good use in your PR efforts?
1. Make sure your releases have complete information and contain all-important information in the top-third section of the release.
2. Send your releases to the personal email addresses of your contacts, not to the general delivery email address of the newsroom.
3. Do call to follow up and make sure they received the release and ask if you can provide anything further. Both reporters said that they appreciated follow-up. Sherranda in particular noted that she gave better attention to those that asked her about her day and spent some time visiting with her prior to “pitching.”
4. Proofread carefully. Bertram noted that he reads and rewrites his stories seven times before submitting them to his editors. He expects PR professionals to be just as careful.
5. AP Style is not as critical as you might think. Both reporters noted that they did not care if you stuck strictly to AP Style, as they use the releases for direction and do not ever extract information directly for a story.
6. Do not rely on social media to reach reporters – Neither reporter monitored social media to get his/her story ideas. Both mentioned using it for research, but that was after they had become interested.
7. Do not rely on wire distribution to reach local reporters – Neither reporter watched the wire for stories.
8. Do not underestimate the value of personal relationships. Both panel members admitted to taking care of those they had a personal relationship with.
While both Bertram and Sherranda represent local reporters, I think it is fair to say that they are representative of today’s modern journalist. They are busy professionals interested in doing a great job for the media companies they work for. For me, I came away with some very valuable insights and plan to put these lessons to work right away in our agency.