So, you’ve worked out what your press release is trying to say and how it’s going to be found; you’ve written it and prepared the photography. Now it’s time to send it out to journalists and editors. And boy, do some companies get this spectacularly wrong.
Andy Sandford edits a magazine as a freelance and does PR for various manufacturing clients. He says: “What I like to send and receive is an email with a clear and concise subject line explaining exactly what the release is about. Sending them out, I include a personalised greeting if I know the person, and a formal greeting if I don’t. Then a brief sentence explaining what is in the release and asking them politely to consider using it.
“The release is pasted into the body of the email, and sometimes attached as a Microsoft Word .doc too, although this isn’t crucial. What I really hate is PDFs. I don’t care if the formatting is pretty and in the correct corporate style. I know there are ways of converting PDFs back into text and pictures – but it doesn’t work very smoothly and if I am going to cut and paste a section for editing, I start getting fed up of taking out line breaks.”
Should you just send out the press release and leave it at that? In the main, yes. Technical PR agency Stone Junction surveyed journalists a year ago, and advises clients that – in the engineering sector at least – only very important stories and feature work should be pitched in advance, and following up general press releases should be avoided altogether. Thirty three per cent of journalists sampled cited pestering phone calls as the most annoying habit of PR consultants. There are a few PR companies that send press releases over and then ring within one day to ask if you’re going to use it; and when you say you haven’t made a decision yet they keep calling until you have! complained one engineering design journalist. Most (bad PR habits) I can live with, but calling me up to ask if I received a press release and whether I’m likely to use it is a particular irritation, agreed another industrial sector reporter.
With his editorial hat on, Andy Sandford adds that untargeted press releases are the biggest nuisance: “Above all, I really hate the hundreds of emails I get from people who have just used a media distribution list or service and haven’t bothered to take the trouble to find out what we actually write about. Once I have deleted one of their press releases as being irrelevant, the chances are that I will delete the next one without even properly looking at it.”
As a rule of thumb, if you don’t know the journalist or their publication well enough to be able to write a personalised covering note, then maybe you shouldn’t be sending them the press release at all. And if knowing all those people and publications is too daunting a prospect, maybe you should be subcontracting out press release production to specialists. But if you do, make sure they’re following all the guidelines we’ve discussed this week, because as almost every journalist will tell you, some of the worst material, as well as some of the best, comes from PR agencies.