This is a guest post by Steve Piacente
The first press release is traced to a 1906 train accident in which 50 people were killed in New Jersey. The goal? Minimize bad PR for the Pennsylvania Railroad.
But really, that couldn’t have been the first. I imagine a shrewd Roman chariot maker brainstorming with the boys (in togas) at the shop, jotting notes about price, craftsmanship, and customer service on an animal skin, then bringing it down to the Times New Roman and getting one of the scribes to do a story.
Regardless of how and when press releases began, we now have amazing abilities when it comes to creating and distributing them. We can embed links and videos and use social media tools to get the news far and wide.
Getting anyone to pay attention is another story.
The fact is that most press releases, be they from self-publishers or the mayor’s press secretary, wind up in the trash. Why? Lots of reasons:
- There’s no news
- It’s obvious self-promotion
- The release is poorly written
- It was sent to the wrong person
I could go on, but let’s switch to the positive and talk about how to increase the chance that your news release generates some coverage.
The headline and first paragraph (lead) of your release should be as punchy as your pitch to a potential reader. Use active verbs. Avoid passive language. Be creative and engaging. And keep it short. Also:
- Try to tie your story to something that’s making headlines or leading the nightly news. Reporters, editors and producers like to find new angles on stories that everyone is covering.
- Don’t save the good stuff. Writing a news release is the opposite of writing fiction. You don’t have time to build suspense. Think of the impatient guy with his finger on the clicker, and convince him you’re worth watching.
- Trim the hype. Think about how you react when an author starts in about her fantastic writing and mantle full of awards. Editors react the same way to over-the-top press releases: they turn and walk away.
- Clip the jargon. Some is okay, especially if you’re peddling something like science fiction. You have to establish your credibility. But too much will quickly cause that thousand-mile stare. No soup for you!
- Think of an angle that will benefit the publication’s audience. As in: I’ve learned a lot about self-publishing in my year in the trenches that I’d like to share with the readers. And oh yes, my novel happens to be about …
- Rinse and repeat when it comes to proofreading. One grammatical error, one spelling mistake, one arbitrary capital, and you’re done–direct, non-stop to the trash pail. Reading aloud should be part of proofreading.
- Remember that almost any news is good news. If a reporter or reviewer calls and wants to do the story a little differently than you envisioned, that’s fine. The goal is coverage, so be agreeable and flexible.
- Be ethical. You should know this already, but it’s worth repeating. Don’t ask the media for a favor, don’t offer anything resembling a bribe, and, for heaven’s sake, don’t lie. About anything.
You may be asking, how do I know if my release is clever, punchy and engaging? My answer: you’ve written a novel; there is creative DNA running around inside you. Your job here is to re-channel it and switch from creative writing to creative marketing. It may help to remember that the scarecrow didn’t need the wizard to give him a brain. All he needed was someone to help him realize it was in there the whole time.
About this post’s author:
Steve Piacente has years of writing experience, landing him jobs ranging from news reporter to speechwriter to journalism professor at American University. His novel Bella is available on Amazon. You can keep up with news from Steve and Bella on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and GoodReads.