Last Updated May 31, 2007 6:26 PM EDT
Journalists—whether they work for print publications, television stations, or radio—are always interested in hearing about good stories. If you know the right way to supply information to the press in the form of press releases, feature articles, or advertorials, you can gain great visibility for your company.
Journalists have tight deadlines and are always needing story ideas, so they welcome well-written, informative, and current news from companies. It is important that you have a story to tell, though, and that you pitch your story to the proper press outlet. The various media outlets have different audiences and therefore will be interested in different information. For instance, a local newspaper or magazine may be interested in your company's community service work, while a trade press would like to hear about your latest product launch. As you decide what to promote to the press, think about what distinguishes your company from others.
To learn the particular interests of your local media outlets, consider developing a relationship with editors. Give them a call or schedule a brief meeting, and ask how you can be a resource for them. You might also make a habit of consuming your local media to get a better feel for what gets covered. By concentrating on the kind of news and stories editors want, you can save yourself time and increase your chances of being published.
There are pros and cons to either method. An external firm will be more objective and may have more experience writing for various publications on your distribution list. They may be better able to tailor material for individual outlets. The cost of working with a firm may be too expensive, though, so be sure to consider your budget with the firm's costs. In addition, a public relations firm will lack product knowledge and may require considerable training. In some cases, you might choose to divide who handles what type of press material, writing technical press releases in-house and having the firm produce company or business material.
Sometimes you might be able to write just one press release, but usually you will increase your chances of getting published if you tailor your information to the needs of specific media outlets. For instance, your local newspaper will have different interests than a trade journal or a radio show. Take time to identify the interests of various publications by talking to editors, reading or listening to previous coverage, and studying publishers' readership data.
Just because you submit a press release doesn't guarantee you will get published. Even if you produce a great release tailored to a specific publication, there are many reasons outside your control why the editor will not pick it up. For instance, space might be tight for that issue, or another similar story is already being published. On the other hand, it is also possible your release just was not appropriate or newsworthy. Don't be afraid to call the editor and ask the reason. If your release was inappropriate, take time to learn how you can submit more relevant information in the future.
Press releases are concise, written documents announcing current, newsworthy topics that are distributed to print, television, or radio outlets. Journalists may publish or broadcast your press release directly, or they may shorten it to fit available space, rewrite it, or contact you for more information. Press releases may be distributed for many reasons, including: To announce a new product or service; to inform about company developments; or to announce new hires or promotions.
Feature articles, generally 500–2,000 words in length, are published in magazines and may be credited to an organization. Articles may discuss technical or business developments in an industry, share the results of research, or provide other practical or topical information for readers. These types of articles allow companies to demonstrate their expertise and professional leadership.
A magazine may publish a well-written feature article without modification. In other cases, a journalist or editor will contact you for further information and rewrite the article to suit their publication style.
Advertorials are a special type of feature article, which is a mix of advertising and editorial content. The primary purpose of advertorials is to promote products and services. Key traits of advertorials include:
- They often include a special promotion, such as a chance to enter a drawing or contest.
- They are identified as a "special advertising feature" in the publication.
- They appear as editorial content, rather than as traditional advertisement.
- Companies pay publications for advertorial space.
Writing advertorials is similar to writing press releases or feature articles, but because you are paying to be published, you have considerably more control over content. In addition, publications often will assist you with design and layout.
First of all, be sure your press release contains news and not thinly disguised advertising. As you plan your press release, think about what will interest a particular media outlet's readership or broadcast audience.
Keep in mind the many ways that journalists use press releases: If your release is newsworthy and timely, a journalist may publish it without modification; often, though, press releases are shortened to fit available space; other times a journalist or editor will contact you for more information and rewrite the story in the style of their publication. If a journalist contacts you, it is advisable to be prepared to offer them additional background information. They may be interested in product specifications, contact details, or alternative photographs. Some companies offer such information in a press section of their Web site.
Here are some basic guidelines for producing a press release:
- Use double-spaced text.
- Generally, limit your release to 1–2 pages.
- Clearly identify your company name or the source of the release.
- Identify a contact name, phone number, and email address for further information.
- State any limitations on the use or timing of publication for the release. For instance, you might say, "not for publication before…"
- Put the most important information in the first paragraphs. Editors are most likely to shorten the release for space from the bottom up.
- Include quotes from managers, project participants, community leaders, or other relevant individuals. These add depth to your release and make it more interesting.
- Send photographs or diagrams along with the release, especially when distributing to print media. Editors and readers like visuals, and including them will increase your chances of being published.
- Match your writing style to that of your target publication.
You can deliver press releases by hand, regular mail, email, or fax. If you know how a particular editor prefers to receive press releases, be sure to keep that in mind. For instance, some editors like receiving press releases by email, while others don't. You also can post press releases on your Web site for visiting journalists or to share news with your customers. Whenever possible, learn the names of the individuals to whom you send press releases, rather than just sending to the unnamed "editors" of various publications. To get information on editorial contacts, you can check publication Web sites, call their switchboard, or use publications such as Public Relations Quarterly, which is updated regularly.
Make sure that your release reaches the editor by their copy deadline, preferably earlier.
Deadlines vary for different publications. Note that magazine deadlines tend to fall much farther ahead of publication than those for newspapers. If you're not sure of the deadline for a particular publication, call and ask, or use Public Relations Quarterly.
There are many different types of feature articles, and some may be more appropriate than others for your company or for particular publications. To decide on a topic, think about industry surveys or research in which you've participated, new industry or technology breakthroughs, or expertise you can share—for instance, in a "how-to" article. The most important thing is that the topic will be of interest to a magazine's readers.
Your feature article should contain information that is useful or of interest to readers. Here are some basic guidelines for producing feature articles:
- Use double-spaced text.
- Discuss appropriate length with the magazine's editor, but generally keep length to between 500–2,000 words. 1,000 words is average for feature articles.
- Identify a contact name, phone number, and email address for further information.
- Include photographs, diagrams, or other visuals to support your article. Write a caption for every visual you send.
- If you are writing an article in response to a particular magazine's request, take care to meet their requirements.
Submit feature articles only to one publication at a time. If your article is rejected by one publication, you can modify it for other markets. Whenever possible, know the name of the individual to whom you send the article.
Be sure to submit your article by the magazine's copy deadline, preferably earlier. If the magazine has an editorial calendar, you might choose to submit the article for a particular month's topic or for inclusion in a survey. In this case, talk to the appropriate editor to ensure your article meets their editorial requirements.
Be sure you know what types of information the various publications on your distribution list are seeking. Editors can scan a press release and know very quickly if it will interest their readers. Inappropriate releases will just be thrown away. Before submitting press material, take time to get to know a publication's content and audience. Many press outlets also maintain readership statistics, which you can view online or request by contacting the publication.
As they say, "Old news is no news." Sending out-of-date press releases is a waste of time. Take care that your news is current and that you meet the target publication's deadline. Meeting deadlines is fairly easy for daily or weekly publications. However, they can be trickier to remember with monthly publications—be sure that you check to find out the appropriate copy deadlines and fit them in your schedule. If you must release a sensitive news story early to meet a deadline, be sure to place a clause on it that says something like "not for publication before…" (in prominent type) to protect your company's interests.
Editors are turned off by press material that seems to be merely a veiled advertisement. Unless you are producing an advertorial, be sure your press release or feature article provides factual, newsworthy information that will interest readers. You should not use press material to blatantly promote your company or products.
Treadwell, Donald, and Jill B. Treadwell.
Public Relations Society of America: www.prsa.org