How to cultivate press release success

By: Rachel Hill Ponko

Hitting send on your press release and not getting the results you hoped for or expected? Even while using a major distribution service?

I can’t say I’m surprised.

Since leaving tv news, I’ve seen my fair share of confusion from clients who are sure they did everything right – but received few media hits. The hard truth is that many factors come into play when trying to land your dream coverage through the distribution of a press release.

I’m sure I’m not the first to tell you that reporters, producers and editors are bombarded with press releases every minute of every day, except for maybe a few days in December. Throw in a holiday snowstorm, looking at you Indianapolis 2012, and even then – all bets are off.

The good news is that there are steps you can take to help cut through the noise and use a press release to amplify your announcements and achievements.

(1) Get to know how your target newsrooms work. When do they start morning and afternoon story meetings and are most actively looking for story ideas? Who oversees long-term story planning? When I first moved to Indianapolis at age 25, I produced the weekend morning shows for a local tv station. Thursday was my designated scheduling day and the typical cut-off for booking weekend interviews and live shots. Most often, those who pitched me on a Friday were out of luck.

(2) Identify reporters who are interested in and knowledgeable about your industry. This isn’t to say you can’t have success by blasting every reporter in a newsroom, but I’m willing to bet the ones who follow up often have more than a passing interest in what you do. I didn’t often see the crime reporter pitching medical or consumer news stories is all I’m saying.

(3) Make your content hard to resist. I don’t mean that in the way you might think. It doesn’t take the most sensational headline to land a hit. Have a conversational release free (or mostly free) of industry jargon? Are you upfront about the opportunity for interviews, b-roll and other visual elements? Most of all – would your press release topic be easy to humanize?

Newsrooms are leaner than ever. There is a benefit to being as transparent as possible as to what a reporter can accomplish under deadline. The same often goes for producers.

On many occasions, I’d look to my inbox to help fill an open 30 seconds in my newscast. I’d do a quick scan of the day’s press releases, looking for a story that could be explained easily and offer viewer benefit in that short timeframe. The winners were often those who used plain language to describe their announcements and achievements, especially those who included an image. The company that sent their release as a pdf with text that couldn’t be copied and pasted into my news software for reworking? Forget it. The best part – those who landed the 30-second news story almost always received a longer, more in-depth web story as well.

(4) Remember, relationships are built over days, months and years – not with a single press release. If you’re relying on infrequent press release distribution to build name recognition for your company and your internal PR and leadership teams, there’s a good chance you’re not making headway. Feel free to reach out to a reporter with an offer to connect over coffee or arrange a time to chat when neither of you is on deadline. (Just don’t follow up on your press release with additional emails, texts and calls. Nothing good will come of it.)

Yes, I’m here to tell you that despite the promises made by your chosen distribution company, building a solid media relations foundation takes research, planning and thoughtful execution.

Fortunately, the reality is that today’s newsrooms have such large news content holes to fill that, in time, the work you put in will pay off. Morning shows that historically ran from 5 to 7 a.m. may instead start at 4:30 a.m. or segway right into the noon show. Evening broadcasts now start at 4 p.m. or end at 7 p.m. Producers who used to have an extra 30 seconds to fill (raises hand) may now have multiple minutes. Additionally, many media outlets have digital and social media offerings.

Some of the benefits of entering the world of media relations after spending more than a decade in tv news were that I understood how those in newsrooms think and what they were looking for. This knowledge has served me well, and at FireStarter, we put this experience to work serving our clients.

Contact us to learn more about how we can help you strategize to find success through media relations.