Dear Press Release: You’re A Tool

Dear Press Release: You’re A Tool

No offense. Really.

You are an important tool, not what the Urban Dictionary says is “one who lacks the mental capacity to know he is being used. A fool. A cretin. Characterized by low intelligence and/or self-esteem.”

So what brings this declaration? I got this a question today on Quora: “Should I follow up on my press release?” If you’re a journalist, I feel your pain. Many a journalist has complained appropriately about the hundreds upon hundreds of emails that begin with “I’m following up on….”

So what do you say to help a Quora inquirer? I began with “STOP!”

Let me explain. If you already have a press release and you’ve already sent it out — whether to a curated list or via a wire service — it’s out there. It’s been picked up in RSS feeds. If a reporter picks it up, they will reach out if they need more information. Hopefully, the press release was written well and presents the intriguing facts of your story. But it’s simply a tool.  Once it is out, it’s out – precisely why we often hear this referred to as the “spray and pray” strategy.

If you send an email or leave a voicemail message that says anything akin to “I wanted to follow up with you on my press release…”, you’re email or phone message will end up in the trash.

It would be far better to start with a strategy.

  • What do you want to accomplish?
  • Who do you need to reach with the story?
  • What is your target market for your product or service and why do they need to hear this story?
  • What publications, websites, podcasts, blogs and other outlets reach your target audience?

Once you set on your strategy and develop a plan, you can identify the right tactical approach.

  • Study the target media and develop a unique pitch to intrigue the writer or producer
  • READ or WATCH what stories they produce – in fact, go to back issues and read five or more stories. You will be able to glean their interests and points of view. This will make the pitch even more effective.
  • Write your pitch with that specific media person in mind. If the current press release helps to illustrate that pitch, then by all means include it in the email (embedded, not attached).
  • Now you are working to build a relationship by providing each reporter specific information tailored to their interests and audience.

From this day forward, please see the press release as what it is: a tool. It helps tell a story. It provides content and context. But it is and never was meant to be a standalone. Develop a strategy for each news announcement. What do you need to say? Who needs to hear it? Why will it be important to them? What are the media vehicles that reach that audience? and so forth. Develop a list. If this is big news, who should get pre-briefed under embargo?

The secret is in the strategy and how you implement it. I hope this is useful.