Press Kit Elements That Work

Considering how fundamental they are to the publicist's trade,
it's always amazed me how lousy almost all press kits truly are.
Your typical press kit is a bloated folder filled with puffery,
hype, irrelevant information and worse. The vast majority of
these monstrosities do little besides kill trees and clog
newsroom trash baskets.

The good news is that creating a press kit that actually works
really isn't that hard. Let's look at the elements of a winning
press kit, and help you avoid some common pitfalls.

The Psychology of a Press Kit

There are two fundamental rules to creating a good press kit:

1. The press kit exists to make the journalist's life easier, not
for you to present sales messages and hype. Good publicists are
journalist-centric -- that is, they think from the perspective of
the recipient, not the sender. They take the time to learn what
journalists need and then they give it to them in as simple,
straightforward and user-friendly a manner as possible.
Remember, publicity is not about you -- it's about giving
journalists what they need to create a strong story.

2. Everything in the press kit goes to support your clincher.
Everything else gets yanked out. (A refresher: a "clincher" is
my term for the one or two line distillation of your publicity
message. It's the publicist's version of the Universal Selling
Proposition that marketers use to boil a product's marketing
message down to its essence.) You lay out your clincher in the
pitch letter that gets clipped to the cover of the press kit, and
the press kit serves to flesh out and support your clincher.
That's it. If your clincher is that you've brought a radical new
way of thinking to your market segment, then a backgrounder about
your "old fashioned commitment to excellence" not only doesn't
support your clincher, it may actually contradict it.

The Elements of a Press Kit

The Cover: In my twenty years as a publicist, I have never
encountered a single journalist who told me the cover a press kit
had the slightest impact on their decision whether to run a
story. Yet, businesses still spend thousands on glossy, four
color folder covers. Don't bother. A simple colored folder with
your business name imprinted upon it will work just fine.

Some businesses choose to get stickers printed up with their logo
and place them on blank folders, which is fine too, as long as
the stickers are neatly applied. Either way, don't obsess over
it -- it's what's inside that counts.

Letterhead: The first page of each press kit element should be
on your letterhead. Some folks prefer to get special "News from
(name of company)" letterhead printed, although, again, I doubt
it really matters.

The Lead Release: If your press kit is going out in support of
an announcement, an event, a trend story or for another specific
purpose, the release that lays out the news should be the first
thing a journalist sees upon opening the folder. This "lead
release" should be positioned at the front of the right side of
the folder.

Backgrounder: This is the element of your kit that provides,
well, the background information to support your pitch. It's
written in the fashion of a standard news feature (i.e. in third
person, objective tone). This is typically the longest element
in a press kit, often going 2 or 3 pages. As you're crafting
this, keep something important in mind: if a journalist is
reading your backgrounder, chances are he's already interested in
your pitch. If he wasn't, he wouldn't bother with it. You've
hooked him and the backgrounder can reel him in. To do so, you
must answer the two questions he has: "Is the claim made in the
pitch legitimate?" and "Is there enough material here for me to
do a story?"

Your pitch letter (based on your clincher) made a claim of some
sort about you, your company or your product. You're the
fastest, the most advanced, the hottest-selling, the most civic-
minded, etc. Now you have to back up your claim. Your
backgrounder is where this happens. Provide proof, by giving
concrete examples, third party observations, study results, etc.
to support your pitch. If you're claiming that there's a trend
taking place, here's where you provide the statistics to back it
up. If you've claimed that you've won more awards that anyone
else in town, here's where you describe them. Don't stray from
your purpose -- to reel in the journalist by convincing him that
your claim is legit.

The backgrounder also must demonstrate that enough material
exists to support the claim - and that it will be easy for the
journalist to access this information. Journalists don't have
time to do extended investigation on every piece. Provides leads
to websites, trade journals, experts and other resources to back
up your claim and help the journalist complete the story, you'll
have a big edge.

To write a backgrounder, do some role playing. You're a
reporter. Your editor has handed you a pitch letter and said
"write this up". In this case, of course, the pitch letter is
your own. While you're writing it, try to forget that the piece
is, essentially, about you. Pretend you're an objective
reporter. Track down resources, dig up stats, interview
experts. Try to see if you can create a credible piece that
proves the pitch's claim to be valid and interesting to the
reader. If you can, you've got a great backgrounder. If you
can't, it may be time to come up with a new pitch!

Bio: Only include bios of people who are relevant to the pitch.
A bio of your sales manager in a press kit designed to support a
claim of technological superiority is pointless. A bio of your
head of R&D is valid. Keep bios short (three paragraphs at the
most) and include only information relevant to the pitch. The
fact your head of R&D spent twenty years at NASA is relevant,
that she loves golf and has two cats isn't. The point of a bio:
to show the legitimacy of those quoted in your release or being
offered for interview, and to help the reporter craft a short
description of the person when writing the piece.

Fact Sheet: The fact sheet should distill the entire press kit
into an "at a glance" document. Keep it short, use bullet points
and bold headings. For example, I might start with the heading
The Story: and include a bullet point repeating the pitch. The
next heading might be Why It's Important: followed by some
bullet points putting the pitch into a broader industry-wide (or
perhaps even worldwide) context. Finally, I might use the
heading Why (name of my company) is at the Heart of this Vital
Story: and run some bullet points taken from the backgrounder
giving support to my claim. Put this fact sheet at the front of
the left side of the folder, just across from the lead release.
This sort of fact sheet is amazingly powerful and almost never
crafted in the fashion I just laid out. I've sold countless
stories because of this style of fact sheet and you can too.

Other Stuff: Filling out the kit with a company brochure and a
photo or two is reasonable, but don't get carried away. Keep your
kit simple, stick to your clincher and think like a journalist,
not a marketer, and you'll have crafted a first class press kit!

Bill Stoller, the "Publicity Insider", has spent two decades as
one of America's top publicists. Now, through his website, eZine
and subscription newsletter, Free Publicity: The Newsletter for
PR-Hungry Businesses's sharing -- for the very first time -- his secrets of scoring
big publicity. For free articles, killer publicity tips and
much, much more, visit Bill's exclusive new site:

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