How to Write a Media Release That Wins You Coverage & Exposure

The Today show? The New York Times? Vanity Fair? What's your dream hit? While nothing inspires more fear and trepidation in public relations professionals than media relations, it doesn't have to be complicated. There are 2 keys to a press release... the Headline and making sure it doesn't sound like an advertisement, but more like it is news. A media release (which also goes by its former name, the press release) is a one page, double spaced, single-sided document designed to transmit news about books, products, and people. Don't forget that real live people, editors and producers, must pull the release from the fax machine and be motivated to read it.

In today's world, getting editors and producers to actually read your release is a challenge. Every day, people tap into the possibilities of free publicity and are becoming proactive in getting their voice heard. Editors & Writers, receive upward of hundreds to thousands of releases a week. However, only a small percentage is both appropriate for their audience and grabs my attention.

Distribution of your press release is just as important as the writing of the release. You want it to be seen, and more importantly, written up in the media. Below are 10 strategies to help you write releases that get your message heard and distributed.

1. Make sure the information is newsworthy.

? The most important information, including who, what, where, when and why, in the first sentences of the releases body, emphasizing why the event/article is newsworthy. You are competing with countless other issues and organizations for increasingly scarce space or air time.

? The selection of your project for funding (if timely),Any additional funding/extensions you receive, Any goals/stages your initiative has reached, How your initiative effects your community, university, etc, A local example of a national story (for example if any national stories appear on teaching and technology)

2. Target your audience. Only contact editors who write about your industry or topic. Make sure you send the press release to the appropriate editor; don't send a food story to a sports editor.

? Don't make the mistake of sending a press release to a group of general media sources in hopes that someone will pick up the story. In most cases, the bulk of your work will end up in the wastebasket, if your announcement has no interest to their readers.

? Find out the best way to contact your target audience. Not every journalist wants press releases by email. You may need to use postal mail, email, or faxes.

3. Write an attention grabbing headline. Make sure the first 10 words of your release are effective, as they are the most important.

? Realize that your headline must immediately "hook" a busy producer or editor at first glance. If your headline doesn't hook them, they won't read further.

? First, the subject line spells the difference between the release being opened or deleted. Second, you must target delivery of the email release carefully, or you risk being banned forever to the recipient's "bozo" file.

4. Deal with the facts. Avoid excessive use of adjectives and fancy language

? Clients Love Hits. Despite all the counseling, strategy, partnerships, writing and more, clients want media coverage. Until the industry creates better measurement systems, a full page Business Week story becomes a tangible "product" that your clients can hold in their hands and show to their boss.

? Follow with supporting background information and details. Some suggest a quote from a books/article/website to add credibility and depth to the release.

5. Provide as much Contact information as possible: Individual to Contact, address, phone, fax, email, Web site address.

? If writing about a web site, make sure the site is updated before you send your release. Editors will visit the site if they have an interest in your product/service.

6. If sending an email release, make sure to write the release within the body of the message.

? Don't send email press releases with attachments - they will be deleted immediately upon receipt.

7. It's All About Relationships. Whose call are you more likely to take? A vendor you've never spoken to before or one who has taken the time to develop a relationship and truly understands your needs? It is no different with the media. Building relationships NOW means that reporters will take your call when you've got an important story to tell. Best of all, even if they can't help you on this particular one, they are likely to refer you to another reporter who can. As with any relationship, building trust is critical. Do what you say you will, within the timeframe you give. You may not be able to provide all the information requested, but if you are upfront about what you can and can't do, reporters will appreciate it and remember. One reminder: everything is on the record, no matter how close you are.

? Journalists and producers need you and your news, but will lose respect if you hammer them with releases that don't apply to their market or beat. Discriminate.

? If this is a show or publication you are keenly interested in, call them with "new information" designed to create more excitement in featuring you.

? Keep a notebook with you and jot down names of appropriate media contacts as you read publications and hear radio interviews.

8. Know editor's deadlines. If you are sending a time-sensitive release, don't expect a magazine editor to cover your event scheduled for next week. Find out what the appropriate "lead time" is to send your press release for possible distribution in their media. Make it as easy as possible for media representatives to do their jobs.

9. Good Writing Counts. Adopt a journalistic approach. Look carefully at how reputable publications such as The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, or The Wall Street Journal write a story. What is the lead? What type of quotes do they use? Study different types of stories -- features, executive changes, and news articles. For the most part, you'll see the inverted pyramid style where the most important information is in the lead and the rest of the story flows from there. Despite recent e-word mania, it's time to eliminate jargon and buzz words. Say what you want, but say it simply and plainly. Another sign of weak writing is the use of clichés. Finally, ever feel like you just can't write that press release? This blockage often indicates you don't have enough information. Do outside research. Interview a customer. Get another perspective. Then you're sure to end up with a solid product that would appeal to any journalist.

10. Keep a "swipe file" of clever advertisements or headlines you can refer to when you need a creative boost.

Laura Aldridge is CEO of Aldridge Corporation, a minority, woman-owned strategic marketing communication & public relations firm. Big deal. That title sounds powerful, but don't be fooled. She readily admits you might catch her in the line of a local Los Angeles area store, playing with her husband and kids at the lake, coaching her daughter's cheerleading squad, watching youth football practices, or art show.

And on occasion she finds time to write articles on various topics, writing training material for technology based applications, speak at a conference or two, designing just about anything for almost anybody, making calls and trying to get her client's all the press and exposure they can handle, and serve on the board of directors for some great organizations. She's worked for a couple of great companies that saw the value of her ideas and style; she has won an award or two. But don't let the "powerful" title trick you; she's just "Laura" to most people.

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