Like the poor soul who’s all dressed up with nowhere to go, a good press release doesn't want to sit on your desk.
Though your press release must blare "This is a great story!" its true success is determined by who pays attention to it, who prints it, and who decides to follow up and write a story about your new product or business.
Let's get that right by following these three -- well, ok FOUR steps!
1. Determine your audience and its media preferences.
Are you pitching a new product or a new business? (Focus, focus; it can't be both.) If it's a product, does it have mass appeal or specialized appeal? What kind of people will buy the product? If, for example, the market is women who clean their own homes, then you want to target magazines like Good Housekeeping and House & Garden, morning television, and local newspapers in regions of the country where many women tend to work in the home.
Is it a techie product? Make sure Wired, PC Magazine, and the dozens of other tech publications are on your list as well as techie newspaper columnists, bloggers, and radio and television personalities. Serious tech reporters will want to test your product before they pump it, so be ready to send or bring demonstration samples.
If your news is a business, is it an on-line business with little face-to-face customer interaction, or is it a storefront or service business whose success is dependent on foot traffic? On-line businesses can be specialized like CDW or very generic like Amazon.com . If you're opening a storefront, it's likely your audience will be local, so your dissemination targets will be local or regional newspapers and TV and radio news stations. Some kind of promotion for your store opening could be the subject of your press release or the teaser. (see 10 Tips for Writing Successful Press Releases)
2. Prepare your contact list.
Get the names and telephone numbers of your media contacts. The best way to find them is through each organization's switchboard. You may be transferred to a news desk in the specific area. Ask that person the best way to get your press release read... who you should send it to and what is the best way to make sure that person reads it. Don't be shy; there is nothing wrong with asking for direction. News people do understand what you need and, for the most part, they are extremely helpful.
You will not need to rewrite your press release for each specific editor, but you may need to present your release differently to individual contacts. Some may prefer email contact, so make sure you know what to put in the subject area of that email to insure the editor reads it. Others will want to know more about your news on the phone before they decided if they are interested in receiving your release. You may be referred to the editor's assistant. That's fine.
My advice is don't buck the protocol. Follow the contact's advice if you can't connect with the decision maker personally. Even if you buy third row symphony seats next to the business editor of your top target newspaper, you probably won't get a polite reception when you tell her about your invention entre'acte.
Note I: There are plenty of media lists available on the web (Google "media lists"). I have not had good luck with the lists I've used; phone numbers and email addresses seem to change as soon as they are published. My old-fashioned way of calling organization switchboards is what I recommend, because that's what you will likely end up doing anyway. But do use free lists like Mondo Times and Newslink to obtain web links to media sites. You may be able to obtain submission protocols from the site.
Note II: If you are wondering why I've not mentioned press release services, I'll tell you before you bend out of shape. The answer is: This level of contact can't be achieved by a press release service. These services (some are listed below) make your press releases easily accessible to the media, even the right target media, but they can't make the media "drink." That's why you need a personal pitch.
I'm not writing out of my hat; I have had the experience of using a few of these services, and stilll, the only publications that printed my release or followed up with a story were those with whom I had personal contact. If you must use a service, you should still contact your top 20 targets personally, especially magazine and electronic media.
The one service I would look at carefully is the Associated Press.
It's submission service is free, easy to target by department, and it's hard to beat a service that is picked up all over the world... but, I still bet on greater success using the personal touch.
3. Tailor your pitch to each media target.
Know thy media. Are the news editors swamped with a zillion press releases a day? If so, you can bet that most of them go unread. National and large regional newspapers fit this category, so if you are lucky enough to contact even the editor's assistant, be ready to pitch. "I'm Jasper Jones and I've patented a way to remove a man's daily beard growth without a razor, but with a wand. May I send you a press release and picture of my Wizard Wand? (answer "Sure, go ahead.") Would you prefer mail or email and is there anything special I can do to alert you to it?"
That's your pitch - 30 to 60 seconds. Your name, your invention, benefits of it. Get the press release out quickly with a great picture of your product (see 10 Marketing Tips for Inventors and Entrepreneurs ).
Follow up a week after delivery. "Ms. Bottleneck, this is Jasper Jones. I spoke to you briefly last week about my Wizard Wand that can remove a man's beard in 15 seconds without dangerous cutting tools. Were you able to look over the materials I sent you? Do you think your readership would be interested in knowing about this development?"
If the editor has not seen your release yet, you should send another with a note and call back a second time. After two pitches, unless encouraged by the editor, I would not try again until you have reached another milestone with your product.
What is NEW... that's always where your focus should be.
4. (Bonus Tip) Be aware of all opportunities for publicity, not only the ones you initiate.
Opportunities happen when others see you at your best with your product or in your business.
I am reminded of the first story that was published about my Nukkles® invention. I started selling these massage tools myself at an open-air weekend bazaar on the California coast. I was always "on" when demonstrating Nukkles because the reaction people had to them was so immediate and so stunning that it was a great kick for me.
Well, those demonstrations really paid off in free publicity. Not only did they sell fast, but my customers would bring Nukkles to their offices to demonstrate them to their co-workers, and a week later their co-workers would come to the bazaar and buy several pairs at a time for all their friends and family.
Well, within two weeks of Nukkles' "debut," before I had time to even think about writing a press release, a reporter called me for an interview, and the upshot was a pretty big spread in the business section of a large-readership newspaper. This story came about because a colleague had massaged his back with Nukkles! (I doubt if I could get into his office to do that!)
That single article really propelled my business. Before I knew it, I was selling Nukkles wholesale to chiropractors and massage therapists who had read the article, and they were spreading the word to their colleagues in other states! My wholesale sellers also created publicity because they were having so much fun selling them!
I have worked with other inventors whose enthusiasm for what they created has magically turned into free publicity for their business. Your actions are always reflecting your business; make sure they are always infused with positive energy.
You are your own best or worst publicity for your product or business.
More about that in a future column. Stay tuned.
Press Release Distribution Services (I do am not endorsing any of these services. I list them here merely for you to check out, if you are interested. MP)
Internet News Bureau
Mass Media Distribution, LLC
PR.com Promote Your Business
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For more advice and information, make sure to check out our section Invention Information Guide for Inventors.