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Still relevant after all these years - Happy 100th birthday to the press release

press release IV

Next month marks the 100th birthday of the press release. On October 28, 1906, more than 50 people lost their lives when one of the Pennsylvania Railroad’s new electric service trains jumped the track and plunged into Thoroughfare Creek near Atlantic City, New Jersey. The Pennsylvania Railroad was a client of Ivy Lee, a publicity expert who is largely considered to be a father of modern public relations. Concerned about the potential for bad press and negative media speculation, Lee wrote and distributed the first-ever press release on behalf of the railroad. He issued an announcement about the incident to all major newspapers, and also invited members of the press to ride a specially-designated train out to survey and document the scene for themselves. The approach was widely applauded for being open and honest. And the strategy was considered revolutionary. Not only did it facilitate journalists doing their job of providing accurate reporting, but it helped put rumors to rest, shoring up the brand and its side of the story.

Some may argue that the press release’s time has come and gone. But, here at AMPED, we have been successfully growing the media presence of our clients in industry publications, and a key component of our strategy revolves around using press releases. They remain a great way to spread the word out about our clients, while building their credibility and branding. While no longer considered even remotely revolutionary, press releases have certainly come a long way since Ivy Lee’s time.

I have compiled ideas below to help you maximize your time and effort put into using press releases.

Writing and preparation
Today, the content of a press release is often published as it is written, especially online, so write as if you are preparing an article for your target reader’s direct consumption. Focus more on the story and less on the accomplishments and accolades. Include photos, video, infographs and other assets that will help media outlets convey your story.

Consider how your press release fits into your sales process cycle. Every press release should include a call to action. Let readers know what you want them to do.

Finally, make sure your press release is optimized for SEO by including key words and using text links back to relevant web pages.

Use this opportunity to develop and strengthen your relationship with your industry publication contacts. Rather than sending a blanket communication to your entire contact list, send it out individually, communicating why your story matters to the audience they serve, asking if they will consider featuring your content and exploring how you might continue to work together in the future.

Finally, don’t forget about social media. Repurpose key nuggets from your press release into sharable social media content. And, certainly, amplify the effects of any resulting media coverage by promoting it through all your social media channels.

Just this morning, a colleague shared that she had received two requests for additional information from media who received a press release from us last week. The press release is not dead, but the times have changed.

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Relationships matter when working with the media


Not long ago, I noticed a Twitter post from a business reporter in search of a candidate for a story. I recognized it as an immediate fit for a client. Within a few hours, we confirmed an interview. A week later, our client was part of the feature story in the magazine. After a month, the reporter circled back to us asking if we had additional candidates for her profile. 

This shows why every opportunity should be taken advantage of to build relationships with the media.

Whether an association is searching for news opportunities or pitching stories on a daily or not-so-daily-basis, there are ways to develop a media connection. The following includes our suggestions and insight from editors and writers we work with on a regular basis.

Reporters are human. Remember that.
An editor once told me that news reporters may seem less-than-human, but they are flesh and blood like everyone else. And human nature plays a role in how they like to work. Respect their needs just like you would any business professional. Don’t be afraid to reach out and let them know you have something to offer.

There are deadlines.
If a reporter calls to ask for an expert for a story—even if it’s not breaking news—respond right away. A well-organized PR staff should already have a list of experts on hand. Can’t help this time? Reach out and offer to be a source in the future.

Thomas Wilk is editor in chief of Plant Services, a global publication targeting the industrial manufacturing industry.

“For me, the biggest challenge is to keep expectations aligned for content, deadline and publication schedules,” says Wilk. “It helps when a PR or marketing team is familiar with the subject matter. We appreciate when they understand our questions and can quickly referee changes and approvals by their clients.”

Newsrooms are under pressure. There are constant obligations for breaking news, website updates and social media posts for their audiences.

Alysha Schertz is a former reporter at Biz Times Milwaukee and now a freelance journalist and consultant for business and industry publications.

“Today’s reporters are responsible for two, sometimes three industry beats that were once covered by several people,” says Schertz. “Understanding that and the other changes taking place in the industry will help you work better with us. It all goes back to establishing that relationship.”

Make the right connection.
Not all pitches are a good fit, so it’s important to be familiar with reporters and their beats. Follow the stories, publications, blogs and other social activity related to your industry and theirs.

“When I'm familiar with your clients, what accounts you work with, and who you may know, you become someone I call on regularly for sources and industry expertise,” says Schertz. “Likewise, if you are familiar with my publication and the stories I write, it makes your job easier.”

Follow-up. Period.
So you pitched a story idea and there was little media response? That was just the start. Now it’s time to follow-up.

Send an e-blast or a friendly reminder. Provide a link with more information or a new angle to pique media interest. Say something specific about a recent story that you read. Reporters receive hundreds of emails each day, so this will help you stand out.

How much time before following-up? Three to four days is not an unusual amount of time for reporter response. If you know the reporter well enough, consider how you’ve worked with them in the past. Perhaps you should give them a call.

Follow-up is among the most important tasks in media relations. Make it a habit. Develop a checklist of media contacts and over time you will realize how effective it can be.

Final thoughts.
From your initial story pitch to the final publication, working with the media involves good planning.

“When things are well-planned, there’s a reasonable level of flexibility for the project to evolve and change,” says Editor Tom Wilk.

“I like it when PR and marketing contacts are approachable. Five minutes on the phone can save a dozen back-and-forth emails.”

Making a connection with the media is an investment of time and effort, but when carefully cultivated, it will pay dividends. Stay interested in what the media want and need and they will return the favor by reaching out to work with you.

Adds Wilk, “These are long-term relationships built over time and multiple projects.”

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