During the past few months, and at recent trade shows, I have heard many editors concerns about the quality of news releases they receive via fax, e-mail and s-mail from the people in the industry—manufacturers and dealers—as well as some of the ridiculous things people do to try and get them published. I can only assume that this important means of communication with a firm’s many publics doesn’t get the care and attention it deserves. In addition, poor, incomplete news releases and publicity practices insult a good editor’s intelligence as well as do the firm more harm than good.
To verify the complaints, I talked with business and industry editors. Most of them said that they receive an average of 500 to 800 releases a week. Almost 3Ú4 of the releases are so weak or amateurish they go directly into the wastebasket.
Other commonly voiced complaints about publicity handling in general included
• People who feel they have to hand-deliver or overnight a release to an editor to make certain that he receives it,
• People who insist on reading a release over the phone to an editor,
• People who simultaneously give a release to every editor at a single publication, and
• People who call to make certain that the editor received the release or to ask if it’s okay to send him a release.
Complaints also included excessively long releases, people who request that no changes be made to the release copy, people who want clippings of the printed release, and people who make no bones about pointing out the fact that their client or firm also is an advertiser.
Now, I can’t say that we’re free of guilt in all of these areas, nor can any other good public relations professional. Actually, we’re a lot like the hard working editorial pro ... we work hard to place an item that we feel is newsworthy. But that is a far cry from the dealer, manufacturer or anyone in the industry who feels he has a hidden talent for writing and placing a "masterpiece" for the company.
A Powerful Tool
Good publicity or news release handling can be a powerful part of a company’s total public relations program. It can get information on the firm’s hardware/software developments, services, personnel changes and financial reports where they will do the most good ... in the magazine or newspaper. In addition, it can be the springboard for a major article on the organization, its products/programs and direction.
An organized, well-executed publicity program that is integrated into the firm’s total effort can reap handsome results. It can
• Make readers aware of the company, its programs and capabilities,
• Pave the way for the sales force,
• Help explore potential new markets,
• Build relations with present customers, and
• Attract quality personnel to the firm.
With all of these benefits, why is a firm willing to jeopardize its relationship with the editors by giving publicity so little attention?
If attention is given, it often is overdone by sending the same release to 200 or 300 magazines as well as every e-zine around. I should note here that I can’t think of a single product in any part of this industry that is of interest to readers of 300 business and trade publications. Yet, I have heard of several occasions where overzealous individuals cast releases to the four winds with the hope that someone, somewhere, would print them.
During the years that we’ve worked closely with editors, I’ve had an opportunity to see the reams of releases that pass their desks. For the most part, the releases uniformly lacked any spark of writing excitement, comprehension of news style, or the solid information that really gets an editor interested.
But how can people provide information that will be used? It is quite easy for anyone who practices publicity and public relations to read the magazine and gauge the editorial requirements of a given publication or group of publications. Then, if you’re worth your salt, you can provide news releases that will be published because they have the style, content and necessary current angle to satisfy these requirements. It goes without saying this isn’t all that’s needed to get company information into print, but it is a step in the right direction.
Here are some basic guidelines our organization follows when preparing news releases for the press.
• Write the release simply and factually, and make certain that you tell the full story as succinctly as possible. Then stop!
• When the story dictates, prepare background and biographical material that gives facts rather than personal "puff." Background material is meant to inform editors, not flatter management.
• Photographs should be real, with sharp contrasts, not retouched ad shots. Make certain that the cutline explains the photo and ties into the release.
• The release should contain the name and telephone number of the person who should be contacted for additional information. In fact, it might be a good practice to add the home telephone number and e-mail address so the editor can contact you when the news is hot in his mind. If they let the story cool down, you might lose a better write-up.
• If the release is on a brochure or catalog, include a copy. It can make good source material for future articles and give the editor more information to work with.
• Write the release with the specific publication’s reader in mind. Your people tailor their information to the interests of their prospects. That’s the way you should prepare releases for editors. Often, when we prepare a release for a product that has a number of applications, we write separate copy for each class of publication. Properly done, the results can be dramatic.
Research and Development
There usually is a lot going on in a dealer organization and office equipment/supply company that is of interest to an editor, and the good "stuff" isn’t delivered to you on a silver platter. The individual in the company who is responsible for public relations activities has to be like a good reporter and dig out the information. Then, whoever is writing the publicity must determine what is of value to the company, editor and reader.
Next, you have to think the subject through, looking for every angle and interesting aspect. Sometimes more than one story can be developed from a single announcement. Finally, the writer has to write the release for specific reader audiences. Everyone has different areas of primary interest, and if you want to reach them you have to talk in their terms ... on their ground.
No portion of a company’s public relations or communications program can do more to support the company, its products and its services than good publicity. Still, it requires skill and attention if it is to win the approval of the editor ... and his readers. However, if the firm isn’t looking for this approval, a clerk or junior member of the organization can be assigned the task of handling publicity and news releases. But it always has been my opinion that good publicity deserves attention because it can contribute to the sales of goods and result in profits for the firm.If I’m wrong and publicity doesn’t deserve attention, resellers and others can quit asking why editors don’t like them and don’t use their releases.