If You’re Leading With Your Press Release, You’re Losing

Yes, the press release is still an essential part of the public relations profession. But if your earned media strategy is over-reliant on them, you’re going to be mired in frustration.

It comes as no surprise to me when non-PR folks think of public relation pros as little more than press release generators. After all, if you asked me to detail the specifics of any number of other professions, I’d likely struggle to come up with a list of their work responsibilities longer than a couple of bullet points each.

But when I encounter others in our PR tribe — typically these are professionals with less tenure under their belts — who hang their hats exclusively on their press release writing skills, my jaw hits the floor.

Why? Because if you’re ever leading with your press release, you’re losing.

Media doesn’t have the time to make a story out of your press release

One of the most well-traveled PR statistics of the past few years is that public relations professionals outnumber reporters 5-to-1. (That number is roughly three years old as I type this, so the disparity could be greater today.)

Now, if you’re a public relations practitioner I want you to put yourself in the shoes of a reporter and imagine how many press releases hit your email inbox on a daily basis.

Here, I’ll help.

I asked a friend of mine who works in local television news how many press releases come into his station daily. His response: “Too many to keep up with, really.” This in a media market size, according to Nielsen, somewhere between Toledo, Ohio and Savannah, Georgia. Another friend, this one at the leading newspaper in the same market, said she estimated each department gets slammed with about 100 press releases per day.

“It is horrendous,” she said.

Wow. If this is the sentiment in a mid-sized market, imagine what reporters, producers, and editors deal with in, say, New York City, or Los Angeles, or even Cincinnati.

Suffice it to say, if you’re simply chucking press releases out and hoping to land a great front page story, you are in for a rude awakening. Even with the best-written release and the catchiest email subject title, you’ll be lucky if your press release gets more consideration than a simple click and scan.

Quick tips to better your chances of securing earned media

No matter what you’ve heard or read, there is no silver bullet or magic elixir that will guarantee earned media. Successfully securing earned media is a process that starts long before you start drafting that press release.

And though this post might come across as being a bit anti-press release, it’s not meant to be. As I wrote earlier, press releases are still necessary components of the pitch process.

But instead of using them as the tip of your PR spear, consider them as resources for media professionals to use as they report on your story — something they can go back to and pull relevant information from as they draft their segment or article.

To flesh out your media approach, and to help increase your chances of successfully placing a story, here 5 quick tips to keep in mind as you craft your strategy:

  • Know which reporters to approach

Treat story-pitching as a sales process — your story is your product, and the media is your potential customer. Do the research to figure out which outlets and reporters would be interested in what you’re trying to sell them, and when you present your idea to them, know them enough to sell your story to them in a way that they’ll want to do something with it.

  • Do the legwork yourself

Reporters, editors, journalists, producers, and anyone else in the media world are pressed for time all the time. When you engage them with a pitch, do them (and yourself) a favor and have it fleshed out into possible stories. If you throw a press release at them and leave it at that, you risk them looking at it and wondering, “How do I turn this into a story?” Or worse, seeing a totally different story than you’d hoped they would. 

  • Make sure your pitch is timely

No doubt, whatever it is you’re working on is important to you 24/7/365. But, be sure to consider when it would be the most compelling to the audience(s) that your target media outlets speak to. If you designed an app that makes Holiday shopping easier, perhaps March isn’t the best time to roll out a press release about it.

  • Connect with existing narratives

Don’t just know your reporters. Know your industry as well. You have to be as well-read as possible, so you can fit your pitch in with emerging narratives and established talking points. See what opportunities exist to plug your pitch into pre-established discussions, and insert yourself as best you can into them.

  • Offer creative assets and more

Knowing how busy the media is on any given day, always offer ways to help them round out your story. Do you have unique creative assets, like pictures or videos, you can give them access to? Can you connect them to a customer for a quote? Is there an opportunity for live action shots? If the answer is ‘yes’ to any of these, make them available.

Of course, these are just 5 tips to keep in mind. I’ll share more in future posts. Until then, happy pitching.

David Martin is the founder of Heed Public Relations. You can reach him at david@heedpr.com.