The Press Release That Made Me Cry

crying babyFew things make me sadder when sitting at my desk than hearing from nonprofit communicators who are wringing their hands over questions that are simply no longer relevant.  What a waste of time and energy.

I admit I was probably in an emotional state already for unrelated reasons, but I swear tears of frustration did almost flow when I got an email from a woman who wanted to know if she should double-space her press release. She also wanted to know if it would be OK to email a PDF in addition to faxing and mailing a hard copy.

Skip the hard copy and faxing. Email the text in the body (not attached) and tweet it directly to the reporters who might be interested. Put what would have gone into your press release into a blog post instead. Recycle any PR handbook you have for getting press coverage that’s more than two or three years old, tops. Read this one instead.

A couple of weeks ago, I listed press releases as one of the 21 stupid things that nonprofit marketers can stop doing.

Here are two comments that participants chatted in when I got to that slide . . .

My experience in getting press coverage is to make sure that the issues or activities are covered in local/community blogs over press releases. I find that when we get blog coverage (and sometimes we plant a few community members to respond and egg it on), this is what inspires press coverage. We especially try to coordinate this with the 5 o’clock news hour. My experience is that local press reporters get their news from community blogs and Twitter, so I do that instead of press releases.

My boyfriend is a reporter at the Washington Post and I can confirm reporters’ hatred for press releases — he rails against them all the time. Would much rather have a relationship with a source who is familliar with his work and has conversations about potential story items with him.

So how can you start building those relationships?

Media relations is a great use for Twitter. Most reporters have their own accounts, in addition to the official accounts from their publications. Follow them all, and send them good story ideas, links to your newsy blog posts, and comments on other things they’ve written. Watch what they post — put all of the reporters you follow on a separate Twitter list to make it easy. Reporters often ask if anyone knows someone who does x, y, or z because they need to interview someone with a particular point of view or experience to round out a story.

 Start a helpful email relationship. Email the reporters you wish would write about your work. Get the conversation going. In tomorrow’s guest blog post, Shannon Arnold from FamilyAid Boston will show you exactly how she did that, including the email she sent.


Crying Baby by BigStock

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  • Jim Stickels

    What if you just want routine announcements made without reporters writing articles? How do you get that information out each week?

  • Robin

    Great timing; I was just explaining my stance on the value of press releases to a colleague the other day and really appreciate seeing some of those thoughts echoed here in your article, Kivi. My doubts about the value of the press release were born years ago when I worked in broadcast media and got to see exactly what happens to 99% of those ‘media advisories’ (i.e., dumped immediately). Thanks to the explosion of the web, traditional communications like press releases have become more and more a byproduct of another era of communications. I think there’s a case for the judicious use of a release, if it’s “meaty” and offers timely news backed up by actual substance and content, but why bother going through the motions of crafting an advisory that no one is going to read or care about or cover? For busy marketing and communications professionals, I think it’s a question of whether writing and issuing releases is the best, most effective use of their time.

  • Jenny

    I use press releases as a tactic to get staff members on board with the topic, content, and spin of the media pitch. Then I email the reporters directly and personally.

  • Kristin C. Mathews

    Newsjacking is a brilliant idea, and even when it doesn’t pay off with immediate coverage, it can help reporters understand why and how you’re relevant for later stories. I used email media alerts to position experts from my nonprofit around breaking news. That didn’t really work immediately, but eventually producers and reporters kept us in mind and started calling us for in-depth stories. That led to better coverage in the end.

  • Variety of Texas

    Press Releases have actually been really beneficial for our Non-Profit.

  • Guest

    This seems like really great advice for getting coverage from reporters at big news outlets who cover your issues regularly. I’ve found that a press release with one or two customized sentences establishing local relevance is still a great tool for getting into smaller papers. Writers at weekly or very small daily papers don’t have time to research how a state-wide issue affects their hometown. When we provide that information in AP style and short paragraphs, we’ve had really good luck getting those stories run. Sometimes the reporter will talk to a local source or two to add some copy of their own – but often the press release will run as we wrote it. It’s a home run for

  • Claire H

    This seems like great advice for working with reporters who are at larger media outlets or wire services. I’ve had much better luck shooting short emails to reporters at major metro news outlets than I have with writing full releases. But in my experience, press releases – with a few sentences showing how the issue affects the local community – are still really useful tools for getting coverage in small-town papers. Like most things, the best strategy changes depending on who you want to be reaching.

    • Hi Claire — I agree. If there is a shot that a reporter will print what you give them pretty much as is, which is true in smaller markets, by all means, write it out for them. But I still think you can pitch it first, and then write it if you get interest.

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