I was trading emails with a Promotion Director. Her station had just pulled off a killer bit. She asked for some help with writing a press release because she’d never written one before. And that’s pretty common. We kind of got sidetracked on this along the way. It used to be part of the gig. Now it’s a niche skill at most stations.
First off, we need to remind ourselves why we do most everything we do; to get press. (And to meet girls) And that’s kind of the whole object of “promotions” anyway; to get people talking about us. So you can’t just automatically assume that Bob over at TV 20 is going to be listening and hear that you’re marrying puppies on the air tomorrow. Thus, The Press Release.
Like Latin, the art of writing press releases is a dying language. But even more then that, you can’t just assume that sending Bob (over at TV 20) a press release is going to assure they’re covering the puppy wedding. This is an art: writing, following up, and finding other ways of making sure that you get the coverage you so badly need and clamor for. You know how many bogus press releases you get every day? Multiply that by ten and you might have an idea what someone at a newspaper or TV station has to wade through each and every day.
When I was a Marketing Director, I think (non-objectively of course) that our promotions were pretty good. Probably better then a lot of the other stations in town. But I knew how to work the media, so we got covered. So this is a good refresher course for vets, and a good intro for the uninitiated.
There’s a million books on how to write a press release. The only suggestion I have is not to be hypey. You need to give them the facts but not in a way that comes off as being a commercial (“those insane dudes in the morning at Wild 94.1 are going to push it to the limit again tomorrow when sheer hilarity ensues….” blah blah blah.) But you also don’t want to sound like Joe Friday, ie: just the facts. You want to give them the info without editorializing or without sounding boring. There’s a middle ground. Always include contact info and some basic stats about the radio station. So, you want to tell them who, where, when and why without it sounding like the results of a physical. Or without it sounding like you’re asking for a free commercial. Never use the word “Wacky”!
Make the subject short, 8 words, but it’s gotta grab them and stand out from all of the Boy Scout pancake dinners and new civic ordinances stuff they get.
You should always be on a “phone call basis” with whoever is the Media Reporter for the local paper. And you’ll generally run into the same reporters over and over again when TV is covering concerts and other lifestyle events. Cultivate these relationships without appearing to be in it only for the press. I generally had one friend at every TV station that I could tip to whatever wacky, uh, cool things we were doing. But don’t abuse these relationships. Save these calls/e-mails for only the most important stuff.
Generally at a TV station you want to send your stuff to the Assignment Editor. Having a name rather then a generic “Assignment Editor” increases your odds of them looking at it. With newspapers, you want to send stuff to the Radio reporter and the Metro Desk. The guy who’s sorting through UPI coverage of Israel’s incursion into the West Bank doesn’t really care that Mauler from Hot 89.9 is doing a social experiment and unhooking from his phone for 30 days. With smaller weekly newspapers and community publications, it’s still nice to have a name, but “Editor” will suffice.
I’ll have more on “Who” in the “Database” section below.
When you have something that’s legitimately interesting or is of interest to the readers or viewers. Charity drives qualify. A big winner qualifies but only for the people in his/her community, ie: “Michele Reed of Folsom was the first winner in K-Hits’s ‘One, Two…Free Corvettes” contest.” Stunts qualify. New airstaff qualifies. But that’s about it. Mancow, God love him, sent out a press release if he went to the bathroom. He so completely inundated the local media with press releases that when he actually did something worth covering (at least weekly) it got lost in the shuffle or ignored. This is like the relationships with the reporters; when you send something to them they should know to look at it or perhaps miss something exciting.
Go back in the mailroom at your station and look at the PSA’s and press releases from church breakfasts, flower shows, Scout fundraisers and everything else. How much of that stuff even gets opened? Sending an envelope or fax is the absolute minimum. E-mails work too. But whenever possible, find a hook that will allow you to grab their attention. I mean, we’re in Promotions: we should be able to do that. When we buried the morning guy in Charlotte “alive”, the press releases were hand delivered in little plastic coffins. When we froze Mancow in a block of ice, the press releases arrived at the media accompanied by boxes of Popsicles. Get their attention for five seconds and you’re doing better then all the beauty pageants and other stuff that bombard these people every day.
I like to refer to this as the “stupid viewer call”. Have someone call the Assignment Desk of the paper and ask “Hey, I was just out at 610 and Westhiemer and there was some guy standing on the sidewalk getting whipped by a woman dressed all in leather. Do you know what that was about? It’s tieing up traffic really bad.”
First off, if you’re sending this stuff out, then be prepared for someone to call you back and ask some questions. NEVER LIE TO THE MEDIA. Because if you make them look stupid, they will find a way, somehow, to get you back. When KDWB “turned off the power” in 2002, they didn’t send out any press releases but since everyone in the Twin Cities was buzzing about it, Rob Morris got five calls in the first 45 minutes from TV stations and newspaper reporters. Rather then lie to them, he dodged their calls. Which is just as good. Builds the suspense. Or, in the case of the fake movie shoot that we did for April Fools in Seattle, when the TV stations started showing up expecting to find a Brad Pitt movie being filmed, we pulled them aside and clued them in on it. Once they were in-the-loop, they had a ball and joined in the prank.
Mancow, who even at the best of times has a tenuous grasp on reality, was always sending out his own press releases. NO! There should be ONE person at the station whose gig this is. The problem was that ‘cow was sending out press releases for stuff that hadn’t happened. Embelishment doesn’t even come close. When he had adult film star Nina Hartley in for an interview, little did I know that he followed it up that afternoon with press releases to the trades saying that she and another star had auditioned listeners on the studio floor for roles in upcoming movies. The trades published this. The corporate office read this. The GM almost lost his job. She took her top off for three minutes for pictures with some of us guys (I’m a fan) but that was it. No orgy. The point? Be honest.
Max Media in Denver ALMOST got on CNN with Pot107.1. But it would have required lying and if you lie, they will remember you for making them look stupid and God forbid one of your talent ever does something bad….
Not everyone needs to get a press release. If the station is going to be in Richfield on Saturday to help the highschool cheerleaders in a blood drive, then send one to the school paper, the Metro Desk at the Tribune and to the Richfield Sun/Times. If this weekend is going to be a “Menage ‘A Ticket Weekend” on the station, send it to Joel Denver and Kevin Carter. If a girl at Forest Lake Highschool was the winner of the Taylor Swift meet and greet, hit her school paper and the Forest Lake Press. HOWEVER, we’re talking “stunt” here. We’re talking listeners eating worms and living in dumpsters. All the TV stations should be hit prior to, and daily throughout the run of the contest, as should the big daily papers. And obviously All Access and Ramp when it’s all over.
The point? The West Suburban Sun/Times doesn’t care that the station is launching the “Survive It And Drive It” contest…unless one of their readers wins.
Don’t waste film sending pictures to TV stations or daily papers. The only people who might possibly run the pictures are the weekly community papers, highschool papers, All Access and Ramp. (The value of sending pictures to the dailys and TV is that it WILL give them an idea of what they might be able to bring back if they were send their own photogs)
This should be updated twice a year. A great intern project. Names are important. You know how annoying it is to get stuff addressed to the person who had your job in ’94. You probably just toss it un-opened. Point made. Here’s who should be in your press file.
I hope this helps and that you can plow through it. Sending out press releases should be a part of the plan with any big campaign, stunt or promotion. If you’re too busy, find an intern that can write and make that a five-minutes-a-week part of their duties at the station.