Rethinking the Press Release

Thinking of fresh story hooks and communications channels is better use of your time than word-smithing a press release, which won't run verbatim in major publications anyway.While some organizations waste time word-smithing a press release, wiser hands think of creative ways to entice coverage of their story by reporters and bloggers. Others just publish their own stories.

This doesn't mean the press release is dead. It just means there are a lot more options to look at besides grinding out a faux news story, with the obligatory and often gratuitous quote by the CEO.

Here are some options for story pitching:

Media Advisories

Instead of investing energy into writing a traditional press release, spend time thinking about a tantalizing story hook. Use a media advisory to bait the hook.

Describe your story idea in a paragraph or two, with enough detail to capture the attention of a reporter or blogger. As appropriate, add key contact information, background, links and even images or video. Don't use attachments, which may divert your media advisory to junk email.

Media advisories are perfect for giving reporters and bloggers a heads-up about an event, sponsorship or contest. But they also work for planting the seeds of good story ideas. Media advisories are conversation-starters, not works of art.

Op-eds

If you have something important to say about current topic, write and submit an op-ed. These are the pieces, usually 500 words in length, that run on the page opposite a newspaper's editorials.

Getting the unfiltered chance to deliver your message can be priceless, but competition for this limited space is fierce, so you need to have something worthwhile to say and say it in a clear, readable way.

Informational Ads

If you have a message that absolutely must be delivered on your time line, then consider publishing an informational ad. You buy the space and can include what you want, within the bounds of good taste and libel.

A good use of information ads is to promote good works, such as a major donation or a large employee volunteer effort, which may not earn media coverage and doesn't fit the format of an op-ed. A well-designed informational ad can send the message of your good works to the community and build morale in your workforce.

Another effective use of informational ads is to tell your side of a complex or contentious story. The advantage is that your story appears without juxtaposition to the other side or the story. That may not eliminate qualms by skeptical readers, but it does showcase your point of view and the claims to back it up.

Pitching Bloggers

Bloggers now play an important role in the media landscape. They are invaluable in reaching micro-audiences.

Many bloggers have other jobs, so they aren't eager to hop on the phone for long chats about story ideas. The best way to approach a blogger is to understand his or her target audience and suggest ideas that would interest that audience.

Guest blogging is hit-and-miss. After all, someone starts a blog to talk themselves, not create a soapbox for others. You may have a product you want them to try or an idea to consider. Be sensitive and avoid treating bloggers like paid media hypesters.

Some bloggers will expect you to pay for placement. Be cautious about this. FTC regulations require the blogger to disclose if a payment has taken place. Also be sure you receive accurate numbers about the blogger's traffic before agreeing to any payment.

Old-Fashioned Press Releases

As we said, the press release isn't dead. In its traditional form, it still has some uses. Trade publications often invite companies in their respective sectors to submit news releases, which they run pretty much as written. Small weekly publications, which lack staff, also publish press releases.

Major daily newspapers, especially those focusing more intensely on local news coverage, accept and run short press releases to announce, for example, new hires at a company or nonprofit.

Self-Publishing

David Meerman Scott has breathed new life into the press release by suggesting it is perfect original content to post on your own website or online newsroom. Self-publishing your own press releases is a smart way to broaden your reach and encourage website clicks.

Of course, the clicks could be ephemeral if your press release is filled with hot air and hokey quotes. The content has to be fetching, like any news story, to grab reader attention.

Self-published press release writers should adhere as diligently as reporters to tight writing, emphasizing the best fact first and included relevant, interesting detail. Press releases, even when you publish them yourself, should be written for your audience, not your boss.

You can use social media or business wire services to promote your own press releases, which is harder to do for earned media coverage. But you can turn especially good earned coverage in a newspaper, magazine, TV special or blog into a press release that you promote.

Blogging

Writing a blog is another form of self-publishing. A blog offers more latitude in how you approach a subject. For example, you can write a blog in first person, which would be a no-no for a "press release."

Press releases have a one-off quality, while successful blogs have a voice. If you have want to talk consistently about a topic of particular interest or if you want to demonstrate thought leadership, a blog is a perfect vehicle.

Like a press release, you can promote blog posts. There are even groups of bloggers who work in concert to promote each other's posts.