Media Fever: Press Release Tips from the Pros

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press release tips

John Schroeder was one of the first people I met when I moved to Minneapolis. At the time, he was working as the editor of an in-house magazine for a large company. He surprised everyone when he decided to go out on his own as a freelance writer.

His business has covered a wide range of writing projects including books, study guides, catalog copy, newsletters and articles.

He’s also a voracious fan of garage sales and spends every weekend in the summer going to sales, flea markets and antique shows.

John’s biggest obstacle has been his reluctance to market himself. In true John style, he’s named this approach his No Marketing Marketing Plan and he delights in work that comes to him, but seldom instigates projects.

Several years ago, John wrote a booklet which he expanded into a book called Garage Sale Fever. I loved the idea as did two other writer friends. John got busy and had a proper book produced with help from Shane Groth, who runs a small press.

What happened next was nothing short of astonishing. With Shane setting deadlines, John finished the manuscript ahead of time.

A couple of mornings later, I got a call from John – about two hours earlier than I’ve ever heard from him. I also had never heard such excitement in his voice. “I’ve been working on my marketing plan for Garage Sale Fever,” he announced, “and I’ve come up with eighteen ideas.”

My introvert friend had turned into a marketing madman…

I congratulated him and said, “Here at Winning Ways, we’re planning to give you a big plug, too.”

“Oh,” he exclaimed, “that’s nineteen!”

Even more amazing were some of the ideas on his list which involved him contacting the media, talking to shopkeepers and doing workshops. My introvert friend had turned into a marketing madman.

The next thing we knew, John was appearing on local radio and television shows, being interviewed in newspapers and quoted in Newsweek magazine.

John was getting a great response from his media campaign, but I got to wondering what really makes a press release stand out. When I was pondering that question, I realized that the people to answer it were hiding in plain sight.

As newspaper reporters, my niece Gretchen Macchiarella and her husband Tony Biasotti have plenty of experience dealing with press releases. So, I decided to interview the journalists.

Both of them shared some great tips from the reporter’s point of view. What catches their eye? What keeps a press release from being ignored? I talked to Tony first and here are his thoughts on press releases.

  • The opening has to get my attention and needs to include the pertinent facts. And the entire release needs to be no longer than one page.
  • I like getting press releases via e-mail, rather than faxes. I’m more apt to see them sooner. Good title lines are Media Alert or Expert Source on whatever the topic is (i.e. Expert Source on Garage Sale Bargains).
  • Most importantly, think about the story that I might want to write – don’t make it about yourself.
  • Know your publication’s territory. In my case, the story needs to have a local slant.

Gretchen added more tips and said all reporters resent being told, “You should or must do this story.” Make your information intriguing enough that the reporter wants to write the story.

  • An underutilized tool that I like is an attention-getting cover letter. It should be short and sweet and show me why my readers would care about the story idea.
  • Include good contact information.

You can also offer yourself as an expert source to the media by writing a letter that says, “These are some stories you might be writing that I can speak to.” Enclose your business card with your expert topic written on it so a reporter can find you quickly in their Rolodex.

Keep in mind that the media needs interesting stories. Be one – and let them know.

Barbara J. Winter is a speaker who has seen her seminars fill up and book sales climb after newspaper, radio and television interviews.