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The Do-It-Yourself Press Release Makeover

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by Marcia Yudkin
November 22, 2003

Marcia Yudkin

About the Author:

Marcia Yudkin <marcia@yudkin.com> is the author of the classic guide Six Steps to Free Publicity (Career Press), and 10 other books. She has helped clients achieve publicity everywhere from the Wall Street Journal to the National Enquirer, from the Today Show to local news broadcasts, and she herself has been featured in Success Magazine, Entrepreneur, Home Office Computing, Working Woman, scores of major newspapers all over the U.S. and four times in the Sunday Boston Globe. She has a new site focused on press release makeovers at http://www.pressreleasehelp.com.

Marcia Yudkin has written 18 articles for PromotionWorld.
View all articles by Marcia Yudkin...

Despite many changes that the Internet has wrought in public relations, the press release (also called a "news release" or "media release") remains the major tool for attracting media coverage. To make sure your release gets serious attention from media gatekeepers, use this checklist to turn it into a powerful publicity generator.

1. Make sure that the release focuses on just one main message. Some organizations that rarely issue press releases or simply aren't familiar with the form try to cram everything about everything into it, which lowers the odds that it will get picked up. Normally you should have no problem keeping the release to one page or a page and a half. If you have difficulty making the release that short,
see whether you might really have two main messages, which would be better incorporated into two releases rather than one.

2. Does your headline substantively make clear what the release is about? What I call "mystery meat" headlines, such as "The House That Pun Built" or "Turning Wall St. on Its Ear. . ." (found on a press release newswire) don't indicate whether these concern architecture, comedy clubs, software, books, financial services or something else. Media folks scan headlines to determine whether or not it's worth their time to read the whole release. If the headline
doesn't make the release seem relevant to their readers, listeners or viewers, they go on to the next candidate. Long headlines, or the use of a subhead along with the headline, are perfectly fine.

3. Avoid the salesy tone typical of advertising. Newspaper editors surveyed about the releases that pour into their offices named their number one complaint as "sounds like an ad." Stay away from the word "you" in headlines and text in a release and instead use the journalistic, third-person tone typical of news stories. Put your release side by side with the front page of your local newspaper, and if the style matches, you're on the right track.

4. Be specific rather than providing a general overview. Provocative facts, specific opinions and tantalizing details make more of an impact on people reading your release than broad-brush statements. For instance, in a release promoting a book on alternative health care, provide eye- catching pointers and tips from the book, not sweeping statements that could come across as familiar and ho-hum.

5. Include necessary details. Never make media people go to a Web site or make a phone call to learn something fundamental like price, date, whether something comes in various sizes and so on. These normally go at the end of the release. Consider using a so-called "landing page" with a dedicated page address to which you send people only from that release so that you can more easily track Web traffic resulting from it.

6. Finally, proofread as rigorously as if your life depended on it. Actually call every phone number and try every URL included in the release, as it's all too easy to transpose numbers and end up wasting the whole effort. If you've incorporated proper names from outside your organization (is it "Wal-mart," "Wal-Mart" or "WalMart" or "Walmart"?), doublecheck the correct spelling.

These changes help turn your release into something that inspires valuable media coverage!


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