The myth about press releases By PJ Nunn

Or should I say myths? Many authors believe the press release is the one piece of promotional literature that is of primary importance. The one used the most; the one that’s most effective. Call it what you will. Maybe it is. Maybe it’s not. Maybe the confusion is in the definition of what a press release is today. Because an effective press release today may not look much like it did ten years ago. In fact, it should not look like it did ten years ago. Things have changed.

When Sarah Sherik, VP of content marketing for PR Newswire analyzed the worst-performing 500 out of 20,000 press releases, she came up with a list of what to do and not to do to keep your press release off the bottom. I’ve included her points here and commented on them:
1. Write like you talk and keep it brief– don’t use industry mumbo jumbo. Write naturally and use good grammar and punctuation. Many open their emails on mobile devices today. Some authors are tempted to write two page press releases but seriously, don’t. Less is more. Capture their interest and they’ll ask for more info.
2. Cut back on links – search engines may read them as spam. One or two well-placed links is enough. When too many words turn blue, it implies too much work involved to go get information. Give them the important information and include one or two links of supporting info.
3. Avoid the use of unnecessary capitalization – what used to pass for emphasis is now seen as shouting. Copy littered with capital letters will annoy readers and make your release underperform.
4. Recognize that content recirculates – press releases used to have a shelf life of about 72 hours. Today, it’s 4 months or longer. Understand that clouds hold information and it’s still new to a person who hasn’t seen it before. Keep your content fresh enough to matter if it’s seen months from now.
5. Always include something tweetable in your pitches – make it easy for someone to help get the word out.
6. How about issuing a press release in tweets? In September @AmazonKindle issued a press release in a series of 14 tweets allowing people to retweet parts that most interested them.
7. Feed your influencers – These hungry critters require regular doses of information to survive. They thrive on attention, and multimedia content is their favorite snack food. Exclusives make them purr. How? Determine whose information influences you, then when you can, provide them with the kind of news they like to hear.
8. Interaction matters – so be sure to keep up with feedback that tells you who’s interacting with your posts and press info. Engaging with others is the way to keep your visibility high, not the number of status posts or tweets. Like, reply, retweet – those things will keep you in the arena of being read. Klout scores can tell you something.
But obviously, when it comes to press releases, the first and foremost thing to remember is keep your content newsworthy. While it’s technically true that the release of a new book is news, be honest. If you receive a press release saying John Doe wrote a new book that is coming out next week (and you’ve never heard of John), how excited would you get? Excitement grows when the release includes little known information that is of particular interest to you. This is why a blanket release is rarely effective. A targeted release can be written to pique the interest of the receiver(s). Assuming of course that you know their interests.
In a nutshell:
1. Make it newsworthy and include it in a short headline.

New book coming out next month (BAD)

Local author releases new book (BETTER)

Local vet donates book proceeds to Humane Society (BEST)

The BAD title should be explanatory – there is no specific news there. The BETTER is barely better, but it does alert the journalist that the release includes something about a local author that could be newsworthy. The BEST actually gives information to help journalists determine if they want to read further. A vet (although it’s not clear whether a veteran or veterinarian) wrote a book and will donate proceeds to the Humane Society. Lots of info there. Good job. Make them want to know more!

2. Write like you talk; use good grammar and punctuation.

3. Include a link and a tweet.

4. Send it to journalists who are interested in what you have to tell them.

How do you know what a journalist is interested in? It takes some research, but there are ways. Determine who writes about what you’re pitching. For our purposes here, it’s usually books so look up the book reviewers and columnists in your local paper or whatever publication you’re targeting. You can find a lot of information on the Internet. Google journalists to see what articles they’ve written lately and read a few. You’ll usually find that recurring interests begin to appear the more you read.
Following these guidelines should increase your response rate and your visibility.

Can you share some tips with us about how you get attention with your press releases?