PR enables you to tell your story and share your news, and unlike advertising which shares your story through paid approaches, it is what is known as earned media. This makes it a powerful tool that organically builds credibility and trust with your audience.
Gaining press coverage helps get you and your business in front of your target audience and build brand awareness, boost your SEO, attract customers and increase sales.
Journalists are a busy bunch and receive hundreds of press releases and pitches from business owners and PR professionals daily, so they will be very selective about what they read or respond to.
If you are struggling to get the attention you are looking for and get featured in the press, here are a few mistakes you might be making with your press release strategy, and my tried and tested tips on overcoming them.
1. You have no news
Many small business owners and brands forget about the news value journalists seek. A press release aims to inform the public about the latest news.
Promoting your business is not news - it's advertising, so you are probably better off looking at either pure advertising options or advertorial packages. These options will be a much more effective route for your brand.
However, if you are focused on gaining earned media, think of a news announcement likely to trigger the readers' interest. For trade or business press, it could be news about your new product and service, mergers and acquisitions, partnerships, new leadership, or significant hires. For local media, it might be your support of a local charity or local initiatives, such as working with school pupils to share your career experiences or a staff member's success.
Other stories are likely to be more suited as opinion pieces, and you can pitch these as story ideas or look at paid advertorials.
2. It's all about you
The sad truth is journalists don't care about your press release; they care about their readers. And they are not interested in helping promote your business to their readers unless you bring value to them. To focus on the reader, think of yourself as a storyteller, sharing the story where the readers are the heroes of your story, not you.
Your role is to help the journalist succeed, so guide them through the story rather than focus on yourself. Don't just focus on the features of your products and services; make your story about their aspirations - the results and experience your products and services will create.
3. Your story falls on deaf ears
Creating and maintaining a list of up-to-date media contacts plays a considerable part in your campaign. You can have the best press release, but it's pointless if it's not reaching the right people. Segment your database so you know which type of stories to share with which journalists. Invest time and effort into researching the best contacts in your target publications instead of the generic submission email addresses.
Journalists are always looking for credible sources of information, but if you repeatedly reach out to them with press releases outside of their interest, they will rightly ignore you. Review your list regularly and if you receive any bouncebacks or references to a more relevant contact, take note and get in touch.
4. You don't include the copy in the email
As I've mentioned, journalists are incredibly busy. Anything you can do to make their life easier and save them time will make a difference. By including the copy of the press release in the body of the email, they can scan through the text to establish whether they want to read on and open the attachment. Adding your press release in a word document or, even worse, a pdf could mean it heads straight for the bin!
If you use an email automation tool, such as JournoLink, Cison or PRNewswire, to distribute your press release, they will allow you to see if a journalist has read your pitch or glanced at it.
Try to keep it short and to the point so they have all the necessary information without having to spend too long going through your message.
Remember to add great images and contact details!
5. You send your release at peak times
There is no golden rule for when to send your press release, but you can quickly determine this by testing various times and finding the one that works best in your industry. But generally, the peak times, such as Monday morning, will naturally make it harder to stand out if the volume of pitches is at its highest. For local media, sending it on the day the paper goes to print is a surefire way to get it lost in the ether. Ask your local contacts which day/s they prefer to get their releases and the timing. It depends on your target media, but the key is to test and identify what works best for you and then stick to it.
6. You don't follow up
You would follow up with a client or a colleague if they have not responded to your email, so why not check on your press release? As part of your follow-up, you can offer more information or an interview with the spokesperson – you never know if they are not writing another piece and would benefit from the information you can provide.
If a journalist is interested in your story, they will get back to you within a day. But stories can get missed for those in a busy newsroom, so don't be afraid to chase up pitches or press releases by email. Getting hold of them by phone is nearly impossible, but you can give it a go!
Avoid being demanding and follow up more than once or twice, but check on your previous email in case it got ignored by mistake.
Don't be put off when journalists don't respond. It's a norm! They will respond if they think your release interests them and want more information. Sometimes, particularly with trade and local media, they will cover your release and not tell you. It can seem like a very odd way of working when you first start sending releases out, but it really is quite normal and invariably due to their tight timelines.
Don't forget you can offer your story to another outlet or journalist. It's fine to offer the same story to different programmes or publications – as long as you're upfront about what you're doing.
So be honest and take a little care that you are not offering the same story to competitive outlets or departments.
7. Learn every time
Reflect on each pitch to learn what works and needs a different approach. Look at data, considering the email's performance and any anecdotal feedback or responses. Review various aspects, including the copy, the timings, the tone of your email and its format. Treat each press release as part of your learning curve, and capitalise on your positive and negative experiences.
The key is to think of it as a long-term tactic. Sometimes, PR can take months, if not years, so it takes patience and tenacity.
If your release does not get used, don't be too disheartened and make sure you repurpose your content. Break it down into a series of mini posts for your social media, or add it to your own blog.
Above all, take a deep breath and don't let all your hard work go to waste!