(Free) publicity rules reminder: Make it easy, and make it relevant

News release
How do you get attention for your news releases and publicity messages? Here are some suggestions.

The volume of pr/news release inquiries landing in my email box (and fortunately much more rarely, in the voice-mail) has been increasing lately, probably because of the enhanced visibility and success of our regional construction industry websites.

With the various sites, we have a hungry content monster to feed, averaging at least five or six distinct news items each day, every day of the week. The volume (and rather low budgets) means that if a public relations person submits a relevant news release that meets the foundational editorial standards, we’ll probably use it. No advertising required.

Yet alas, about 80 per cent of the stuff we receive fails to meet the requirements. It usually lands in the e-trash basket. If it doesn’t go there, I send it over to our advertising sales department. (This has proven prudent, as indeed some of the advertising-type news announcements turn into revenue, which makes both me and our salesperson really happy.)

I’m not going to discourage you from advertising with us. And in fact we treat our advertisers with respect. If they send us a news release, even though we might trash it otherwise, we’ll publish it. We aren’t selling out our editorial integrity. We’re staying in business.

But what about the free stuff? What do you need to do to pass the editorial screen/ Here, in a variation of a post I published some time ago, are some of the basics;

Make it easy

Provide the copy in well-written, Associated Press style, with attributed direct quotes and key factual information (like the project’s actual public building permit value, its size, and identifying the key players behind it.)

Make it relevant to the readers

Our business is not selling luxury condominiums (in fact, we have banned the word “luxury” since I think that is a concept far from the reality of most of our audience). And we could care less about project completions, unless another big project is going up right after the first job is done. Starts and planned projects are okay: Reason — there are possible supply, subtrade and other opportunities for readers.

Keep the puff under control, and avoid those clich?s

Why is every building a “facility”? And glowing descriptions about how great you (or your client) are really don’t matter much, unless you want to pay for the publicity. Write well. Communicate simply. If so, we will probably use the material.

Provide a photo or two

This really makes my job easier — especially since our format requires me to provide at least one image for each published story. Really good photos are much appreciated. If you have a video, as well, we can use it — ideally however, provide it in a YouTube linked format, to make it easier for us to process and upload.

Please don’t phone, unless there is something really wildly important

Phone calls are intrusive. They take time. And they rarely add value to the story. If you want us to be cool and friendly with you on the phone, we’re happy to introduce you to our advertising rep. I you are a customer, we’ll indeed treat you well, like you should be treated. But if you are simply seeking free publicity, you are NOT a customer.

Finally, keep it simple

You might want us to write a thorough investigative piece on your wonderful initiative; you may wish us to tour your site/plant, and you might want to set up an interview with your CEO. All are fine to seek, but if the story research requires plenty of heavy lifting on our part, it will take an exceptional set of circumstances for your story justify that attention level.

These are the rules.

In practice, here is how a couple of recent examples played out.

In the first, an organization sent us a news release inviting developers and contractors to respond to an RFP for a significant redevelopment initiative. This is the sort of news release we’ll use immediately, and we did.

Then the organization followed up with a phone call: “Did you receive our news release?” My response: “Duh, I published it two days ago.” The PR person then emailed me to see if I would like to interview the organization’s CEO and followed up with another phone call. I was rather icy on that second call — I mean, what value will an interview with the CEO add to the news announcement that already provides the essential details. (Call the advertising department, I thought.)

In the second, a politically minded trade association sent us a news release outlining a survey result that not surprising reflected its views. However the story has legs, because of a recent regional government change, where the new administration is likely to be much more receptive to the organization’s perspectives than its predecessor. It is an important story, in other words, for the relevant publication.

Best of all, the organization elected to spend a modest amount of money on some advertising.

So I elevated the news release from: “We’ll write about the survey” to “Let’s do a thorough piece on the topic.” The story has merit in its own right, and some revenue certainly helps move things along.

Of course, you don’t need to advertise to get results — we are not totally pay-to-play. But remembering we are a business, and remembering that if you want free publicity the value to the readers must be much greater than it is for your own organization, will help you achieve the best results.

So, keep sending those news releases — and realize why we will only publish a small fraction of them.

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