May 22, 2001
SUMMARY: Ever wished you could go face-to-face with the media you email your press releases to? On May 10th members of New Jersey's chapter of the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC) got to pepper three business journalists with questions -- such as 'How do I get you to pay more attention to my press releases?'
Here's what the three journalists, Tom J. DeLoughry, Contributing Editor Internet Week; Anne Holland Publisher MarketingSherpa; and Kevin Hogan, Features Editor Business 2.0, told them.
1. Email has won: Most North American business press prefer email over any other method of receiving releases and pitches these days. The exceptions are some local newspapers and business journals. Also, press outside North America may have very different preferences.
2. Attachments: Don't send a release as an attachment. At best it's annoying, at worst it could get your release summarily deleted. Just include the body of your release in the regular text of your email. If you have more documents than can fit, then give a link to them or ask the journalist to respond to receive them.
3. Email subject lines: Many journalists (especially those on newsy beats) get literally hundreds of emails a day. Email with subject lines like "Important release" or "Press Release from CompanyName" go into the 'who cares?' pile. So, when writing your subject line, think of it as a very short headline. Its job is to get your email opened!
4. Emailing everyone on the masthead: When you send the exact same press release or story pitch to every single editor in a news organization, chances are they'll notice and you'll look bad. Most journalists have specific beats. If you take the time to find out what precise beat each one covers, you're more likely to get lucky with your pitch.
5. Virtual schmoozing: Yes, journalists have egos. They like it when you email a story pitch that shows you've read something they've written in the past. Plus, when you reference a prior article, you show you really know your subject matter. It's far (FAR) more effective to email 10 personalized story pitches to journalists you've gotten to know and schmoozed than it is to send 100 identical pitches to names off a list.
6. Online vs. print editors: Many media organizations, including Business 2.0 and the Wall Street Journal, have separate editorial staff for their print and their online versions. Plus, some have different staff for their email newsletters. So, you need to research exactly who is writing for what. (And don't assume the online staff is included in media lists you purchase.)
7. News at the top: There's no room for general introductory copy in email. Cut to the point and explain what the story is right away. Journalists skim email quickly -- they don't want to plow through a long note from you.
8. Follow-up phone calls: Want to be hated? Call a journalist and say, "I'm just checking to see if you got my email." If a journalist hasn't responded to your release or pitch, it's because they don't want to. It's pretty much a 'don't call us, we'll call you' situation.
Why do journalists find calls so incredibly annoying? Remember, they are deluged with emails and phone calls from people like you every day, all day long. Plus they are often working long hours with tight deadlines (even more so now that the economic slow-down has caused layoffs or hiring freezes in most media companies.) Holland said, "When you call me to check up, you're stopping me from getting my work done!" Hogan noted that he uses caller ID religiously to screen unwanted PR calls.
9. Webcasts: Journalists usually don't have the time (or inclination) to sit through a Webcast, and as Hogan says, "I don't need to see talking heads." Your best bet is to include a written transcript of the event on your Web site so journalists can skim it easily for the information they want.
10. Online press centers: The number one thing most journalists look for at on Web site press centers is also the number one thing most PR people leave off! It's complete contact information for an executive who can answer questions quickly. No, online forms and/or general email addresses such as "firstname.lastname@example.org" are not very helpful. Put a phone number, emergency contact number, email address and snail mail address on the very first page of your press center. Time zone is also helpful.