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How to Get Your News Published Like a PR Professional

I’ve been on both sides of the press release. I’ve attracted press attention for my active San Francisco church and I have edited the group’s weekly electronic newsletter.

I know what grabs me when I am editing.  When I am in PR mode and seeking media attention, I send out pieces that would appeal to my editing side.

Here are 4 Top Tips for Getting Your Story Out

  1. Make your press release “camera ready” so that lazy pressed-for-for-time editors can cut and paste what you’ve submitted right into their article templates.Top news outlets don’t run prepackaged press releases  However!  Many news outlets wind up running stories that are changed very little from the original press release.

    Grammatically correct stories in paragraph form that lead with Who, What, Where, When, Why, and How stand out.  A huge percentage of press releases submitted leave out some part of this basic information!

    Write paragraphs.  Announcements that are all bullet points grab attention on the bulletin board, but they have to be re-written for most news stories.  Your material is more likely to be thrown out than lovingly rewritten by a busy editor.

  2. Mother's Day Rally for PeaceWrite your announcement like it is news.  Don’t just state the facts about what you’re doing like you’re describing a dead fish.  Use action verbs and use the headline to tease the editors into wanting to read more.

    If the event doesn’t have a natural news hook, create one!When the church wanted to publicize its anti-Iraq war stance it faced a problem: a church against war is not on any assignment editor’s list of hot news stories.

    But, the peace activists and ministers created two brilliant hooks. First, they created a Mother’s Day event that focused on the pacifist sentiments of Julia Ward Howe, the creator of Mother’s Day in 1870.  Then, they encircled the entire church block in a colorful peace ribbon which made a great visual backdrop.

    When the congregation gathered on the church steps to promote peace on Mother’s Day, television and radio and print media outlets were all represented.

  3. Include pictures in your release. Conventional wisdom says that editors do NOT want photographs and that email systems for many organizations strip out photographs.  Maybe.

    However, when I wanted coverage for a new minister with five adopted children under 13 years old, I shamelessly embedded a photo of the kids in the press release.  Several major news organizations bit on the news release which, if you think of it, could have been dismissed a routine story of a congregation hiring the latest in a series of ministers. The San Francisco Chronicle created a front-page Sunday feature.
    Mother's Day Peace Event Press Release

  4. Post a summary box at the top of the page. Include the event title, date and time, press contact name and number, and target publication date. This box will let editors know at a glance what you’re publicizing and how to get more information.

When you are attracting publicity you want to do everything you can to grab the editor’s attention and make your story easy to run.  Be a great assistant to that work-worked editor, and you’ll see your story picked up and shared.

By |2011-11-11T10:18:13-08:00November 10th, 2011|Writing|0 Comments

Run this Again, … It’s Important!

“But, it’s important!” I get told by the author of an article we ran in the organization’s last electronic newsletter.  “Nothing has changed this week. Can’t you just run the story again?”

I understand that it takes a lot of time to create even a two- or three-paragraph invitation asking people to join in your event.  When you’re the organizer of a class and have to worry about the content and the petty organization details, writing a fresh press release can be just one thing too many. I sympathize because I’ve been there!  But, the answer to “Can’t you just run the story again?” is “No.”

Repeating a story is unwanted by readers, bad for the publication, and also bad for the activity being promoted.

Readers  know when they’ve seen something, and they will keep checking the newsletter — or listening to in-person announcements — only when they are being exposed to new information. Repeating the same words week-in and week-out because it is “important” is unlikely to get more participation.  People tune out old news, and if there is a lot of old news in the publication, they’ll stop reading it completely.  Moreover, repeating the same words another time has a diminishing impact on the reader.  They have already seen that come-on one time, made their decision not to join in, and repeating the same “come on down” message is not a good way to get them to change their mind.

Your invitation to participate has to be fresh each time you give it!

Here’s What to Do

If you are working on a major or ongoing event you can tell people about what you’re doing repeatedly.  Just give a different focus for each of your stories.

Here’s are some creative ways people have made second and third and fourth stories sound fresh and new:

  • The  organizers of the annual pledge drive ask a different person in the organization to write what the group means to them and to explain why they are giving generously.  The message of (“GIVE!”) is consistent, but each story is interesting because of the personalities of the folks writing in.
  • Weekly articles advertising a multi-session religious education course offered glimpses into the specific content for that week’s class.  While people were welcome to sign up for the whole series, the weekly focus on the topic of the next class gave people new insight each week.
  • A major fundraising silent auction wanted to build up excitement among donors and bidders, so the auctioneers sent in new stories over six weeks. Each story highlighted a different aspect of the event:  one week the article solicited donations for vacation rentals, another week’s article talked about donating  restaurant and home-cooked meals, and then the spotlight shifted to the fun of an auction reception with a preview of bidding.  The overall theme of “silent auction” ran through each episode, but the new ideas in each story made you want to read it and find out more!

Repeated articles are not nearly as fun to read as new ones on the same topic.  In addition, stories that are repeated are often inaccurate!  Plans and details change, and if your press information distribution system is on autopilot, you probably propagating outdated news.  Cutting and pasting from past releases is kosher, but you have to sit down at the keyboard and create every time blast out a story.

Finally, if you have completely run out of ideas and cannot think of a way to flog the event and make it sound interesting, maybe it’s time to stop.  If you’re tired of writing about the event, people are surely tired of reading about it!

By |2011-10-10T15:29:41-07:00October 4th, 2011|Newsletters, Writing|0 Comments

Don’t Announce Events if You Want People to Come

I just finished reading a press release for a non-profit organization’s conference that went something like:

We’re Holding an Event!

We’re a great group of people trying to do good in the world.  Our event will be next month, at this location, and it will focus on talking about these topics.  A lot of interesting people will be there.  Here are the dates, times, and location.

As announcements go, it wasn’t bad. The basic 4 W’s of journalism were covered: who, what, where, and when were handled.

But, there’s another W:  Why.

Why are you telling me about this event? Why should I care?

Many of the articles that are sent in to me as the volunteer editor of my church’s newsletter, The Flame, leave out the critical why.  The writers send in the announcements because they want people to show up and join in.  But, their write-ups don’t say that.  They read like a For Sale ad posted on the bulletin board of a community laundromat.

For Sale.  27-in flat-screen TV 2 years old. 555-1212

Reading the 3×5 card ad at the laundromat, you know that you’re supposed to call the owner if you want to buy the TV.  But, with event announcements it’s not so obvious what you’re supposed to do.   Make a reservation?  Buy a ticket? Are there membership or other prerequisites?  Are you talking to me?

Woman inviting people to her eventInvite Your Audience

As the harried organizer of a non-profit group you know you are eager for people to join to come to your event.  That’s why you sent out the announcement, for Pete’s sake!

But, the reader of the announcement may not understand that this message includes people who are not already involved with the activity. Or, they may not understand the logistics of how to become involved, even if all they have to do is show up to be welcomed.

The solution is to avoid announcing your activity.  Invite people to it instead.

Put an explicit invitation to join in, participate, or “come on down” in your headline and lead paragraph.

Tell Them HOW to Join the Fun

Along with who, what, where, when, and why, stories about future activities should include an H word:  HOW.

Tell your target audience in plain words what they have to do to be included:  do they need to call ahead, come to the first meeting, or pay at the door? Especially in these times, cost is an important factor, and you should mention the price of admission for everything, even when it’s $0. You and everyone in your group may know that you’re informal folks and people can casually drop into your free activity. But, the people you’re trying to draw into your circle may not know the details. Make it easy for them by laying it all out in the invitation.

Give your readers a clear road path to becoming involved, and ask them to take that first step.

Include a Compelling Call to Action

In the business world, marketing mavins are told to include a call to action in their sales materials.

Call now!
Register today!

Go ahead. Get down and dirty with all the sales tricks when you’re trying to fill up your event. Make your pitch invitation include a sense of immediacy.  Have them sign up right now!

Why not?  Why not ask them to commit while they are reading your message.  If you give a reader until next month to register, they’ll put off signing up until next month. And, then they’ll forget.  If not right now, certainly they should register at coffee hour this Sunday or email you by Friday.

There is a reason that so many commercials have a breathless sense of urgency.  It works!

 Give it a Whirl

If you want more people to show up at your next event, volunteer to do the “announcements”.  Then write a captivating invitation:

  • Use an action verb to ask people to join in the action
  • Tell folks exactly how they can feel included and part of your merry band
  • Create a way for your invitees to commit to attending now, before their attention wanders

Let me know how inviting folks filled your activity with energetic new folks!

By |2011-09-28T15:39:05-07:00September 23rd, 2011|Writing|2 Comments

Ban These 2 Words to Create Successful Events

There are two words which you should never use if you want other sane, busy people to join your activity. They are the two words I keep trying to remove from the weekly church newsletter I edit, The Flame.  Yet, they are part of almost every article submitted for that organization and for other non-profits and businesses.

Man gagged and censoredBanned Word #1: Meeting

Face it, no one wants to go some place, sit in a chair, and “meet”.  Meetings conjure up the image of school classrooms where you sit and squirm until you’re released to do something more fun.

Except “meetings” are worse than going to class because it’s not just the qualified teacher who is going to lecture you. Meetings carry with them the likelihood that some other member of the audience is going to let loose and share some tangential tidbit from their store of personal biases. Meetings you’ve gone to have lasted twice as long because someone is always going off under the guise of asking a clarifying question or, worse, tagging in with a long story that’s supposed to validate the presenter’s point. Right?

Whatever the details, you know that you don’t want to go to a “meeting.”  The vibrant people you want joining your activity don’t want to go to a meeting, either.

So, don’t use the word.

There are a lot of fine, more action-sounding terms to use instead of meeting.  These phrases may even better describe what you’re doing. For extra credit, see if you can use a verb instead of a noun when you invite people to join you. Ask them to  Rally, March, Gather, Plan, Plot, and Talk!

You can have discussions, seminars, and votes if you need to name the activity with a noun rather than to do it.  Just don’t do a “meeting”.

Banned Word #2: Committee

No one wants to join a committee.  No one.

Why?  Because all that committees do … wait for it… is have meetings. We already know that no one wants to go to a meeting, and sane folk certainly don’t want to belong to a group whose purpose is to hold them.

Committees are even set up by governments to kill interest in a public issue by holding meetings.

(Oddly, when you find yourself inexplicably trapped on a committee, your first reaction is to recruit other bright and energetic people just like you to join the committee.  It’s a tough sell, because the other intelligent people feel just like you about committees.  They run when they see you coming with your committee sign-up clipboard.)

There may be some bylaw or structural reason that your group has a formal name of The XXX Committee.  Just, don’t ever admit to your legal name in public!

Here’s what you do. Advertise your group by its true active purpose.  In fact, I love the word “activist” as a replacement for most “committees”.

  • The Art Committee becomes the Artists or Art Curators or Art Activists…
  • The Ecology Committee becomes the Eco Theorists or Green Activists…
  • The Education Committee becomes the Education Explorers or Education Advocates, or Education Activists…
  • The Justice Committee becomes the Justice Witnesses or Justice Creators or Justice Activists…

Try Out Your New Words

I know that making light of the words “meeting” and “committee” is  fun.  The need to avoid these deadening words is too obvious to any adult who has ever gone to church, joined a community group, or gone to work in a company.

However, changing the terminology for your group and its events is more than simply amusing.  Use different phrasing and you will get more volunteers eager to come to your events and to join your band of lively activists.

Try it out.  Get your most recent “Committee Meeting Announcement”.  Re-write it without once employing the banned words.  Don’t tell people about the committee meeting as if you were daring them to attend.  Invite them to join with other activists saving the world.

By |2011-10-10T15:32:03-07:00September 12th, 2011|Writing|6 Comments

Is It Marketing or 1984 Speak?

This morning I helped a CPA tell his clients about the State of California’s effort to collect use tax payments. The concept is straight-forward, but the language used by the government is either straight out of Marketing 101 or George Orwell’s 1984.

Here’s the problem for cash-strapped California. When you buy goods “tax free” from out-of-state stores like the Internet’s, you are required to pay the sales tax (called a “use tax”) to California. The State thinks that most people and companies ignore this rule and fail to pay what they should.

According to legislation effective 2010, businesses are supposed to file a report annually online declaring what they owe and pay it.  Individuals are supposed to declare and pay their use tax amount when they file their state income tax form.

Since the state is desperate for money, the Franchise Tax Board is sounding pretty shrill over the filing requirements.  All of this is understandable and meets my expectation of what government are supposed to do.

But , two parts of the program twist the English language too much:

  • The state requires businesses that gross over $100,000 annually to file a report online unless they already have a sale tax certificate.  The business who the state is now forcing to file extra reports are called by the state, “Qualified Purchasers”.Really?  “Qualified Purchaser” means I have to file more tax forms?

    How do I get disqualified?

  • The legislation that established this extra reporting burden on small/medium-size  businesses was called, wait for it…, “The Internet Tax Freedom Act”.(See the letter to tax professionals from the state.)

If words are to have meaning, the legislator and the Franchise Tax Board need to be sent back to remedial summer school.  Oops!  I forgot.  There’s no money anymore to teach language skills.

By |2011-03-31T12:13:51-07:00March 31st, 2011|Writing|0 Comments
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