Are media releases still relevant?
The one thing non-communications professionals know about the world of public relations is that you write media releases. Those who are unfamiliar with how media coverage comes to pass, see the media release as the be all and end all. It is not. The media release is to media coverage what the Hallmark invitation is to the party – just the beginning.
Sadly your boss may not have a nuanced understanding of how stories are made.
“Can you write a media release about our new program / campaign / product / milestone?” she asks / commands.
What she really means to say is: “Can you get me lots of media coverage through whatever means necessary?”
Some media trainers still offer full day workshops in the art of media release writing. We kid you not. When Hootville delivers our Media Savvy workshops we devote about 30 minutes to the gentle art of media release writing. We minimise our time on this topic because the impact of the media release has been minimised in the digital age during which millions of words appear on screens competing for the attention of journalists’ hearts and minds.
A radio producer once told me that she receives around about 140 media releases a day. In an environment as crowded as that don’t be so arrogant as to think that your media release will make an impact. Far more impactful will be your telephone call which is why we devote time in our media savvy training to the art of the telephone pitch.
So why write a media release?
At some point in the journey from pitching a story to publication you will have to provide the journalist some information in writing. This may well be your media release or it may be a simple email giving more background and detail. Make sure you use this to influence the way the journalist understands your story and have it ready in advance of your first telephone contact.
Media release vs the telephone pitch
The phone is mightier than the media release. Why? Well no journalist has ever said that our story idea was dull, had been covered before, was two weeks too late and is irrelevant but that because the media release was so well written they decided to give the story a run anyway.
On the other hand most of the 1000 stories we’ve successfully got up for clients was initiated and essentially sold via a short telephone conversation.
The phone call has more impact with journalists and takes less time for the publicist. Talking to each other can also help develop a working relationship.
Your superiors like media releases because it gives them the opportunity to correct something. This is old school. The amount of time devoted to writing, then perfecting a media release is a wicked waste of time that could be spent on packaging a better story, finding more prospective media targets and working the phones.
By calling first and sending your written information later you don’t have to provide a word-perfect media release. Instead, you can supply an email. It will still have to be well written and full of interesting information but it doesn’t have to have the headline, the logo in just the right spot and the three quotes. This will save you time – maybe a few hours by the time approvals are factored in. If you do this 20 times across a year you’ve got the best part of an extra working week up your sleeve. Use the time sit by your company pool with the daiquiri of your choice.
Other alternatives to the media release: Twitter. Along with politicians, journalists are the most passionate users of Twitter.
Consider using Twitter to gain attention of individuals in the media. A-list journalists will rarely be moved by a mention in a tweet but less well known journalists and producers may be. Certainly a Twitter mention will gain more attention that another email. Be sure to use an individual’s Twitter handle, not the media outlet as a whole.
How to improve your media releases.
You can improve your media release writing by concentrating on a few key factors:
An attention getting headline. Extra points if your headline is funny, punny or a witty play on words. The secondary headline, called the strap, has the job of more soberly explaining what your media release is all about. Get that right and you’re 20 per cent of the way there.
This example from the Property Council of Australia is straight to the point. When we wrote a release for a well-known Victorian charity facing financial ruin our headline was:
Elderly Victorian Icon $2 million in debt. We were happy with that because it created the thought that the icon was a famous person – few journalists could resist clicking to read who the debtor was.
Next; the opening paragraph has to be all encompassing and continue to hold the interest of the journalist. Summarise the situation and explain why it’s important.
Are your quotes boring? Probably. If your quotes can be read and pretty much make sense without the quotation marks, your quotes are too similar to ordinary text. Quotes have to sound like a real person really spoke to a real journalist with real passion. Again the Property Council example is good and real.
Conclusion: So yes, media releases still belong in the PR world though their status is far diminished. Tell your boss.