When you’re starting or running your own small business, you have an endless list of jobs to do. One of the most crucial is generating interest in your business and creating awareness of your products and services.
Big companies can have a team of people to do this and hire a PR agency but as a small business, you will probably need to do all your PR yourself. There’s nothing more demotivating when you’re doing your own PR than spending hours getting the perfect press release put together… only for it to be completely ignored by all the journalists you’ve sent it to.
But don’t take it personally, it’s a very common occurrence. And when you hear that 99% of all press releases sent to the media end up in the bin you realise it happens a lot more often than you think.
The reality is that the media are bombarded with press releases every single day of the week. Their poor email inboxes creak and strain under the pressure of hundreds of emails arriving from business owners, PR agencies, and anyone else who fancies getting themselves a bit of valuable free publicity.
Email can be the biggest pain for journalists
When I got my first news editor’s job at a local radio station in 1997, I used to receive on average 100 press releases a day, all in the post or on the fax (we didn’t have a website or email address back then).
Recently I spoke to the guy who is now the news editor of the same radio station and he told me he now gets more than 300 press releases a day – all sent to him by email.
See, email makes it so easy to send a message to any journalist anywhere in the UK that it is overused. People blast journalists with press releases that are totally irrelevant to them.
Funnily enough though, the journalists aren’t stupid. In 1997, I only used to give publicity to one in every 100 press releases that were sent to me. The news editor these days still only gives publicity to one press release – out of 300!
The rest are never read! Every morning he just deletes the emails in his account that he can’t be bothered to read.
Scary, huh? But it makes sense. All this email “noise” makes it a lot harder for your press release to stand out and generate you some valuable free publicity.
The 3 common mistakes that cause journalists to delete your press release
Most press releases get deleted because the people who send them make a series of small but deadly mistakes.
Just making one mistake is bad enough… most business owners sending their own press releases make two, even three of these mistakes.
It may amuse you to know that even big PR agencies make these mistakes as well… that’s why I always recommend hiring a PR person who has previously had a career as a journalist, as they would find it virtually impossible to make these mistakes.
Let’s look at the 3 mistakes and the proven actions you can take to avoid them;
1. Your press release isn’t relevant to the journalist you have sent it to
To understand why this is such a big problem, I want you to put yourself in the shoes of a journalist working on a big magazine, let’s say Grazia. Your job as this journalist is very simple – you have to write content (a lot of it) that appeals to a certain kind of woman.
The magazine’s publishers have already decided that Grazia is aimed at women with a certain lifestyle and level of income. That woman will be known within the magazine as the target reader, and everything that you write has to be utterly relevant to her.
If it isn’t, she won’t continue to buy Grazia, meaning readership figures will fall, advertisers will find the magazine less appealing and will go elsewhere, and ultimately the journalist will be fired.
So with that in mind – imagine how you feel as this journalist when you get an email from a small business, looking for some free publicity in the magazine. And the headline of this press release is, “Mechanical engineering firm announces new chairman”.
Will the readers of Grazia care about the engineering firm or its chairman? Absolutely not.
And before you think this is too extreme an example, let me assure you – THIS KIND OF THING HAPPENS EVERY DAY.
It makes journalists angry. Because while they are reading through the irrelevant rubbish being sent to them, they are not writing the content they are being paid to write.
Let’s turn to the second mistake you could make:
2. Your timing is wrong
There are three aspects to getting timing right. The first is when you are reacting to stories that are already in the news. There’s no point sending a press release offering your expert reaction to a story three weeks after it has happened. By then journalists will probably have moved on.
So long as the story is still in the news then it is worth doing. Just remember to offer a new and different angle.
The second aspect of timing is around what journalists call “diary events” such as Christmas, Crufts and campaigns. These are diary events because everyone knows when they will happen, unlike other news stories such as crashes and crime.
Because diary events are anticipated, journalists can write about them long before they happen. I heard recently that in October, ITV News was planning some big feature stories for the next Easter!
The third aspect of timing is what’s known as the news cycle. This is the process each media outlet goes through to produce news, and differs hugely in length.
For example, a monthly magazine may have a three month cycle – it takes them three months in total to produce an issue of a magazine – whereas a radio station may have a one hour cycle, as the newsreader starts looking for more just after they have read each hour’s news.
You need to find out when the media outlets you want publicity have their deadline and approach them at the start of their news cycle. Like anyone with an immovable deadline, journalists don’t want to talk to you when they only have minutes to spare until the printing press starts or the broadcast begins.
Finally, we turn to the third mistake that you can make:
3. You send out a press release that doesn’t have any “Standoutability”
What is “Standoutability”? It’s a word I made up to describe the press releases that most businesses (and PR agencies) send out. Bland, boring releases that merge all too easily with all the other bland boring releases.
So your business has a new managing director. Big deal. Who cares? That sounds harsh, but it’s how journalists think. There’s nothing that stands out about a company getting a new MD. It happens every day.
Now if your business has a new MD who absolutely insists on dying his hair pink, that’s a different matter…
How often do you pick up a newspaper and see a picture of an MD who keeps his hair pink? Never! And that’s what gives the story “Standoutability”.
Unusual is good. Different is good. Remember you are battling against 300 other press releases for attention. And that example I gave earlier was at a local radio station. A daily newspaper will get thousands of press releases a day.
You can’t expect to do ordinary things and attract attention.
Add in Standoutability to your press release, and so long as it is relevant and the timing is right… your chances of getting free publicity will increase significantly.
This article was written by a long-term ByteStart contributor, and journalist, Paul Green. He set up Publicity Heaven to help business owners get free publicity in the mainstream media, then turn it into leads, sales and profits.
Last updated - 19th August, 2015