For Ad Agency PR Success, Avoid These Mistakes When Writing a News Release

Bundle of newspapers

One of the most important roles of ad agency PR is to disseminate agency news to reporters and bloggers. There are, however, some pitfalls to avoid when seeking publicity, especially when it comes to writing a news release. Here are four mistakes journalists often gripe about when receiving releases from agencies and other sources:

1. Attempting to disguise advertising to make it look like a news story. One of my more memorable academic experiences was the day a college professor returned a paper I submitted with “SJ” at the top instead of a grade. When I asked what SJ meant, he replied “snow job.” Trying to put one over my professor didn’t work in college, and it rarely, if ever, works with reporters. A news release needs to be about news, and it should be written objectively using Associated Press style. Write the release with third-person pronouns and the active rather than passive voice (e.g. John shot Mary, not Mary was shot by John).

2. Stating things that are subjective and opinion-based as facts. If you want to include a statement that involves an opinion or judgment, turn it into a quote and attribute the statement to someone. Otherwise, stick to the facts and let them stand on their own merit.

3. Using puffery and exaggerated descriptions of people, events, products or servicesfollowed by lots of exclamation marks!!!!!! Nothing screams amateur quite like that. Ditto for platitudes and vague generalities. Be as concise as possible. Mark Twain said he would have written a shorter letter, but he didn’t have time to do so. It usually takes longer to write short, concise copy than long copy, but journalism is all about being succinct and to the point. Don’t fall in Twain’s trap; less is more in a news release.

4. Failing to be relevant to a reporter’s area of coverage. You may have some great news to share, but if you haven’t invested the time to understand a reporter’s beat, audience and interests, you may very well reach the wrong person. There are times when a considerate reporter will email you back and say that he/she has forwarded your release to someone else who might be interested, but don’t count on that happening. It’s far better to take the time to make sure you reach the right person the first time.

If you learn to think and write like a journalist, and understand their criteria for judging the value of news, you’ll have a much easier time getting them to pay attention to your releases and take you seriously as a useful source. And that will improve your chances of getting publicity for your agency and your firm’s clients.

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Eight Ways Your Ad Agency Can Increase Its Chances for a Publicity Hit

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Getting a good publicity hit is a combination of art, science and sometimes just plain luck. You can increase your chances of getting “lucky” in your publicity efforts by following some basic dos and don’ts.

Here are eight ways to get your agency on the path to successful publicity.

#1: Define your media focus.

Limit your pitches to those outlets that directly serve your target audience. Otherwise, you may end up wasting a lot of time and energy. When I was on the editorial side of a healthcare magazine, I once got a very nice press kit for a horse show. There was no way we were going to cover a horse show in our healthcare magazine. Clearly whoever sent the press kit to us was taking a shotgun approach to the news media, hoping to hit something. That generally doesn’t work very well.

#2: Get to the right person at each media outlet.

Whether you’re dealing with your local paper, a trade publication or a national TV news outlet, it’s important to take the time to find out which person covers the particular area you are interested in targeting. “Dear Editor” or “Dear Producer” will not impress the recipient.

#3: Research a reporter’s previous stories before making contact.

Learn all you can about what the reporter covers, his or her interests and reporting style. Most reporters use social media, so it’s a good idea to follow them on Twitter, their blog, etc., before making contact. You can learn a lot about their interests (and dislikes), and even engage in online conversation, before presenting a story idea to them.

#4: Don’t waste their time or mislead them.

Reporters are busy people who work under constant pressure and deadlines. When pitching a story, get right to the point. The most important things you can tell a reporter about your story are who will care about it and why.

 #5: Respect their deadlines.

When contacting a reporter, I always first ask if he or she is on deadline. If so, I then ask when would be a convenient time to share a story idea. (Some will prefer you email the idea to them.) If you’re contacted by a reporter on deadline, do everything you can to respond within that deadline; otherwise, you may miss out on a golden opportunity. Even worse, if you don’t respond promptly, the reporter may contact and quote a competitor.

#6: Think and pitch like a reporter.

When the time comes to make your pitch, be sure you don’t sound like a commercial. Be as objective as possible by emphasizing the news or human interest aspect, or your expertise to comment and provide insights.

#7: Make their jobs easier.

The more you can provide reporters with relevant, factual information that is meaningful and targeted to their audience, the more likely they are to take you seriously and provide coverage. Plus, if they know that you know their audience, area(s) of coverage and deadline, when they see a pitch from you in the future, they’ll realize you’re credible and are more likely to give you serious consideration.

#8: Know what makes a good news story.

There’s a simply way to evaluate your story idea before presenting it: Put yourself in the reporter’s shoes and ask, “Would this story be interesting to my audience?” If you can’t honestly answer yes, you need to rethink your pitch.

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PR Stunt with Fake Military Commandos Generates Awareness but Tarnishes Brand

Sometimes a PR stunt may seem like a clever idea when it’s first being kicked around, but upon further reflection it becomes apparent that the idea should never see the light of day.

Such was the case with a French Internet company’s spark of genius in using fake military commandos near the Cannes Film Festival. This one apparently skipped the further reflection phase and went directly to implementation, followed by disaster.

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According to a FOX News story, a group of six men in ISIS militia-style gear approached a historic celebrity-filled hotel near the festival. One of the men reportedly stormed the stairs leading up to the resort. Panic ensued as “someone screamed and people jumped out of their chairs and started moving quickly.” Surprise, surprise. Who would ever have anticipated a reaction that like?

When the dust cleared it was disclosed that the incident was a publicity ploy to promote Oraxy, a French start-up tech company’s Internet site, which the company says is “reserved exclusively for Ultra High Net Worth Individuals.”

Did it get attention? Oh yeah.

Did it build awareness of Oraxy? Definitely. No telling how many zillions it would cost in advertising to equal the publicity garnered by using fake terrorists to scare the daylights out of wealthy hotel guests at one of the most prestigious film festivals in the world.

Will amused “Ultra High Net Worth Individuals” flock to Oraxy’s “global marketplace” site after this incident? I have my doubts.

Gaining attention does not necessarily gain market share, and adverse publicity like this can cause enormous long-term damage to a brand.

An Oraxy spokesperson confirmed the incident was a publicity stunt and said it was coordinated with maritime authorities. “The spokesperson said the unidentified owners feel ‘really bad’ about scaring people on the hotel property.”

Given the recent terrorist attacks in Paris and elsewhere, and the authentic look of these fake commandos, could anyone really think there would be any other reaction than fear? If the Oraxy folks couldn’t foresee the panic that was likely to take place, wouldn’t you think the maritime authorities would have raised a red flag and put the kibosh on this?

A little common sense and what-if questioning could have saved  a lot of grief.

For more years than I can remember, I’ve had a sign in my office that some insightful unknown person created to outline the six phases of a project (in this case a stunt):

  1. Enthusiasm
  2. Disillusionment
  3. Panic
  4. Search for the guilty
  5. Punishment of the innocent
  6. Praise and honors for the non-participants

I suspect Oraxy followed the first five steps but will skip number six altogether, because no one will want to take credit for this fiasco.

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Ad Agency PR: Can It Guarantee Publicity for Your Agency or Client?

NewsChannel 5 Truck

One of the biggest challenges in ad agency PR is managing expectations for publicity. If you work in the PR industry long enough, there’s a good chance that sooner or later you’ll be asked if you can guarantee news media coverage of a new product, service or event.

Better yet, someone in your agency will say or imply that you can get coverage in an effort to impress a client or win a new piece of business.

Generally speaking, no one working in PR can guarantee coverage in a legitimate publication or program.

I’ve seen exceptions—such as a small newspaper, radio station or trade publication offering coverage in exchange for advertising—but the higher one goes in the news media chain, the less likely it is that such an exchange will take place. In fact, most media outlets would be downright insulted if approached that way.

What can be promised is that the PR practitioner will devote his or her best efforts to success; explore a variety of possible angles; utilize knowledge and experience (such as understanding how news media operate and what constitutes a good story from their perspective); and leverage existing relationships with reporters in a good-faith effort to generate positive coverage.

Still, there’s always the possibility of striking out. And that can sometimes be hard for advertising executives or clients to understand because they think the story idea is great and everyone should be interested in it.

Maybe it really is a great story, but the timing isn’t right because the targeted media outlet recently did a similar story; perhaps there are other earth-shattering events taking place that have crowded your story out of the running. Or, possibly, gatekeepers have made it impossible for you to reach the right people.

There are days when a career in advertising sounds pretty good compared to a career in PR with all its uncertainties. While advertising and PR should both base their strategies and messaging on research, advertising has the distinct advantage of being able to control the message, determine where it runs and when.

With publicity, you have no real control over the message—though you can influence it—and you have no control over where a story runs, when it runs or even if it runs—not to mention that the publicity may backfire by being negative.

Despite these drawbacks, PR has an advantage that no other marketing tool can replicate, and that is giving your agency or client credibility.

That’s because publicity allows an objective secondary source–the news media or bloggers–to tell your story to the people you want to reach. Best of all, publicity does so at no cost, (other than what one might be paying a PR person to do the story crafting and pitching).

It’s this high risk/high reward carrot that makes PR so energizing and addictive. Win or lose a particular publicity battle, it’s worth the challenge. I guarantee it.

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The Most Important Part of Your Agency’s Pitch to Reporters

 

Man pitching a baseballWhile there are a number of things that go into an effective pitch letter to reporters, I believe the most important is your headline (or subject line if sending by e-mail). The reason is simple: If the headline doesn’t grab them, they’re not likely to read your pitch letter no matter how well it’s crafted.

During my days as an editor for a healthcare magazine, I got a lot of mail. Here’s a news release headline that a well-meaning hospital or agency public relations executive sent me one day:

CDH TO HOST LAPAROSCOPIC HERNIORRAPY PRECEPTORSHIP

One in a half-million or so people would have a clue what that headline was about.

And ask yourself: how much interest does it generate?  The release itself was fairly well written, and once I read the first few sentences I realized the hospital was hosting a seminar about advancements in hernia operations.

But most reporters – even those in healthcare –wouldn’t get past that headline. The release would end up in the recycle bin or deleted before the first paragraph was read.

The headline should describe, in simple terms, what the seminar is about and why it merits attention. For example, if this involves a new procedure, the headline should make that point up front.

A couple days ago a colleague forwarded an article to me titled “A World-Class News Release.” The writer, Denny Hatch, is a columnist for Target Marketing magazine and author of a new book called Write Everything Right!

Mr. Hatch gets a lot of news releases e-mailed to him, 90% of which he estimates are “unreadable.” Recently he received an e-mail with this subject line:

Infographic: Who is a fraud perpetrator?

Intrigued, he began reading an e-mail news release (with an introductory note) from Scott Patterson, senior public relations specialist with the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners. Mr. Hatch described it as “perfect in every way.”

The copy started with a couple of attention-getting questions: What are some of the characteristics of a fraudster?That is, who are the people who commit occupational fraud, stealing from their employer or clients?

Mr. Hatch – not an easy man to please – liked the content so much that he listed the entire pitch, with key takeaways that included this:

  • If the reader does not get beyond the headline, the entire effort is a 100 percent failure—in terms of money spent and time wasted.

“Hey all you P.R. folks, learn from this guy!” Mr. Hatch advises.

Duly noted – and congratulations to Mr. Patterson for an excellent pitch that started with a stand-out subject line.

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Press Release Is a Key Tool for Ad Agency PR

 

How Social Are Your Press Releases Image medium_6330943490Is the traditional press release dead, and if so how will its demise affect ad agency PR?

Recently I posed the “Is-the-press-release-dead” question to students in my strategic communications class at Williamson College. I asked them to read an article titled “The end of the press release?” — which makes this claim — and let me know their thoughts about it.

The author, Gregory Galant, concludes his article with this interesting statement: “It’s time we accept that the days of the press release are over-let’s skip the anger, bargaining, and depression stages-and focus on more effective methods for releasing news.”

What exactly those “more effective methods” are Mr. Galant doesn’t spell out, though he notes that “The SEC has even announced that information can be released via social media, provided investors know where to look and it’s not restricted.”

So why does this have to be an either/or situation? Why not use social media to extend the reach of a press release rather than replace it?

I wasn’t convinced the press release is dead, and it turns out my students didn’t buy it, either. One of them commented:

“There are plenty of people in the general public who still do not have Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr accounts…There are other who simply don’t get that interested in social media.  There will always be ‘that kind’ of public. They need other ways to find out what’s going on. Newspapers, TV news, etc., are great sources for people who either don’t use social media or who simply want to unplug from the hectic pace of pointless selfies that fill the Internet.  Sometimes I like hearing about important information through social media, but usually I treat that as entertainment…There have to be lots of folks out there like me.  Press releases are not dead.”

Good insights from someone who is smack dab in the middle of the generation that grew up with social media.

Mr. Galant cites four reasons the days of press releases are “long gone.” I’ll summarize and respond to each one.

1. Today, seconds after you post a press release on the Internet, it’s no longer new news.

True, but so what? How is using social media or other methods going to change that?

2. Google itself has said that it’s discounting content that you pay to distribute and has explicitly warned against putting unnatural links in press releases.

Who says everybody pays to distribute their press releases? Having updated media lists are vital for any PR person. Paid services should supplement, not totally replace, an in-house media list. And if you are going to be held hostage to Google’s constantly changing search algorithm, you’ll likely end up at the algorithm funny farm.

3. People must want to share your content with their friends and followers. A formal announcement typically isn’t well suited to these channels.

Companies make announcements through “formal” press releases all the time. If the topic is of interest, why wouldn’t people want to share it regardless of how the content is delivered?

4. The SEC has already provided the guidance that public companies can simply post announcements on their websites, rather than use a press release service.

Okay, so public companies have options – how does that prove the traditional press release is dead? As I noted earlier, why not use a press release and social media to extend your reach and let people choose how they prefer to receive information?

My student had it right. Press releases are not dead – and they’re not likely to die out anytime soon.

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8 News Release Mistakes to Avoid for Ad Agency PR Success

 

Image of laptopWhat’s the number one problem reporters have with public relations?

In a survey of more than 1,700 journalists and editors sponsored by Bulldog Reporter and Cision, 60% of them cited their biggest beef as the lack of relevance of the materials they received from corporate communications and PR professionals. Much of this information, they noted, is written like advertising, not journalism.

That’s a sure-fired way to have your news release or press kit trashed.

Ad agencies that want to be taken seriously by reporters should avoid these eight mistakes when writing a news release:

1. The “no news” news release. This is where you’re trying to get your agency or client some media coverage but without a real news hook. It’s better to hold off on your release until you have an appropriate angle to justify contacting a reporter. If you want some ideas on creative publicity topics, check out my “Ad Agencies Top 20 Topics for Publicity” post.

2. Puffery and exaggerated descriptions of people, events, products or services – followed by lots of exclamation marks!!!!!! Nothing screams amateur quite like that.

3. Platitudes and vague generalities.

4. Verbosity. It’s usually harder to write short, concise copy than long copy, but journalism is all about being succinct and to the point.

5. Stating things that are subjective and opinion-based as facts. If you want to include a statement that involves an opinion or judgment, turn it into a quote and attribute the statement to someone.

6. Writing about “pseudo” events that are contrived to get attention but have no real news value.

7. Consistently leading with the name of your boss in the headline or first paragraph.

8. Writing like an advertising copywriter instead of a journalist. (See journalists’ top concern above.) To be considered credible by the news media, you have to write your news release as objectively as possible, emphasizing its news value, connection to a trend or its human interest aspect. Use third-person pronouns and the active rather than passive voice.

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