Let’s say you’ve got your event listed in all the newspaper calendars (which you learned how to do at http://createworklive.com/2008/10/15/getting-in-print-local-listings/). But now you think it deserves a bit more print than a teeny mention in 6-point type. You want an article about it. Maybe even a picture. After all, newspapers and magazines are full of articles about just such events as yours: You want a share of the page.
What you need is a press release. A press release is a short article (usually no more than 500 words) that you send out to editors and writers telling them the basics of what’s going on and giving them a reason why they should cover your event. Sometimes, they will publish the press release exactly as you wrote it. Sometimes they will revise it; they may expand it with additional research, or (more commonly) they might shorten it. And sometimes they’ll send a reporter to follow up and do a whole story on you.
The job of a press release is to get media coverage for your event.
As with community listings, you need to start with a list of media, contacts, and lead times, with specific addresses. Press releases MUST go to the appropriate person; otherwise they are usually deleted. (You’d think a reporter would just hit the forward button and send it off to the right editor, but usually they don’t. Everyone is too busy, and they get too many releases.) So check the paper to find out if they publish the right e-mail address for press releases, or call and ask. You can also network into this information; for example, a community college administrator once gave me her press contact list. However, double check your list with a phone call, since @ddresses change and go out of date. A press release that goes to the wrong e-mail address might as well have never been sent.
Timing is important, too. Some papers have a little burb buried somewhere that tells you to send material two weeks (or whatever) before the event. With magazines, you can pretty much assume at least a three to four month lead time, more if you want them to do a feature on you. (Magazine lead times for features can be up to a year in advance, and sometimes much more.)
Press releases follow a traditional format; you want to stick with that. Anything that deviates too far off the expected track will usually get tossed.
- Headline: As any writer/reporter knows, our e-in-boxes are filled to the rim every day with press releases, most of which have nothing to do with what we write about. In fact, the first thing I do every day when I check e-mail is delete irrelevant press releases. I decide what’s relevant based on the headline: Unless the headline makes it clear that what I’m getting means something to me, I delete it. So headlines should include ANY information that shows how your press release targets that publication. For local and regional publications, two key ideas are “local” and “timely.” Tie ins with charity events, festivals, and seasonal tourist attractions are also eye-catching.
- Title: Inside the press release, there should be an informative title for the release. If you opt for cute and quirky, balance it with a sub-head that makes it clear what’s going on.
- Release date: The release date tells the reporter when the information may be published.
- Contact info: Make sure that whatever contact info you give is easy to find (right at the top of the page) and that it is “live.” If a deadline-stressed reporter calls (and what other kind of reporter is there?), he or she wants an answer, not a machine. Give both a reliable phone number (not your cell if you never answer it), and an e-mail address.
- First paragraph: You can get a away with ONE clever sentence or teaser in your first paragraph, but that’s it. The rest should be crystal clear: Who, what, when, where.
- Voice. Do NOT write in the first person. This is not a personal essay! It should sound like you hired a PR firm to write about you.
- Hook. The hook is where you get creative and show what’s unique and newsworthy about your event. Anything to do with timing is good (perhaps you’re playing a Mozart sonata on the anniversary of its permiere); perhaps this is the 10th annual jam concert your band holds. Awards, local connections (your novel is set in the region), seasonal tie-ins (Your poetry is Halloween-themed and you’re asking everyone to come in costume; your autumn pottery exhibit includes cups containing impressions of leaves that fell): Anything that makes a connection between you, your work, the reporter, the place, and the people who will be reading is a plus.
- Just the facts, ma’am. Skip the adjectives and adverbs. Don’t call your work ”beautiful,” “interesting,” “revolutionary,” or “ground-breaking.” That’s for others to say. Instead, describe in as few words as possible what MAKES it groundbreaking: Perhaps you were the first person to combine Japanese print-making techniques with collage, or you have figured out a way to write a blues songs using a 12-tone scale.
- Keep the jargon out of it. Using the example above, you can’t talk about a 12-tone scale unless you have reason to believe your reporter and his or her readers will know what it is. (Yes for a music magazine, no for the Podunk Gazette.) If you can explain it quickly, that’s fine. But no reporter wants a music theory lesson with his morning coffee.
- Endorsements. If your work really IS “astonishing,” “gorgeous,” “revolutionary,” and “cutting-edge,” chances are someone has said it. Feel free to quote them in your press release, but pick the quotes that contain the most informative content — not just the high-flying adjectives. Unless someone really famous said it; then go with it. (Celebrity trumps content.)
- Details: Include addresses, cost, parking info, and any other practicalities at the end.
One final suggestion: The Internet makes it easy to personalize your releases. Come up with a boilerplate — but then feel free to add a little something if you think it would be particularly relevant for a certain publication.