When I studied Public Relations at Kent State University, I was fortunate to have a couple of really awesome professors – Zoe McCathrin and Bill Sledzik.
Thanks to Zoe, I still often read my copy backward in order to catch typos (and feel just as mortified when I catch one). Anyone who had her can attest to the fact she was a tough teacher – she’d fail you for a single typo in an entire media kit.
Needless to say, many students left her classroom in tears over the years. But her toughness made Kent JMC students much, much better than average. And the longer I am in the industry, the more I realize how well Zoe did her job, and appreciate her hard work.
Bill, on the other hand, was new to the academic scene when I enrolled in his class. His energy and enthusiasm made Public Relations more exciting. He brought a lot of fresh, real world experience and practical tips to the classroom.
It is thanks to one of Bill’s pearls of wisdom that I’ve enjoyed many of my successes, including getting my story and pic in The New York Times – a placement all PR professionals strive for, but rarely achieve. Even though I went a different path after graduation, landing early on in the field of Interactive Marketing, this common sense tip of his has always served me well when it came to getting a news release, or other piece of content published.
It went something like this:
If you want someone to publish your
new release, make it easy as possible for them to do so.
I’ve spent the last year on the other side of the fence, publishing online news for people in the PR industry. What I see on a daily basis is disappointing, and full of bad practices. With that in mind, here’s a few tips on how to write news releases for online publishers.
— I often write tongue-in-cheek, so while you should make a mental note of these things, don’t take my attempt at humor too seriously. —
Tips for Getting Your News Picked Up By Online Publishers
- Write good headlines – First, write a short headline. No one wants to read a headline so long that it wraps three lines on the page. Personally, by the time I get to the end, I forgot what the beginning said. It’s also an immediate red flag that you may not be able to write concisely, and heavy editing is going to be needed. Plus, it generally makes a good design look bad, and dilutes SEO efforts. Second, don’t shout (use all caps). All you’re doing is forcing an editor to fix your ego boost before they can publish your story. If an online publisher wants headlines in all caps, they can easily change every single one on the site in 5 minutes using CSS. What they can’t do is easily change your all caps to title or sentence case. Given the choice between running your story and one that is formatted correctly, which one do you think they will choose?
- Don’t put your name (or your client’s name) in bold every time it’s used – I have no idea what purpose this serves. What I do know is that it’s not only distracting to readers, it also mucks up my HTML and has a negative effect on my SEO strategy, and therefore, forces me to spend 10-15 minutes deleting them.
- Embed links the right way – If you’re publishing in a print environment, it might make sense to write out links the long way. But if you’re looking to get published online, this is just bad practice: Seriously, who does this serve? Certainly not YOUR readers, and definitely not the publishers you’re hoping will print it, and who will subsequently invest another 15-20 minutes to properly embed your links so that readers can actually comprehend YOUR message, which is now lost in a tumultuous sea of links. Also, you are missing out on highly valuable opportunities to improve the online visibility of your story, and your website, by following this bad, but widely prevalent, practice — but that’s another post for another day. To those in the know, it comes off as either lazy and/or ignorant of the basic best practices of online content development.
- Learn the basics of SEO – Every single article, press release, blog post and piece of content that’s published online by a third party has an opportunity to impact rankings through search engine optimization. Not understanding how your online PR initiatives integrate and impact other efforts, like SEO, to improve online visibility is playing with fire. If you are lucky, the only impact will be an opportunity cost. Worst case, it could have a negative impact on your rankings. It may even put you out of a job once your client wises up, too. (In a former life, I dedicated a significant chunk of my time to “fixing” news releases for Fortune 500 clients, who ended up investing top dollars twice to get the same results they could have easily achieved by hiring someone with both PR and SEO experience the first time around.) Once your client sees the evidence that properly optimized releases always achieve better results than a traditional one from a holistic marketing perspective, who do you think they will hire? At a bare minimum, you should understand the best practices of online content development, including link building.
- Avoid fluff, give me the facts – A lot of online publishers automate the posting of press releases. So, no matter how good or bad your story is, it will probably still generate some online coverage. But the credible sites – those that manually review, edit and post stories – don’t want a press release filled with self-serving
- Provide value – See above. Then make sure your story is actually newsworthy.
- Don’t annoy the publisher – Sure, that sounds rude. But they are probably busy editing out the miscellaneous HTML that’s dragging down their page weight, the handshake quotes used to fill space, and the headlines that don’t follow good SEO practices from the 50 PR people that submitted a crappy story before you emailed them. So, if you send them several messages to check on a release you submitted less than an hour ago, unless you have something earth-shattering to offer, your story is likely to end up in the recycle bin.
- Submit your story – Sure, it seems like common sense — a real no brainer, really — but if you want a story published, you should actually submit it. I am thoroughly amazed at how many emails I get on a daily basis that:
- Are a forward to a story from Facebook or another social media site, which when I click on the link, can’t be accessed;
- Contain just one or two sentences alerting me to a story the PR professional wants published, and then links (or not) to a few details on another website.
- Reference a file they sent me days, weeks or months ago (or not at all). If you think a publisher might need a logo or embed code, make their job easier by attaching whatever information is pertinent the first time around. If you force them to sift through the hundreds of email they have saved, or dig through YouTube to find the HTML to display the video you mentioned but gave the wrong title or link to, you’re creating more effort for the publisher than your story is worth. Unless they specifically asked for or initiated a story, they’re not that interested in it. In fact, routinely forcing publishers to compensate for your lack of time, or just plain laziness, could land you in their junk mailbox permanently.
- Are provided in an image format (like a PDF or JPG file), instead of text, subsequently requiring the editor to convert files (which is relatively worthless from a content perspective) or retype the entire story. Send them your document in Word, or another text editor. If you can’t manage that, just put it in an email.
REPEAT: If you’re too lazy to send a publisher a written story tweaked to his audience along with your request, let alone cut/paste important details into an email, thereby forcing him become a detective instead of a publisher, so that he has to Google the crap out of your breadcrumb trail in order to wring lemonade out of a lemon, don’t expect your story to get published. It’s not that online publishers are lazy; It’s that unlike the traditional print publishers of the past, most online publishers don’t have an entire team of jockeys dedicated to turning your scraps into meaty masterpieces. They are probably one or two people who simply do not have the 2-4 hours it can take to track down the basic facts, then write/format/publish, a story they didn’t ask for, and that is your job, as the PR professional who wants it published, to provide.
Now, if you want to impress an online publisher, here’s a good juicy tidbit for you. Do them a favor and include well-written meta data. (I am still waiting to see this happen… Just once, even, would be nice!)
It’s too bad that all PR
students can’t take Sledzik’s class. If they did, they’d not only walk away with some best PR practices in the business, but also an invaluable life lesson:
Anytime in life that you want someone to do you a favor, make it as easy as possible for them to grant it.