Finding News Value with a Press Release

MaciasPR October 19, 2012 4,930
Finding News Value with a Press Release

By Mark Macias

Every business needs publicity to attract new customers. If you don’t grasp this concept as a fledging entrepreneur, your doors won’t stay open for long.

Of course, how to get that publicity is the recipe every business owner aspires to discover.

Recently, a TV show asked me to help promote their show, which was playing on the Internet. I was flattered by the invitation, especially since the producers have a media background and theoretically should be experts themselves. Before I had a chance to say, “Hmmm, I’m hungry,” there was a press release in my inbox, asking what I thought of it. They wanted to send a release to the media on our story and wanted my insight on it.

I am not a fan of press releases. I think it’s an outdated way to reach producers and reporters. Experienced publicists and corporate communications managers have debated me about the value of press releases and I see their side. A PR newswire service can potentially put your client instantly everywhere on the Web.

But if you’re trying to get your story on the local or national news, a press release on PR Newswire is not the best approach. A former CBS colleague, who now is a press person with a NYC city agency, asked me what I thought of distributing press releases via PR Newswire after her agency got a newswire budget approved.

I asked her, “Did you ever once go to PR Newswire looking for a story idea when you were at CBS? Of course not. You didn’t need to look for press releases. They were in your inbox every morning…hundreds of them.”

You think your inbox is inundated? Imagine what it’s like for a TV producer in New York. When I was an Executive Producer with WNBC, I easily got 200 emails every day and I assure you I didn’t read many of them. I skimmed my inbox, looking for ideas that intrigued me. A press release written in a standard form without a hook never caught my attention, which brings me back to the press release for the TV show.

I read it and squinched.

Their release had no focus. It wasn’t a story. It was an announcement for a show. There was no news angle, nothing newsworthy to cover.

They focused their release on a guest who had appeared on their program a few weeks earlier. Is that newsworthy? No, it’s an old announcement.

You need to put yourself into the eyes of the public if you’re trying to get publicity for your small business. If you’re writing a press release, it needs to have focus. You need to figure out the news peg or angle before you send it out, because you only get one shot with each reporter. You need to position your company as an expert or perhaps create your own story based on your client’s expertise. Look for the controversy and exploit it.

I have a legal client who has expertise in many areas. I pitched him to cable news and we were able to book him on national TV, using his expertise as the hook for a government crisis that was happening at that moment. The media needs experts, but your release needs to say WHY you can add insight and WHAT you are bringing to the table. Don’t just write a press release asking a TV station to do a story on your TV show, product, or service. Figure out the hook and lay it out in simple terms for the reporter or producer. Tell the journalist the story.

Finally, a press release distributed over a newswire is probably not going to get you on the news despite what PR Web and PR Newswire may try to sell you. Sure, the release will get you distribution on the Internet, but if reporters don’t read it, was it money well spent?

If an alien lands in Times Square and no one has any pictures or videos, is it still a story? Of course it is. The media will just need to find “experts” to describe what they saw. I assure you, reporters won’t be flocking to a PR newswire to find this source.

Mark Macias is a former Executive Producer with WNBC, Senior Producer with WCBS and Special Projects Producer with NBC. He’s also the author of the communications book, Beat the Press: Your Guide to Managing the Media. Macias now consults small and large businesses on how to get publicity. You can read more on his firm at MaciasPR.