22 July 2014
The art of the press release: Distribution
This is the first part of a new series on press releases and public relations, by Judith Rubin, editor, publicist and social media strategist for the visitor attractions industry.
You've got news to share and have written a press release. Where do you send it? Thinking about and planning distribution should be part of the process throughout, because your intended audience affects the language, emphasis and positioning of your announcement. Your target audience and your message should be clear to you (and they should be clear to your readers as well) and when you have that clarity, planning distribution will be simpler.
I'm an industry publicist and this discussion is from that perspective - which means I'm addressing the subject as if you had a business-to-business story - something about your company that you want to announce to your business colleagues and potential clients.
First, send it to the press
It's a "press release," but are you, in fact, sending it to the press?
Everyone is to some extent a self-publisher, as most have a website and/or blog and social media presence. As a result, you may not be fully availing yourself of the external media outlets that could be a source of additional visibility and support. Your own media streams are essential communications tools, but are you using them to compete with the media instead of collaborating with them?
Media outlets want to receive your news, and they want to publish it. Your news represents many things to them: fresh content for their publications, a relationship with your company, and material to share with their readers and inform their future coverage. They are competing with other publications in the field for readership, market position and advertising dollars.
In other words, media outlets have powerful incentives to help you get the word out. You can make them your partners.
Research and compile a representative list of media outlets, blogs and freelance journalists serving your industry. Make sure you are targeting the right people and that your email list is up to date. Share your press release with all of them. They will show you what they can do for you.
What about my own social media streams?
Your first impulses may have been in a different direction: to post the news on all your own social media outlets, then email the release to your client list. Eventually some members of the press will find it and pick it up... It may seem logical, but it's backwards. Why?
Think about the difference between taking the above approach versus deliberately reaching out to the media with the opportunity to spread your news for you, and in doing so, creating relationships that can benefit you down the road with further coverage. Those media outlets are set up to share information about your industry with as wide an audience as possible. That's their core business.
Give the media first crack at your press release: Let them compete to be the first out of the gate publishing your news, and to do the best job at building an article, slideshow or interview around it. Then, when you start sharing the announcement on your own social media streams, you can be sharing third-party links back to those media stories. Third-party links give a huge boost to your credibility and standing, and they help you build good relationships among the media. They're using your story, and driving traffic to you. You're sharing their coverage of your story, and driving traffic to them. There's a clear, mutual benefit. Meanwhile, you can focus more on your own core business.
Re the client list - Yes, of course you want to share your announcement with them. Think about whether it will have more impact when you can provide it with the added strength of third-party credibility. Your story as published in the media, versus your own version.
Another note about social media: If you have multiple pages and accounts you maintain yourself, it's easy to create what looks like a flurry of coverage and exposure by sharing your press release on all of them. But on closer examination you may well discover that this strategy has you mostly talking to yourself. Reaching out to the media helps you break out of your own bubble. And how your press release is received by them will help guide you toward the best way to create your next story.
What about exclusives?
The nature of a press release is that it is not exclusive - it's free content for the media to publish and share. Distributing too broadly (to outlets where there is no clear connection to your news) is counterproductive, as editors may start to see you as a spammer and filter them out. But all media outlets whose coverage is relevant to your industry and to your story belong on your distribution list. If you are overly selective in your distribution, you aren't making the most of the potential media coverage you could get, and you risk damaging your relationship with those who were left out of your information chain.
Foster and cultivate strong relationships with the media. Learn which are the best vehicles for your news and supporting your business goals. At the same time, keep your door open. Long term relationships are good for you - practicing favoritism is usually not. Don't burn bridges. Media outlets come and go. They change their focus and their formatting. So do their editors and writers. Keep the dialog going with all of them in order to maximize your coverage and reach the widest audience.
Your own backyard
In your quest for media coverage, remember to find and include journalists, bloggers, photographers, videographers and podcasters in your own metro area and region - or your project's. This includes your local business writers - and, in this age of freelance independence, your local pool of potential media partners could also include specialists in your own particular field. They'll attend your press events in person and be appreciative of the opportunity to meet with your people and chronicle your achievements first hand.
What about newswires?
If your story has a potential mainstream slant, you may want to consider adding newswire distribution, especially if you want to reach the mainstream editors in a particular region. Newswires, like media outlets, make it their business to share news and provide tools for targeting specific audience segments.
This continuing series of articles will in future also address writing and positioning press releases, as well as other aspects of public relations. -- J.R.
Judith Rubin is a freelancer serving the visitor attractions industry. She is co-editor of InPark Magazine and publications editor/social media strategist for the Themed Entertainment Association. In 2013 she was honored with the TEA Service Award.