Sunday, January 04, 2009

Don't Be Stupid

I had an email discussion with Drew McManus recently about some of the...less effective email I've gotten from publicists over the last few months. He suggested putting together a list of do's and don'ts for publicists who are dealing with new media. My initial response was "don't be stupid," which really means "Be professional." The guidelines below are not really specific to new media; I believe they apply whether you're sending publicity to the NY Times or me.
  • DO make the subject line something meaningful. I almost trashed email recently that had the subject line "YOU GO GIRL!!" because it looked like spam to me. I stopped to take a look and found that it contained important news. "ICE Founder and Flutist Claire Chase Wins Important Competition" would have gotten my attention real fast.
  • DO put the most critical information (dates, times, works, performers, venue) someplace easy to locate. Right at the top is good; if you send out many press releases, put this information in the same place every time, whether at the top or bottom. Just make it easy to find.
  • DO use blind carbon copy. That is, don't open-copy your mailing list. Some high-profile individuals do not want their personal email addresses circulating.
  • DON'T write a fake personal note as part of the email. You know what I mean: "Hey...I was just reading your blog and thought this might interest you." I can't stand those, and while I might be more sensitive than most to fakery, or email that looks fake, I assure you that being professionally impersonal is much, much better than anything with a whiff of the fake about it. "Dear Media Professional" is fine; no cover note at all is fine. Fake friendliness is out, because you don't know who will be rubbed the wrong way by it.
  • DO paste the full text of the press release into the email or provide a link to a web page. DO NOT attach Word or PDF documents. You don't know who has Acrobat Reader or the right Word version installed, and the current Word format is not backward compatible with older versions.
  • DO include the full cast if there's an opera in your announcement or the singers' names if it's an orchestral work with vocal parts. I just received a Spoleto Festival USA announcement that mentions performances of Louise with only the soprano's name, and performances of Das Lied von der Erde without either of the singers' names. I am certain that the Festival has singers under contract for performances that are taking place in six months.
  • DO consider writing informal, entertaining, or humorous press releases, but be extremely careful with your tone. Humor varies around the world, and be especially careful if you're addressing the press release to individuals in different countries.
  • DO get the details right when the email is personalized. I recently received email that included "I know you're in Germany, but your readership is probably international." The sentiment is a good one; the mistake was evidently an honest one, but I stopped reading right there.
  • DO make sure the press release is relevant to the people you're emailing. I am happy to read press releases for events all over the world, but not everyone is.
  • DO proofread what you're sending out. Make sure performer names, dates, times, locations, and ticket prices are correct and easy to find. Use that spelling checker. Have someone check your grammar if it's not your strong suit.
  • DO use 10 or 12 point type. Twenty-odd years into the digital age, I feel like I shouldn't have to say this any more, but since I recently received a print document where the point size went down to 6 and maybe 4 point type.... That's unreadable without a magnifying glass.
  • DO make it easy for people to find the information they want. This means, DON'T use an overly complicated or fussy layout, or more than 2 fonts in one document. Again, 20 years into the digital age...just don't do anything that reduces readability.
  • DON'T even think about posting press releases in the comments section of a blog. I've seen this happen a few times, on my blog and others' blogs. I immediately delete such comments as spam. For one thing, they're almost always irrelevant to the blog entry where they've been posted. For another, it's rude and random behavior. For yet another, the press release will be seen ONLY by people subscribed to comments to that blog entry! Lastly, it pisses people off, which doesn't do your client any good. If you've managed to find my blog, look for the Email Me link and use that mailing address.
To close with a couple of positives: whether you're a PR pro or an amateur like me (I've handled publicity for a couple of small organizations), you'll find tons of useful information at Amanda Ameer's blog, Life's a Pitch. And if you want to see a few examples of really good press releases, try those issued by San Francisco Opera or by publicist Louise Barder, who does a great job of providing the right information the right way at the right time.


Anonymous said...

Worse than fake friendliness in e-mail is phone solicitors who think they're being friendly by opening, "Hi, how are you today?"


Anonymous said...

Who is the soprano for Louise - I see no singers at all listed on Spoleto's website.

Totally agree about the listing of singers - to many (like me) it just as important as the repertory - and vastly more important than the director and set and costume designers, which Spoleto seems to think we will be interested in.

Lisa Hirsch said...

Phone solicitors - yeah.

Louise soprano - Stefania Dovhan, who is the only singer named in the press release I received.

Patrick J. Vaz said...

Here's another rule: follow through. A publicist contacted me a few months ago to ask if I wanted a copy of a new book. I thought about it and after a few days wrote back to tell her that I would. I never heard back and never received the book. I've since seen it in bookstores but I'm really put off it, through no fault of the author.

"Don't be stupid" is a pretty good rule for everyone, not just publicists. . . .

Celeste Winant said...

Thanks for the great tips. I've been learning these, via trial and error, with the publicizing that I end up doing for a couple of local groups.

Here's a question - I almost always offer recipients of press releases complimentary tickets when I want the reporter / outlet to consider promoting or covering us. I cannot usually send hardcopy tickets, and instead inform the recipient that their names (or organization's name) is on the press comp list. I rarely get any takers. Am I barking up the wrong tree? Is there a better way to approach this type of promotion?

I always paste the press release in the body, but I also attach a .pdf, thinking that the former serves to get the information out, but the latter makes it easier for the recipient to further distribute in a legitimizing (i.e. on official letterhead) format. Am I wrong? Is no attachment better than redundant attachment?

I also refrain from adding graphics to the press release, but provide a link to a high-res press photo on our group's press page (if available), which leaves the recipient the choice of further exploring. Again- is this wasted effort?

Lisa Hirsch said...

Celeste, those are great questions. Can I put them into their own posting? Maybe some of the pros who read this blog would comment. I have an opinion about maybe one of them.

Celeste Winant said...

yes! please post my questions. I would be honored... Celeste

Lisa Hirsch said...

Coming right up!