Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Publicity Basics Updated

Earlier this year, I put up a couple of postings about publicity etiquette. Here's a consolidated, updated version:
  • DO make the subject line something meaningful. I almost trashed email once 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, ticket prices, 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. Many people, especially high-profile individuals, do not want their personal email addresses circulated by others.
  • 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.
  • Conversely, 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 once 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 had singers under contract for performances that were taking place six months after the mailing.
  • 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 once 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 an honest one, but I stopped reading right there. I roll my eyes slightly, but I read on, when I get email with salutations to Linda or Laura. (I'm Lisa.)
  • 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. On the other hand, I rarely read pop music press releases. That is, know your audience.
  • 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. This is a particular hazard if you're emailing HTML copied directly from your organization's web site. Again, 20 years into the digital age...just don't do anything that reduces readability or findability.
  • 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.
  • DON'T make people click through to your web site to find information that you omitted from the press release.
  • DO include contact information, and make it an email address. What if your media contact has a question or wants more information or is thinking of writing a story? Make it easy for the press release recipient to contact the right person at your organization.
To summarize: Make it easy for people to find the important information in your email announcement or press release. Get the facts right and include everything useful. Plain text is better than something pretty but fussy.

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.


Civic Center said...

And do put some leading between bullets. Sorry, couldn't help myself.

Lisa Hirsch said...

No apologies necessary - you're absolutely right. Do you have any idea how to edit a Blogger template to fit that? It's a genuine readability issue.