New York History is the only statewide online newsmagazine covering news about the history of the Empire State. As you can imagine, we get a lot of press releases announcing events, news, and other information from historic sites, museums, and cultural organizations from around New York, and bordering states. It’s probably safe to say that we receive more media releases from the local history and cultural sector than anyone on the planet.
It’s sometimes frustrating for site managers, PR folks and others who handle facility and event promotions to find out that their news never got covered online or at local newspapers, radio, or TV.
In an effort to help local organizations make the most of media, online and otherwise, here is a list of problems we most often encounter from organizations hoping to have their news and events appear here at New York History. With over 25 years of media experience, I can say for certain that most press releases from local organizations end up in the trash because they don’t follow one or more of these few important rules:
1. Your press release is incomplete. Leaving off dates, times, and contact information is not an uncommon problem, but more serious is the failure to let the media know who you are. Always include a paragraph describing your organization that includes a URL to your website. Directions, hours, and admission fees are also helpful. Don’t assume the person on the other end of your press releases understand the shorthand or acronyms your organization uses, what city or town you are located in, when you are open, or even what your mission is.
2. Your press release is too short. Sure you’ve included your date, time and place of that lecturer, but also include a paragraph or two about who they are, why the topic is important, and what makes them an expert. A calendar listing is not a press release. News media, including New York History, typically need at least THREE paragraphs.
3. Your press release is formatted with strange fonts, bold, italics, and links without urls. The goal in writing a press release is to provide local media with an easy-to-use, ready-made story. If the media has to spend a lot of time reformatting all your text and putting it into paragraphs, they will probably just skip it and move on to the next press release. Always include your URL (beginning with www) even if you embed a link. Never use all caps, italics, bold, or other strange formatting.
4. You use a membership development service as your media list. Membership organization and contact programs and services like Constant Contact are fine for your membership, volunteers, and friends groups, but not for media. Simply adding media addresses to your membership development software will be sure to get you ignored, or worse, marked as spam. Learn to write a press release – treat the media as media professionals, not someone you hope will become a member. When the media gets your newsletter, 9 times out of 10, they delete it. A newsletter is not a media release.
5. Your press releases do not read like a news story. If your press release says things like “come join us” or includes unnecessary hyperbole, you are asking for your news to be sent to the circular file. The best press release is one that the media reprints verbatim. Forget discussions of the role of the media, if your job is to get your story run as a news story – write it like a news story. One good indicator you are going down the wrong path – does your press release have exclamation points? Rhetorical questions? Avoid using the word “you” in favor of “participants”, “visitors”, etc.
6. You don’t include photos. Some websites, like New York History, require a photo or other illustration with every story. Many local newspapers and TV and radio stations will run a photo with your basic info on the front page, and/or on their social media profiles and webpages. If you don’t have a photo, find a relevant public domain image, or send along your logo. You are bound to get more play in the media if you provide them with what they need – often that means images. ALWAYS include a caption with the source for your image.
7. Your press releases include too much. Keep press releases to one subject – a lecture series, a single event, exhibit, or conference. Listing every event on your upcoming schedule will get you tossed. Focus press releases on one specific news item or event, it’s better to send one per week if you need.
8. You don’t provide enough lead time. Most media outlets need a few days to a week or more to run your story. Don’t expect to have a press release they received on Monday run by the end of the week. Here at New York History we have about a one or two week lead time.
9. You don’t respond to request for information, images, interviews, etc. If you fail to respond to a media inquiry it’s likely the reporter or editor will declare you uncooperative and won’t bother assigning your press releases to reporters to write larger stories. Provide good contact info and respond to media requests quickly.
10. You send a flier or poster instead of a press release. We often get fliers for great events with a note asking that it be run. Odds are, like most media outlets, I don’t have the time to turn your event flier into a press release or short story and your flier doesn’t include enough information anyway. Fliers and posters are great for the wall, but they are not press releases.
Feel free to let me know in the comments below.