You know how to write! Of course you do! You can put letters in order and they form words others can read. Writing to get someone else interested in what you’re doing is more than that. It’s presentation, it’s word choice, it’s grammar and punctuation and spelling, it’s being descriptive while being succinct. And it’s important.
1. Spelling Counts. So Do Grammar and Punctuation.
That means spell things correctly, have your commas and semi-colons in the right places and craft your words with careful thought and consideration. Don’t take shortcuts, and do have someone proofread. Have them do it twice. Then you should do it twice, no matter how smart you are, or how often you’ve done this, because you are not perfect. Case in point, I titled yesterday’s post DYI instead of DIY at first and didn’t notice until someone else pointed it out. Doh! Look at every word and dissect it to make certain it’s correct! Personally, I draft my important emails and press releases in a word doc program first — no chance of hitting send too soon!
2. Keep It Simple, Stupid.
The KISS method is one to keep in mind for just about any presentation, be it a live, verbal presentation, or a written missive for anyone, anywhere to read. Focus right in on what you want to say and make it as clear and concise as possible. Like a cover letter or resume, the person reading it may not get past the first line, so get the important info done up front. A journalist visited my 7th grade classroom once and said that when writing an article, you had to cover the 5Ws in the first paragraph, preferably the first sentence: Who, What, When, and Where — if those are addressed well, then they should collectively cover the “Why” (that is, Why are you sending this press release?). The rest of the press release is for fleshing this out: again, KISS! Keep it clear & concise.
3. Comic Book Words!
Of course, even when employing KISS, you don’t want to be boring. Spice it up! There isn’t just a game being released, this isn’t just a play going up, or a book being released. No, no. This is “a supernatural thriller in the vein of Heavy Rain, Fringe, and Dexter“, it’s a “hit madcap musical scavenger hunt that follows 3 twenty-somethings, their lives derailed by the T, out to get back at the Big Boss and his cronies“, and a “snark-filled YA romp of teenagers with bad attitudes and god-like powers over death.” Use words that are exciting, eye-catching, and interesting. Don’t go over the top (unless that’s part of the sell) or too nuts with your thesaurus. Read the sentence to yourself, and if it sounds like something you would never in your life say, much less believe, it needs to be changed. What you’re writing in this press release echoes what you’d say to someone you’d never met about what you’re representing. That might involve new words for you, but they should never sound out of place with the rest of the language you use.
Hey, see what I did in point 3 there? Those are three things you should check out because they’re really cool. Every email program worth its salt can embed links, so why not use that? If what you’re sending may be reprinted elsewhere and the links won’t carry over, then just put them in longform. “More information can be found at www.pinkertonroad.com, as well as images and other assets.” Speaking of which…
5. Press Assets
Pictures are SO important. Everything looks better with a picture. Chances are whatever you’re promoting has a visual aspect, whether it’s a screenshot, promotional poster, book cover, or headshot. Use it! And what’s more, have a place that is easily accessible for people to find this image, or video, or song clip, or book excerpt. Include a link to that location in your press release. This should go towards the end of what you write–give ’em the info, then give ’em the goods. If what you’re promoting has a website, it should be located on that website. If it doesn’t, consider keeping things small enough to zip and attach to the press release email, or find a place to host the images, etc, for you. There are plenty of websites you can get for free — hey, WordPress is one of them! Bottom line, have images and other assets, make sure they are good quality stuff, and have them ready to give to the press along with your release.
6. Close It Out
End with the press assets, where to go for more info, and finally, who to contact for more information, with any questions, and to schedule interviews (if applicable). Reiterate your contact information, even though the email has come from you. Or the contact info of the person they should talk to if it’s not you. Then sign it with a nice “Thanks,” or “Thank You” or “Sincerely” (or something fun that fits what your promoting — a play about death? Maybe it’s “Morbidly Yours”!), your name and your position. This can range from your position at your company to just “PR Consultant on behalf of [X]”.
In case you don’t already know, “CC” on an email means “carbon copy”, and “BCC” means “blind carbon copy.” They have old timey roots, but the abbreviations have stuck around. In modern vernacular, when someone says “copy me on it”, they mean CC them on that email, or, make sure they see the email, even though its contents aren’t directly addressed to them. The difference with BCC is that the recipient(s) can’t see who else is getting the email. It’s very sneaky, it’s a lovely little tool for when you’re sending something to a large list of people who may not want their emails shared, as is often the case with a press release. If you use Gmail, like I do, click ‘Add CC” or ‘Add BCC’ under the send box to get these options. (Also, you can email from different accounts via gmail! Incredibly handy! If you also download the Gmail app on your smartphone, you can use this option there, too.)
8. Press Lists
Press lists are VERY important. There are two kinds I’ve encountered so far. One is the press list you build personally, for your own use when sending press releases (and you may want to have a few that vary depending on
area of interest), and the ones you get for major events. So for example, Phoenix Online had a presence at the Game Developer’s Conference in San Francisco this year. One of the things made available to us as exhbitors was an event press list, with the contact info of press and media people who were going to be there as well. They all got an email from me saying we were there and would be happy to meet with them if they were interested in doing so. We got a handful of responses, we did some interviews, we had some articles posted about our upcoming game. If you are scheduling interviews for (or attending for promotional purposes) an event, look for or ask for the event’s press list and tell people you’ll be there! Then work scheduling fu and make it happen.
These press lists are also one way you build up your personal press lists. When someone contacts you (in return or on their own) to set up an interview or ask about what you’re promoting, especially if you’re going to be reaching out about this particular product/person/event/company more than once, ask if they would like to be added to your press list for future updates and news. It’s like networking, really, just with a very specific purpose. Track who you’re adding to this list by keeping their names & where they work listed as well as their emails and/or phone numbers.
If anyone replies wanting more info, reply promptly with the answers they want. If you don’t know the answers, copy someone who does and refer to them directly in your reply. It may take a few emails to set up, say, an interview, but you should let the person know you’ve gotten their email and you’re on top of it. Furthermore, if they aren’t already, ask if they would like to be added to a press list for future updates and news.
To sum-up: Be clear, be concise, proofread twice if not more times. Important info up front, then flesh it out. Use links, have assets ready. Follow-up promptly, and build your press list.
And have fun! You should be interested in and excited about what you’re promoting. If what you’re putting out there is boring you, just imagine how everyone else will feel. Start over and don’t be afraid to read and be inspired by press releases you find online written by other people, or ask for feedback on a draft before you call it final. PR is not a self-contained or solo task at any stop along the way — you’re going to want contacts in the press and in PR for all kinds of reasons. Know your peers, along with knowing your audience!