Press releases: The ten most frequently asked questions

"A press release is more often than not a one-page sheet that's sent out to press; either via email or post. It's designed to catch their eye with some news or something unusual about your or your business. Whereas years ago all you had to do was send a press release out and you could be pretty confident that at least part of it would be reprinted, today that's very unlikely," states PR-expert Paula Gardner of Do Your Own PR.

Paula Gardner, the British PR-expert of consultancy company Do Your Own Pr has put together a selection of the questions she comes across most often when talking to clients.

1. What is it and Why Do I Need A Press Release Anyway?
A press release is more often than not a one-page sheet that's sent out to press; either via email or post. It's designed to catch their eye with some news or something unusual about your or your business. Whereas years ago all you had to do was send a press release out and you could be pretty confident that at least part of it would be reprinted, today that's very unlikely.

PR-expert Paula Gardner
of Do Your Own PR.

Nowadays, a press release is more of a tickler - something that alerts the journalists to what is going on in your business. If it's of interest, they'll follow it up and more often than not write their own piece or use a snippet of yours inside a larger piece.

2. Can't I just have one press release and keep using that?
Press Releases are meant to be about news - either something that's happening within your organisation, or something that happening out there in the world that you can tie a story to. A stale release that gets used again and again is going to get noticed...and for all the wrong reasons.

That's not to say that you can't use some of your material in each release. The information on you and your business - how and why it started - will probably stay fairly stable, which means that you can re-use that and pour your energies into creating something eye-catching and compelling for the first few paragraphs.

3. Who Do I Send Them To?
You can buy lists from organisations like www.romeike.com (In the UK - but it's not cheap), you can make up your own with The Guardian Media Directory (Outside the UK try http://www.kidon.com/media-link/europe.php) and a few days work, or you can get us to put one together for you (...).

You rarely send things out to the editor (unless the publication is very small). It will probably be the features editor, news editor or perhaps a shopping, homes, health or women's editor. Remember that nothing works as well as reading the publication to see who's who. And, even then, you'll need to pick up the phone to find out if they are still there (vital in a publication that could have been written 4 months previously) and their correct email address.

4. How Do I Send Them - post or email?
When I first started in PR we didn't have email. It was only fax and I used to spend one day a week just standing by the machine and faxing...faxing...faxing...and at least one other day stuffing envelopes. We don't have to do that any more and that's great. But the problem is that everyone else can email too and journalists often get one hundred plus emails per day in their inbox. No wonder it's hard to get yours to stand out.

Again, if you've got great photos, putting them into an email might look good but may get your email blocked by a firewall and presumed to be Spam.

So, if you've got anything visual - where people need to see the photos to go "wow" I suggest that you both email and post your release. It may cost more but it will be increasing your chances considerably of getting it seen and read. (...)

5. How Often Should I be sending Out A Press Release?
Large companies like L'Oreal or ICI may be sending out a few a month but for smaller businesses once a month or every six weeks is a good goal to aim for.

The best way to go about this is to block press release days into your diary, where you write up your release (or commission someone to write it for you) and get it out to the press. If you glance at your diary and see that one is coming up more likely than not your subconscious will get to work and by the time you've sat down at your PC it will have come up with some great ideas.

6. Should I include Some Quotes?
The answer is yes, but it's much better if they are not from you - unless you are imparting some vital information or bits of advice. (...)

What the press does like though are customer sound-bites or, even better, third party experts and celebrities. (...)

7. Okay, I've sent it, what next?
Wait 2-3 days and then get on that phone. It's often by speaking to the press that you galvanise them into reading the release in the first place. If you possibly can it's worth rounding something up that you can then send onto the press as a next step (after enquiring by phone if they'd like to receive it first)..This could be a sample, review copy, invitation to a press event or just some ideas for articles that you could put together for them.

8. I can't really be bothered. Can't I just phone them and have a chat?
Yes, you can, and it's great that you're prepared to do that. But even if you charm the pen into their hand they'll still want to see a press release and better to have one already written and to hand than to have to conjure one up under pressure.

9. Can I send it to more than one person at the same publication?
Yes. That's common practice and no one will raise an eyebrow as long as you target well and don't bother people with things they don't cover.

10. How Can Do Your Own PR help?
Paulas Gardner would not be a succesful business women if not promoting her own business. She answers the question: "We can write your release for you - take it off your hands and make sure that it gets done."

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