Thursday, December 2, 2010

Why Write a Press Release When Reporters Will Be There?

Why write a press release when you know reporters will be at an event, anyway?

That’s question I often hear. The answer is this: It can be even more important to have a written press release when you know reporters will be present.

It’s very hard for a reporter (or anyone else) to listen to a speech, much less a panel discussion or question-and-answer session with multiple speakers, and take notes with 100 percent accuracy.

If you put the important facts in writing, you know the reporter will have an accurate record of any numbers and your most important comments. If the reporter is called away to another breaking story before it’s your turn to speak, the reporter will at least know what you had to say.

Issuing a press release, of course, in no way obligates a reporter to use it. The media gets to decide what is published and what is left out.

Good reporters want to get the facts right. A well-written press release makes it easy for them to do so. The easier you make it for a reporter to cover you accurately, the more likely it is to happen.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Why Google is the new front page

I came across that statement in a communication from PR Web, an electronic press release distribution service. It’s absolutely true, even if PR Web does have a vested interest in Internet postings.

A front-page story in the newspaper or a good story on the evening television news obviously is still valuable today. But the first page of Google results is probably more valuable over the months ahead.

The front-page story is gone tomorrow. Google, in contrast, is like the yellow pages. It’s there when people need the information, whether it’s right now or a year from now.

If you aren’t distributing your press releases electronically (and optimizing them for search engines as well), you’re not taking full advantage of today’s technology.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Pro Bono Public Relations for Nonprofits: 7 Questions Agencies Ask (Part 2)

These are some of the questions a public relations agency will consider in accepting a pro bono client. Other questions were in last week’s blog.

5. Do the nonprofit respect my skills? For example, if I tell them that I need specific information for a press release or to pitch a story, will they believe me? Placing stories is not a matter of calling up a reporter and saying, “I have a good story; come on over tomorrow at 3.” A reporter or editor needs facts. No PR firm wants to issue press releases that don’t meet professional standards, even for a very deserving charity. Questions from people trying to understand the process and suggestions are always welcome. But when a nonprofit seeks my help and then declines to follow my advice, it’s time for a change. A city council member I know said it best: “There are all sorts of people who want my advice for free. Why should I keep meeting with people who never take it?”

6. Does the nonprofit have a staff member or volunteer who will coordinate requests for services and approvals and mediate between different opinions on what the press release should say and what press releases are needed? This is a necessity to keep costs under control (for paying clients, too).

7. Are the nonprofit’s board members and major donors likely to refer paying clients to me? If they develop a larger budget, are they going to start paying me or will they give the account to the vice president’s brother, who was too busy to do it pro bono? The first question should never be the main criteria, but referrals of paying clients definitely help cement a relationship. And my firm and many of my colleagues can tell stories of times that we’ve been competent enough to do the work when a nonprofit that needed free help, but not competent enough once they developed a budget.

You may be surprised that I have not focused on whether the agency supports the cause. That’s a given, but I’ve rarely met a charity I didn’t like. The more important question usually becomes where donated time can do the most good, and the working relationship is often the biggest factor in determining that.

Finally, the question is whether the agency can afford the time. Almost all public relations agencies, including mine, believe in donating some professional help. But there is a cost. We all know that if we go overboard on pro bono work, we’re likely to end up with an unsuccessful business and the ability to help no one. So please remember that if you ask for help, you are almost always asking for a four- or five-figure donation – and treat the prospective donor accordingly.

Pro Bono Public Relations for Nonprofits: 7 Questions Agencies Ask

What are your guidelines for pro bono public relations work?

It’s a thoughtful question. I’ve had too many nonprofits over the years ask me to “do something” so they get news coverage, even though it’s not clear what they are doing that would merit news coverage and how it would help them if they were to get it. “We do good and we need money” is not a compelling message. Is there any charity that doesn’t?

Having said that, here are some questions that I and most other agencies will ask, plus a few stories of the proverbial nonprofit clients from hell.

1. Is the nonprofit respectful of professionals’ time? That includes planning meetings in advance, showing up on time for meetings, running them efficiently and asking for help with sufficient advance notice that no one has to stay up until 1 a.m. to meet deadlines.

2. Are the goals clear? Is there a consensus on the board on the goals? The answer is no, there isn’t much a PR firm can do. A PR firm can, however, help define goals.

3. Are other people willing to do some of the factual research? Specifically, if a nonprofit asks me to write a press release about an event, I expect them to be able to provide such information as the time, date, cost, location (including the street address) and biographical information on any speakers or entertainers. “They’re famous; everybody knows who Mr. Entertainer is and where the ABC restaurant is located” doesn’t work. Most professionals are not keen on volunteering time to look up addresses and basic biographical information.

4. Can the nonprofit be trusted to provide accurate information? This is closely related to No. 3, and you would think this would go without saying. But it doesn’t. My “no-good-deed-goes-unpunished” issues with nonprofits over the years have included one that gave me the wrong street address for an event (the reporter who couldn’t find it was understandably irate), and one that told me the mayor was going to speak. Turns out the mayor had never confirmed it. I ended up having to interrupt a vacation and pay my staff to work extra hours to clean up that mess.

I’ll post three more key questions next week.

What questions about PR should a city official ask?

Let me focus on media relations, since that is what I know best. Despite the rise of the Internet, blogs, Twitter, etc., the majority of people still get their news about local government from the mass media.

A city official needs to keep in mind that writing news stories about government is not easy. It’s even more important for officials in smaller communities. Most reporters get their start in small towns, which means that they are less experienced than the ones on national newspapers. (As an aside, there was a columnist in USA Today yesterday who offered advice on how to get coverage in a local newspaper. I’d hesitate to recommend his advice to any business in the Wood River Valley.)

But back to the question. Think about how much you knew about government finance when you graduated from college. Then think about sitting through a city budget hearing and trying to unravel the complexities of general tax revenues, general obligation bonds, revenue bonds, tax increment financing for redevelopment districts, etc., etc. Picture yourself sitting through a three-hour meeting on these subjects, and then having an hour to write a comprehensible story.

So if you want accurate media coverage on a complex topic, take the time to write a background press release and give it to reporters, preferably in advance. If you have time to give reporters a briefing before the meeting, that’s even better. You obviously don’t know what will happen at the meeting, but you can be sure that the reporters at least understand the discussion.

This is good advice for private citizens making presentations to public agencies as well. If you have a press release summarizing your statements and can meet with the appropriate reporters in advance, you’re much more likely to get accurate coverage.

What are the best practices for writing a SEO-friendly press release?

I use a service from Newsforce, available through Business Wire (, the electronic press distribution service now owned by Warren Buffet. It costs $20 a press release, and it’s worth every penny in the amount of time saved versus using the “free” services that I have explored. In addition, Business Wire and Newsforce assign staff members to keep up with what is going on in search engine optimization. It’s much more cost-effective that trying to develop the expertise myself.

This is a short explanation of what I think works best. First, write a press release as if you were writing it exclusively for humans, keeping keywords in the back of your mind. Then go to the $20 online tool. Enter the keywords, or the terms on which you think people would be searching. The tool then comes back with an analysis of the number of searches on these words in the past month and suggests other keywords as well. Once you have selected the keywords, it tells you how many times each keyword needs to be used in the headline, in the first 100 words and in the body of the press release.

It’s up to the user, of course, to make certain the press release still makes sense to humans as well as to search engines. (I have to brag a little here. The first time I used this process for one client, he said it was a wonderful tool because the press release still read just as well as it did before optimization. I told him those compliments should be directed at me, not the computerized tool. ☺)

For those who are not familiar with search engine optimization, this is a process that makes your press release more likely to show up on Google and other Internet searches. It’s a critical part of public relations today.

Thanks to Sun Valley Online’s Dave Chase for this question.

How do you see Twitter fitting into a firm’s PR plans?

Twitter is the best thing for public relations since sliced bread. What a minute – did I use such a trite expression? I suppose I should come up with something more elegant, but then again…. “best thing since sliced bread” was my immediate reaction. Usually, the immediate reaction is the best.

Why is Twitter so great? In the old (pre-Internet days), we had to rely on mass media to get our stories to clients and prospective clients. If an editor didn’t like a your story, there wasn’t much you could do. Thanks to Twitter, you can spread the word yourself. It’s even legitimate to tweet the same thing, preferably stressing slightly different aspects of the topic, multiple times over several days.

You can post a press release on your Web sites, and then go to Twitter and “tweet” about it as much as you like. I like to think of Twitter as the new-fashioned town crier, walking up and down the street shouting out the latest news. You won’t hear every word he says, but the news will get to you sooner or later.

I’ll admit I was one of the initial skeptics. I thought Twitter was for teen-agers telling each other what they had for lunch. If it ever was that, it isn’t any more. Twitter users are primarily working adults, not teens or college students. Nielsen earlier this year found that 62 percent of Twitter users access the site only from work. (See a newsletter article I researched and wrote for a client, now posted on my Web site at

The American Contract Bridge League, where 98 percent of the membership is over 40 years old and 78 percent over 60 years old, added a Twitter account this month, @ACBL bridge. I set up a Twitter account recently for the Animal Shelter of the Wood River Valley. (@WRAnimalShelter) By the end of the first day, two people –neither of whom I know -- had retweeted the message. Astonishing!

Twitter is the new viral marketing. If you don’t tweet your press releases, you’re stuck in the 20th century. If what you have to say is of interest to anyone, someone will see your tweet and “retweet” it. I could go on, but I think that’s enough for now.

If you have more questions, send me a tweet @JoMurrayPR. If you aren’t up to Twitter, I even answer old-fashioned e-mail (

Thanks to Dave Chase of Sun Valley Online for this question.

Why was your press release more effective than the ads we’ve been placing?

The marketing term is “third-party endorsement.” Advertising builds awareness. Public relations and resulting news coverage builds credibility.

People expect an ad to say positive things about a company. When a press release results in news coverage in a local newspaper or independent media, it’s assumed that the media has checked to be certain the story has some validity. Just think about a favorable movie review vs. an ad for the same movie. Which are you more likely to believe?

If you get me press coverage, how can I leverage it?

This is an astute question. Just getting news coverage is rarely enough. You have to make it your responsibility to see that your target market knows about it. For example, let’s assume you are a professional speaker and a Seattle newspaper does a story about a speech you gave to a professional association. You can look up the names of trade associations in Seattle, and send them a clipping of the story, along with a cover letter. You also can send the story to similar trade associations in other cities in which you would like to work. You can certainly post a link to the story, as well as the press release that prompted it, on your Web site. Today you can mention the story on your blog and also link to it from various social media accounts, such as Twitter and Facebook, as well.

Getting Back to Blogging

Some of my earlier posts were deleted during a changeover in blog hosts. So I've reposted some of the more popular ones.