Back in 1906, there was a train crash in Atlantic City that killed over 50 people. The publicist for the railroad, a man named Ivy Lee, convinced his client to let him issue a statement to the media that described the accident from the company’s standpoint. The New York Times editors liked it so much that they ran it verbatim in their paper.
Since that day of the first press release, companies so regularly turn to this tactic that around 2,000 are distributed via press release services (aka “the wire”) every day. Given that the number of working journalists continues to shrink, this means that every reporter you’re trying to reach is probably getting between 100 and 200 releases per day—at a minimum.
With numbers like that, the odds of your press release being acted upon are slim and getting worse as time goes by. Here are nine reasons why your press release didn’t receive the same treatment as Lee’s in 1906.
1. It isn’t news.
Lee’s press release was about people dying. If yours was about a new website or moving your offices downtown, it’s not quite on the same level. For some guidelines as to how to judge your story’s news value, check out our blog post here.
2. You sent it to the wrong person.
Like any other large industry, the news media has specialists and niche products. Some reporters cover outdoorwear but not eveningwear. Some outlets write about neighborhood news, while others only concern themselves with regional or state developments. In other words, be sure you’re sending your release to exactly the right person and outlet.
3. Your headline or subject line is terrible.
When a reporter is looking at her inbox, she is not seeing your full press release. She’s seeing your name, a subject line and maybe a couple of the first lines. If your subject line or headline isn’t stopping the reporter in her tracks, you’re headed for the trash.
4. Your first paragraph is terrible.
If your first paragraph, also called the “lead” paragraph, doesn’t continue to hold the reporter’s attention after she’s stopped what she’s doing and opened your email, you’re headed for the trash. Guess what happens if your second paragraph is terrible? Every sentence and paragraph needs to be constructed to keep the reader’s attention.
5. You buried the lead.
Simply put, the story about your company that you decided to write was the wrong one, and the more important, newsworthy story is hidden further down in the release. Unfortunately, the reporter won’t read that far.
6. You sent it too late.
Reporters do not sit in their chairs, feet up on their desks, throwing pencils at the ceiling. They are overworked and underpaid. They are working on stories assigned that morning and ones assigned months ago. And they’re doing interviews and research for them all. If you’ve only given them a couple of days to react to your story, forcing them to drop everything, you’ve cut your odds from slim to (almost) none.
7. You sent it to everybody.
If a journalist or blogger loves your story, one of the first questions will likely be “Who else has it?” If your answer is their competition, be prepared to hear a click followed by a dial tone.
8. You didn’t follow up.
As mentioned at the start, people in the media are flooded with releases and pitches. If you don’t follow up to see if they took a look at your story, there’s a high chance it’s been read and forgotten, even if it sparked some interest.
9. You followed up too much.
If you send a release, then immediately call to see if the reporter got it, then email to let her know you just left a voicemail, and then maybe call again just to check, odds are your release went straight into the trash. Oh, and you’ve probably also had your number blocked and your email address added to a spam list.
If you follow all of these guidelines, it’s still no guarantee that you’ll be written or talked about, but at least you’ll know you’ve avoided the major pitfalls.