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Profit by Tooting Someone Else's Horn
by Beth Fowler

Press releases contain newsworthy information that is imminent and topical. A company's open house, an award presentation, a product recall, and the art association's exhibit are events worthy of press releases.

Freelance writers earn $40 and up per press release, depending on project scope, writer reputation, and client budget. Corporations allocate budgets for publicity, but an interior decorator running a business out of the garage might only be able to pay the writer a token fee or in kind (i.e. a room makeover).

Find potential clients lacking time, desire and possibly talent to write press releases in the yellow pages. Clients are also found through networking and casual acquaintances. Small business and home-based business owners are especially aware that publicity is their lifeblood. Non-profit organizations also benefit from media exposure press releases provide.

Part of the writer's sales pitch to potential clients is the promise of hot media contacts. Having your own list of contacts doesn't prevent you and the client brainstorming to expand the list. Clients usually belong to clubs or associations that publish newsletters or special-interest magazines.

Cull quality (not quantity) news release recipients from media directories. Visit http://www.gebbieinc.com for information on Gebbie All-in-One Directory USA, and for links to other media directories such as Editor & Publisher Year Book or Burrelle's Media Directories. Directories listing TV and radio stations, daily and weekly newspapers, and consumer and trade magazines, cost $90 to $500. A cheaper alternative is, again, perusing the yellow pages under "print media," "radio" and other logical headings. Surf the 'Net. Trawl the library.

Media "gatekeepers" decide which releases merit publication. If possible, make an appointment with gatekeepers and introduce yourself. Find out the gatekeeper's title. Is it bureau chief or assignment editor, or as in radio and TV stations, is it director or what? Request writers' guidelines and press kits. Do guidelines specify The Associated Press Stylebook and Libel Manual or Chicago Manual of Style?

Guidelines usually include photo specifications. Most publications take 8" x 10" black and whites, others accept emailed digital color photos. Show people doing something, not posing stiffly. Include an SASE if you want the photos returned, but don't hold your breath. Newsrooms are hubs of chaos. Or else write "Photos upon request" on the top of the release.

Writer's Resource Center (http://www.poewar.com) Director John Hewitt says, "The vast majority of editors still prefer mail." Email or fax in crisis situations. When sending email, type only one person's name in the To: field, trim wordage to fill one screen, and avoid attaching files and graphics.

Writing Press Releases that Sell

What's the trick to crafting releases that will splash in the media rather than flop in the editor's trashcan? A strong lead. Leads-three to four lines-answer most of the five Ws (who, what, when, where, why) and two Hs (how and how much), as this example shows.

The Knights of Columbus will sponsor the Italian Celebration 2000 featuring dance, crafts and food. Admission is free to the public from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Saturday, August 5 at Market Square.

Successful press release writers relate the news to the audience's life in a way that intrigues, promises a solution to a problem, or reassures. Avoid fluff and hard-sell tactics. Limit modifiers and jargon. Write simple sentences (subject + verb + object).

Quotations from key people add authenticity to the body of press releases. Third party quotations add perspective. If a cost is involved, and it wasn't mentioned in the lead, state the cost in the body. Include contact information so readers can find out more details if they wish.

Press releases aren't "one-size-fits-all" documents. Tailor each press release to the targeted media's style and mission. Before writing for radio or TV, listen to aired press releases and note how prose written for broadcast differs from prose written for ink and paper. The less back-filling and doctoring editors have to do, the better. Make editors' jobs as simple as possible.

Marketing Without Megabucks author Shel Horowitz (http://www.frugalfun.com) reports that follow-up calls boost the chances of a press release being published, and help cultivate relationships with editors who will view the writer as a valuable source of information. Make follow-up phone calls a few days after press releases were distributed, but before the deadline. Editors have crunch times-a time of the day or month when they are putting the current issue "to bed," so before calling, find out when the best time is to call. When calling, state your name and the client you represent. Offer to answer any questions editors have about the press release.

Use the Standard Format

Standard press releases are double-spaced and fit one, no more than two pages.

PRESS RELEASE appears in caps, centered under the client's letterhead or on plain 8 ½ " x 11" paper. (A4 paper in most countries outside the U.S.A.)

Beneath that, next to the right margin, list Contact(s), Title, Organization, Address, Phone, Fax, Email. The contact has the most information-it might be you, your client or the client's delegated spokesperson. Contacts must be willing to answer phone calls after normal working hours, for this is when many editors work.

Beneath the contact information, next to the left margin, type the date you are sending the release

Under that, next to the left margin type FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE in caps. Try to submit press releases ahead of time, in which case, type FOR RELEASE ON JULY 29, 2000, for example.

Under the release date, at the left, specify a "kill date" or type "No Kill Date" if the release is good anytime after the date it was sent.

Beneath the kill date, center a title in boldface.

Under the title, write the lead.

Develop the five Ws and two Hs in the body.

End the release with either three number signs (###) or a dash, thirty, dash (-30-) centered.

Too many press releases remain unpublished because writers don't know the rules. On the other hand, editors depend on press releases to fill a significant portion of media content. By following the rules for writing press releases, you can profit by tooting someone else's horn.

© Copyright 2000, Beth Fowler

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