Contributed Column

Meet the Press

by Virginia Lindauer Simmon

Virginia Lindauer Simmon

Thirty years ago, studying public communications at Syracuse University, I took a public relations practicum from a local PR professional.

First, he dazzled us with statistics. The typical daily-newspaper editor, he said, receives more than 300 releases a day. (Remember, this was the ’70s.) Of those 300 releases, 80 percent were tossed. Of the remaining 20 percent, only three made it into print. He then lectured us on what we had to do to help ours make that final three.

After years of practicing public relations in one form or another, I joined the “other side,” and six years ago, agreed to be the managing editor of Business People-Vermont.

Now, wearing my editor’s hat, and drawing on my years of experience (and frustration and head-banging and snide remarks), I give you this editor’s top 10 list of things an editor hopes you will do. The cardinal rule: Make it as easy as possible for the editor to publish your release.

Top 10 list

1. Read the publication. Understand what “news” means to that editor. Our website, www.vermontguides.com, has complete information about what our departments are and what we publish. Other publications do, too. If a publication doesn’t print releases about new products or services (Business People, for example), don’t send it that release.

2. Get the good stuff into the first paragraph. If you are announcing that one of your employees has earned a certification — say, a CPA — then lead with that. Put the classic five — who, what, when, where and why — into that lead paragraph. If there is other info you’d like us to know, by all means tell us in the next one or two paragraphs, but ...

3. Keep it short. One page is enough. Sometimes we receive a release that reads like a feature story, but doesn’t mention the news item until the second-to-last paragraph, which is on the third page. If I’m under deadline, I might not have time to read a three-page mini-feature, and give up before I find the salient information.

4. Deep-six the fancy words and jargon. The old KISS (keep it simple, sweetie) theory has a way of charming editors. Besides, we might not know what you’re talking about otherwise.

5. Reserve the vague and mysterious for novels. You’d be amazed by how many releases we receive that hint at what’s happening, but never really spell it out. Often, they begin with a statement crafted, I assume, to pique the imagination. When I read a lead that says, “Jim Smith, the president of XYZ Printers, always wanted to have a way to produce books. Now he can do just that,” my first thought is, “Well, isn’t he already a printer?” I read down a couple of flowery paragraphs and learn that Fred has launched a “new business” to publish books. I’m confused. Is it really a new business, or is it a new division? We publish about new businesses, but we don’t cover new divisions of existing companies. Now I must e-mail or phone the company to ask. If I’m rushed, I’ll put it aside until the next issue.

6. Don’t ask for an acknowledgement of receipt. These days, about 95 percent of our releases arrive by e-mail. Although e-mail is not yet as dependable as the USPS, it’s a lot faster and easier to use. Still, time is precious at deadline, and it won’t be spent sending acknowledgements. It takes us a month to edit and print, so you won’t see your release for a while. If you must have an acknowledgement to an e-mail, there are ways to set that up in your own software.

7. Please paste the text of the release into the e-mail; DO NOT attach it as a document or PDF. We prefer that you DO attach photos as jpegs, although not all publishers do.

8. Measure twice, cut once. This old carpenter’s motto works here, too. What it means is proof, proof, proof. We’ve received releases with people’s names spelled different ways in the same paragraph, or one way in the release and another way on the photo.

9. Please send your release to only one address, and only once. Our company has several e-mail addresses.. Occasionally, somebody sends the same release to every one of our addresses; so the ad salesmen, the graphic designer, the circulation guy, the vice president, the editor and the publishers find this press release in their e-mails. They forward it to me (the editor), which means I now have it many times over. I write up all the releases for an issue only once a month, primarily to make sure I am current on what’s there, to catch duplicates. The danger is that I’ll see a duplicate and discard the last one, after I’ve already discarded four others.

10. Check the size of the files you’re e-mailing. We require photos shot and saved at 300 dpi and about 4 by 6 inches in dimension. That generates a file under 1 megabyte. Sometimes people attach documents or PDF files that have run as large as 20 megabytes! They’re slow to open, and unnecessary.

Remember: press releases are not ads. We publish them free of charge as a service to our readers as space is available. If you need to have something appear in our magazine stated exactly the way you want it said, you should buy an ad.

Thanks for tolerating my rant. Remember, we love receiving your releases, so keep ‘em coming. •

Index of Contributed Columns

For information on submitting a contributed column see here.