Meet the Press

vls0115by Virginia Lindauer Simmon

Top 10 best practices for a press release

Thirty-plus years ago, while 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. (This was in the 1979 economy.) 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 13 years ago, agreed to be the managing editor of Business People–Vermont. Our magazine is not a daily, but a monthly, and this is the digital age, when emailed releases flood the inbox. We discard a slew of the ones that come in because they don’t fit our departments.

I wrote the following Top 10 list about eight years ago, but it bears repeating. So, 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. Because digital or print, you want your story to be picked up, and so do we.

Top 10 list

1. Read the publication.

Understand what “news” means to that editor. Our website, www.BusinessPeopleVermont.com, has complete information about what our departments are and what we publish. Most other publications do, too. If a publication doesn’t print releases about coming events (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 — 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?” Then reading down a couple of flowery paragraphs, I 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, all 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 of whether an e-mail is received, there are ways to set that up in your own software.

7. Please paste the text of the release into the email.

DO NOT attach it as a document or PDF. DO, however, attach photos as jpegs, although not all publishers prefer this. We never use photos that are embedded in emails or documents. Remember that printed media require high-resolution photos. We require photos to be shot and saved in at least 300 dpi and at least 4 by 6 inches in dimension. We prefer to crop them ourselves.

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 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, and to catch duplicates. The danger is that I’ll see a duplicate and accidentally discard the last one, after I’ve already discarded three others.

10. 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.

Hope this helps. And remember, we love receiving your releases, so keep ’em coming. •

Let Us Hear From You

Business People–Vermont publishes press releases in several departments on a first-come, first-served basis: Faces & Places; Honors & Awards; New Business; Mergers & Acquisitions; Ribbon Cuttings; and Breaking Ground. Digital submissions should be sent to: editor@BusinessPeopleVermont.com. Paste the text of your release into the body of the email. JPEG photos must be shot and saved at 300 dpi and be at least 4 by 6 inches. Our website, www.BusinessPeopleVermont.com, has other tips. Please, no PDFs.