Why News Releases Fail
Sorry about my otaku with this issue (otaku = more than a hobby, a little less than an obsession).
Many of you may know me, since I run Imediafax, the Internet to Media Fax Service. I send out over a million news releases a year for people via fax and email. You probably think that I’ve got news releases failing on me day in and day out.
Actually, I don’t. The news releases I write and send out for people do quite well. My clients are quite happy with me because they are successful with their outreach efforts.
It’s the draft news releases that people send to me that are my problem.
Fixing the problems I see in the news releases people send me takes forever. It is also very painful.
I’ve seen a lot of news release failure over the years, and I now know what the key problems look like and how to fix them.
My plight as a publicist is that I spend a lot of time educating my clients trying to get them to understand the psychology of dealing with the media.
The rubber meets the road in the news release because this single sheet of paper is the key nexus for all communications with the media. The importance of the copy on a news release cannot be overstated. It has to be free of negative issues or factors that will reduce or eliminate media interest and response. One fatal error and it’s all over.
So identifying the problems and revising the news releases is crucial. I spend a tremendous amount of time and effort trying to avoid sending out news releases with problems still in them.
The issue is that when people send me news releases, it often takes a long, long time to identify and communicate the problems, and then more time again to explain and negotiate all the word changes with the clients, and more time still to finalize the news release and have it ready and approved for transmittal.
Honestly – it can be very painful for all involved. I’m quite brutal on my clients, since their success is all that matters. I don’t pull any punches. My comment process can bruise a lot of highly inflated egos of some otherwise very accomplished people, on the way to a problem free news release that maximizes the chances of success when finally sent. Lots of people think they can write a news release. Very few of them can do it very well.
They simply haven’t followed the media response to enough news releases to learn the errors that are made when they write news releases. They haven’t yet learned what the mistakes are, so there is no learning from continuous improvement.
This is where the blood, sweat and tears of the copywriting business is truly found. It gets even tougher when another professional publicist wrote the news release for the client. Now the client is getting opposing advice from two professionals. One says “Make it Hot” and the other says “Cool it”. What’s a publicist to do?
So my motivations for doing this article are really quite selfish. I want to spend less time doing this. My life will be significantly improved if my clients send me news releases that take less time and energy to fix. Very simply, for each and every news release that comes in and doesn’t have these problems, I’ll free myself to spend more time doing things that are more profitable for my clients and me.
The issues listed here have all been identified as reasons for the failure of a news release. This is based on over 20 years of experience in dealing with the aftermath – the actual number and quality of responses generated from the transmittal of a news release.
So here are the most common reasons why news releases fail:
1. You wrote an advertisement. It’s not a news release at all. It sells product. It fails to offer solid news of real tangible interest, value-added information, education or entertainment.
2. You wrote for a minority, not for a majority of people in the audience. You simply won’t compete with other news releases that clearly are written for a larger demographic of the media audience.
3. You are the center of attention, not the media audience. You focus on your business and your marketing, instead of things the editor and his or her audience will be interested in.
4. You forgot to put the five W’s up front. (WHO, WHAT, WHERE, WHEN and WHY THE AUDIENCE WILL BE INTERESTED). You didn’t clearly and succinctly tell the media why the audience would be interested in this.
5. You are too wordy and text dense. You focused on details and minutia, instead of the most important ideas, issues, factors, facts, and news angles. You fail to address the real significant impacts your story has on people.
6. You place too much information on one page – the one page news release has a font size so small an editor needs a magnifying glass to read it.
7. You included corporate logos and other non-persuasive low value added graphics that distract the editor from your key message. You may have also used an unusual fancy font or a file format that turns to gobbledygook when it goes through a fax machine.
8. You wrote a personally biased article for the media to publish, instead of pitching the idea to the media and the objective reasons why the media audience will be interested.
9. You wrote about features and facts, and forgot to explain what it means to real people. Tell a story about real people. Add in real life human interest.
10. You wrote about how your news ties in to someone else’s fame and glory. Forget it. Never stand in the shadow of someone else. Make your own light. Tell your own story.
11. Your news release responds to something that just happened. You’re too late. You’re behind the eight ball. Forget it. Get out in front of the news.
12. You included too much hype, self-laudatory praise, pithy quotes, useless testimonials, jargon or gobbledygook. Get rid of it.
13. You may have also identified prior media coverage, which indicates it’s no longer a new issue. Get rid of it. Let each news release stand on it’s own two feet.
14. You tried to impress and be clever or innovative but you come off naïve, less than expert, biased, flippant, arrogant, or crazy. Tone it down. Get straight.
15. You made vague and unsubstantiated claims, or wild and outrageous claims, or you included a statement that simply rubs the media the wrong way. Get rid of them.
16. You are trying to be different, just for the sake of it, but you come off eccentric. Forget it. Don’t create a false or inflated image. Be yourself.
17. You wrote a rant and rave, worthy of a letter to the editor, instead of a problem solving tips article, worthy of a feature story. Decide what you want, put your best effort into it.
18. You are simply not credible. It could be your ideas are simply not well thought out, or that you’ve offered old well-worn material, or that you are too extreme or controversial, or not qualified. You may not be expert enough, or sufficiently qualified, to make the statements, compared to others in your field. You need to present information that qualifies you properly and adequately.
19. You provided poor contact information. You need to identify the best single point of contact and the correct phone number so interested media can reach you and get the best possible attention and response from you to meet their needs. One key person, one phone, no fax, one email address, and one URL (with no long string addresses).
20. You did not include a clear media call for action. You didn’t tell the media what you want them to do with your news release. You need to tell them what you are asking for or suggesting or offering. Then you need to offer the media incentives value-added reasons to do so, like free review copies, free test samples, interview questions and answers, media kits with story angles and stats and data, relevant photographs, etc.
21. You did not incorporate and integrate a primary response mechanism. You need to include a value-added reason, which motivates the editor to publish or mention your contact information, which will generate calls, traffic, interviews, or requests for more information. This usually means something unique and of special value to the audience, that the editor feels good about mentioning. Use an offer for a free problem solving report.
22. You sent the release to the wrong media. Target the media that your clients read, watch and listen to when they are in the right mood, that is, receptive to hearing about your news, and willing to take action when they get your message. Work with your publicist to target the right media.
23. You rely on a single fax or an email to produce an avalanche of media calls. You conduct no follow up. Get real. Follow up properly and you can triple or quadruple your media response rate. Better still, you can ask the editors “what can I give you to support a feature story and meet your needs”.
Finally, the biggest reason for news release failure is one of attitude. How do you define success or failure? It’s called unrealistic expectations.
Get real. You won’t get rich off one news release. You’re chances of getting famous are just about as slim.
You might be able to break even.
Look at your investment and compare it to what you need to break even on your investment. If you need to sell 100 books to cover the costs of a $500 outreach effort, you need ten articles because each article only produces ten sales. So that’s your breakeven goal. More books per article, means less articles will satisfy your needs.
You may simply have to be realistic and understand that while you are wildly interested in the topic, it may not have the broad general public interest that you have for the subject. If you wrote an article that has local interest and you expect national media to pay attention, think again.
If you want to be on the Oprah Winfrey Show, then you’d better pray because chances of doing it off one news release are very slim, near zero in fact. Get real. If she calls, then congratulations are in order. But don’t count on it.
If you wrote an advertisement and wanted a feature story and interviews, don’t be surprised if the only media to call is the advertising manager offering you a package deal. You get what you ask for. What you offer is often times what you will get.
Even if you do get publicity, it may not come out exactly the way you want it. More often than not, the bigger the media, the less likely they are to run contact information.
Often times, the quality may be there while the numbers are not.
One or two quality media responses may be what you want or need. If you get that, it’s a success.
One article in USA Today may out perform ten articles in small dailies and weeklies in the mid-west.
On the other hand, it may not. The small high quality articles may outperform the small mention in the big media.
Similarly, one quality 30-minute interview on a well-liked talk show on a radio station in the middle of nowhere out in the mid-west, will likely outsell a five-minute interview on an Arbitron rated radio station in the middle of the morning talk show in a major metropolitan area. You can’t tell the listening quality of the audience.
So when you write a news release please review it against these criteria to see if you’ve made any of these errors. Then fix each and every one of them yourself, and when you are done, feel free to send me your final draft. I’ll be happy to take a look at it.
So listen to your publicist. Heed these warnings and reduce the risks of failure. Fail to pay attention to these issues, proceed at your own risk.