This editor had the pleasure this week to host some folks from the Sauk Valley Area Chamber of Commerce.
We talked a little about the history of the newspaper and the development of our modern media company.
But mostly they wanted to know about how to get stuff published in the newspaper.
We tried to help.
AMONG PLEDGES in our newsroom’s customer service promise is this:
Say “yes”: Find some way to accommodate every customer’s reasonable request.
That might sound simple.
But we do occasionally get unreasonable requests.
Would you, please, publish it every day for 2 weeks before the event?
Could you make the type bigger so people can see it better?
You won’t change a word, will you?
Will you make sure it is published on these pages on these dates?
We have a couple of words for those requests: paid advertisement.
ONE OF THE BIG advantages of getting the news department to publish information about your club or event is that it’s free.
But you have to live with the fact that we will edit it for length, content and style.
And the place and timing of publication will depend on available space.
That’s why we like to have things several days – even a couple of weeks – ahead of time.
When you start organizing your activity or planning your event, include “publicity” in the early discussions.
JUST A COUPLE of years ago, this column offered tips on getting your stuff published.
That column was the basis for our discussion this week with the Sauk Valley Area Chamber members.
For those of you who didn’t clip and save that column, here it is again.
But, like everything we print, it has again been edited for length, content and style.
Just seems fair.
THIS EDITOR HAS tossed thousands of press releases into the wastebasket.
Maybe millions; he’s lost count.
And he has appeared at many workshops and seminars to explain how – and how quickly – he decides to assign incoming mail to the “round file.”
First, you need to understand your different audiences.
Don’t think the public is your primary audience. Reaching the masses might be your ultimate goal, but that’s your secondary audience.
Your primary audience is the editor or broadcast news director.
Because if that press release doesn’t get their approval, it gets trashed.
SO, WHAT DO YOU do to appeal to that primary audience?
Getting published – or on the air – involves a simple principle: The less an editor – or news director – has to do to repair ... er, prepare your press release, the greater your chance of success.
That means the information should arrive in a format that the newspaper or station uses.
Short is always good. Keep it to a couple of hundred words, if possible (and it usually is). That means one page.
Get to the point quickly. Your first media contact must know immediately what the “news” is.
Write in the style of the newspaper or station. That means conversational language: everyday words, short sentences.
And email is usually better than a printed news release because the electronic file is easier to edit and manage than a piece of paper.
SOME YEARS AGO, a survey of editors found six major problems with news releases.
Because editors are busy people, they won’t spend a lot of time trying to decipher a poorly prepared publicity piece.
Let’s quickly review those six problems.
NO. 1: THE LACK OF proximity – that is, Why should readers care? How are they affected?
While providing information about who, what, where, why, when and how, news releases often forget the most important question: So what?
Explain why the information is important to the community – at least, the community you’re trying to reach.
NO. 2: THE ABSENCE of anything new – or the fact that the real news was buried several paragraphs into the news release.
As we mentioned earlier, get to the point. What’s new? What is it you want the public to know?
Don’t make the editor hunt for that information, because it will be an extremely brief search.
NO. 3: EXCESSIVE promotional puffery.
Save the cheerleading, the self-serving and the image-building for staff meetings.
To communicate effectively, sell the story with facts and honesty. Use nouns and verbs, not a bunch of adjectives and adverbs.
NO. 4: TOO LONG. You want someone to read it, don’t you?
There is no magic length that ensures a news release will be read, but short is always better.
How long is that? No longer than it has to be.
Phone numbers and websites “for more information” will allow editors to find more info if they want it.
NO. 5: TOO LATE. Timeliness is important, too.
Newspapers prefer to have several days – or a few weeks – to prepare and schedule publication of that information.
“Can you get this in the paper tomorrow?”
Yes, it’s possible, but we probably won’t unless the topic is extremely important or extremely urgent. New releases seldom are either.
NO. 6 HAS TO DO with writing style – or the lack of it.
The information should be well organized in full sentences without errors in spelling and grammar. If it also follows Associated Press “style” – which standardizes spelling, punctuation, capitalization and abbreviation, among other things – so much the better.
If you submit items often, you might invest in an AP Stylebook. Cover price is $18, but you can probably shop around and save a few bucks. A used copy is good enough.
IF YOU’RE NERVOUS about trying to write in news “style,” keep it simple with a fact sheet.
Who. What. Where. When. Why. How. So what?
And if there is a charge, How much?
Add day and evening phone numbers, and an email address and website if available.
Just the facts, ma’am.
We’ll take it from there.
WHAT ELSE DO you need to know?
Factual errors are a fatal flaw, so double-check the names, dates, times and places. If numbers are involved, check the math.
Find out who at the newspaper or radio station will handle your information, and send it to that person. A quick call should get you that name. And a quick call can confirm it was received.
Your contact info also is vital. If we have questions, or want to make a bigger story out of it, we need to know how to reach you.
And don’t forget the daytime and evening phone numbers, as well as an email address.
We will find a way to accommodate your every reasonable request.