5 Elements of an Effective Press Release

press_release_writing“The shorter and the plainer the better.” –Beatrix Potter

“Brevity is the soul of wit.” – Shakespeare

Minute by minute, a dizzying amount of data is created in this content-driven world. (Don’t believe me? Check out this infographic from DOMO )

And as PR folks, we’re under the gun to get the message across – clearly, thoroughly and correctly on behalf of our clients.

More often than not, this takes the form of a press release, the worth and future of which has become an annual debate. (But that’s another blog post entirely… For our purposes here, rather than dispute its inherent value, let’s focus on a few ways in which we can improve upon the content of future announcements we’re putting out into the ether).

I found a great article by Bill Stoller, The Ten Commandments of a Press Release, where he outlines his top ten “shalts” and “shalt nots.” In it, he argues that “when the recipient of a release focuses only on its content — and not on its creation — the writer has succeeded.”

Stoller’s point is an important one: Good writing allows the reader to focus on the message versus the medium. Although we’re taught to write one way growing up, I tend to think that the most effective press releases today follow these five guidelines:

  1. K.I.S.S. “Simple” works, but “short” is even more impactful in our content-crazed world.
  2. Sell the story, not your company. Yes, we know who is paying for the release, but that doesn’t mean anything if no one wants to cover it, correct? Take the time to create context.
  3. Remember your audience. Resist the urge to use marketing speak or pepper in industry acronyms. B2B or B2C, it’s doesn’t matter; keep it straightforward and interesting.
  4. Do the legwork. Again, know your targets and how they like to receive content. Social media savvy? Try tweeting a link to the release. Very visual? Scrap the words and make an infographic with your information. Make it easy for journalists to do their job, and they may just reciprocate.
  5. See number one. We’re following our own rules here.

Do you have any other principles for better press releases that you’d like to see added to the list? We’d love to hear your thoughts!

Got content? 5 tips for great newsletter content

contentNewsletter creation can be remarkably challenging for even the most prolific writer. After all, your newsletter has some lofty goals: get through spam filters, attract readers’ eyes, get opened, get read, get click-thrus, convert to a lead, and if all the stars align – result in a sale. Phew!

Coming up with good content is easier than you might think. Here are some proven tips we’ve picked up over the years to help you get started:

  1. Put yourself in your reader’s shoes – Think about newsletters you like to read and try to mimic that type of content. Is the tone fun and lighthearted; is the content informative and educational? If you enjoy a specific style or type of content, chances are your readers will too.
  2. Don’t try to sell anything – Sure, the ultimate goal with any marketing tactic is to increase sales, but a newsletter should first seek to engage your audience. Your goal should be to capture their attention and provide interesting, compelling content that holds their interest over time. This helps to keep your services top of mind when your prospects are ready to buy them.
  3. Lighten up – Business is serious, but dry and dull is not the kind of content you want to provide your readers. Your content can be both informative and entertaining. Hear a funny customer story? Share it. A Ron Burgundy fan? Include a favorite quote when it makes sense.
  4. Recycle existing content – Old content can be new again. Revisit archived blog posts, customer success stories or past campaigns. Even current content on your blog, website, Pinterest page, or other marketing channel can be repurposed as newsletter content.
  5. Create repeatable content – Create a series such as a customer or campaign of the month, or a tips series where you share one piece of advice to a common challenge in each newsletter. This helps keep your readers engaged and looking forward to your next issue.

When thinking about newsletter content, remember that your audience – whether they’re prospects you’d like to convert to customers, or existing customers you’d like to retain – they opted in to your newsletter for a reason: they’re interested in learning more about your business and what you can do for them. You don’t need to attract their attention; you need to keep it. Cater to their interests with relevant content that offers valuable, entertaining, educational information. Keep this in mind as you develop your newsletter and you won’t disappoint.

What’s your best tip for creating great newsletter content? Please share in the comments.

Lights, camera, action, oh my?

clapper with handsJust as personal computers and the Internet have sparked the writer and publisher in everyone; camera enabled devices and social media are now making videographers and producers of us all. Video has not only become a part of everyone’s social life, it’s become a necessary skill in the public relations and marketing world.

Shooting and editing video has never been more accessible. Whether you use a laptop, tablet, phone, helmet, or glasses you have a video camera at the ready. With a little luck, you can capture the fun, happy, mundane or big moments in your life with ease. Where do you start when you need to shoot video in a professional capacity? A shaky camera and bad lighting may fly in coach, but a poorly shot video will lose its charm in business class.

Here are some simple tips to consider for your next video shoot:

  • Use a tripod if/whenever possible.
  • Position your subject (or yourself) a little to the left or right of center and leave a little headroom at the top of the frame.
  • For online video, avoid pans (horizontal movement of the camera) and zooms (focusing in or out using the zoom feature on the camera).
  • Don’t shoot your subject in front of a window or with the sun behind them, the best light source comes from behind the camera. If you happen to have a lighting kit – or even a few floor lamps – check out Media College’s illustrated guide to Three Point Lighting Technique.
  • Use the viewfinder on the camera to watch the interview at the same time that you look over the camera and make eye contact with the subject. This puts the subject at ease, gives him/her someone to look at and also makes the interview more natural-sounding.
  • If your subject will be looking off camera for cues, it will work best if you sit next to the camera and have your subject focus their attention towards you, not the camera, and you provide cues. This also helps put the subject as ease and makes the interview feel more natural overall.
  • Don’t make any sound at all when your subject is talking. Flipping pages, coughing, moving in chair, etc. can all get picked up by the camera’s microphone and will surely sound undesirable to viewers.
  • If your subject stumbles in their response, instruct them to relax, gather their thoughts and respond again. Make sure they do not feel rushed.
  • If your subject is willing, consider shooting multiple takes. When editing footage, it is always helpful to have multiple takes to choose from. If nothing else this offers your subject the opportunity to run through the process and to feel more at ease in subsequent takes.

Circle back after the shoot for Part 2, where I’ll discuss choosing a video editor and provide some helpful editing tips.

Have some helpful tips of your own? Please leave a comment below.

Spring cleaning tips for your email inbox

According to the calendar, spring has sprung, even if Punxsutawney Phil indicated otherwise (and, incidentally, is now being indicted by a prosecutor in Ohio for his “misrepresentation of spring!”).

But while we’re tucked away inside for a few more weeks, it’s a perfect time to work on some spring cleaning of an area that, if you’re like the majority, you’ve probably been neglecting for some time now: the dreaded email inbox.

The good news is, this kind of cleaning doesn’t require mops and buckets. But it will require a bit of time, some discipline and figuring out a method of organization that works for you. Here are five quick tips for dealing with the daily digital deluge:

  1. Get rid of old items. Do you really need that email from last year? Start with oldest first, and scan for anything important, which can be filed (more on that later) before the rest are banished to the trash.
  2. Control the incoming flow. Avoid an inbox pile-up by turning off unnecessary notifications, unsubscribing from unwanted newsletters and old Google Alerts.
  3. Set up a system. Keep a handle on new emails by creating filters for certain senders or subjects, and set up a filing system with subfolders to manage other items as they come in.
  4. Adopt a mantra. Repeat after me: “If you don’t need it, delete it!” Half the battle is keeping things from piling up in the first place.
  5. Take out the trash. Finally, don’t forget about cleaning up those oft-forgotten spots – deleted and sent items! Say, ‘good riddance’ and do a final delete on that pile of old drafts and scrapped emails.

And here’s some more advice from our team on what they’ve found works best:

“I first go through my folders and view the emails from the bottom up (oldest first) and delete anything I won’t need again). Then, I delete the folder itself. Finally, I enter my sent items folder and delete anything older than one month…I find this really helps!”

“I have a daily filing system so I clean up a lot as I go along, and try to keep my inbox limited to items that need my actions. I find that filing other emails and saving attachments to Dropbox helps, too, but I still like to go through old, deleted and sent emails to get rid of those defunct items that take up much-needed space.”

“I do a sort by name and mass delete newsletters (that I thought I would get to) and Google alerts, spam, etc. but I still have way too much!”

“I tend to save emails for months! But, two tips I find helpful: 1) Create folders and subfolders for very specific things so it’s easier to find what you’re looking for quickly. 2) Color code emails by client or category so it’s easy to sort your inbox visually.”

“DO rely heavily on folders and subfolders to organize your emails. For example, consider one folder for each client with subfolders by program, e.g., Acme Co. has 3 subfolders for media, awards, and announcements. All emails pertaining to those programs can be filed accordingly making them easy to find later.”

“My tips: A) Sort by sender and take note of any junk senders; mark as appropriate to avoid future deliveries. B) Delete anything over 6 months old. C) Review the newsletters you receive and unsubscribe from any that aren’t pertinent to your daily needs. Consider having these sent to a “newsletter only” alternate Gmail address that you can check versus having them come to your work address.”

“Not sure if my strategy would work for all, but I basically limit my Inbox messages to immediate action items only. For everything else, I immediately archive into folders. If there are things relevant to future to-dos, I make a note in my planning/to-dos calendar to revisit. But to keep my head straight, I always keep my inbox so that all messages show up on my screen and are only the most pressing.”

“Don’t save every email in an email discussion – save only the most recent email that contains the entire thread.”

“Arrange your inbox by conversation; each time a new email comes in relevant to a specific discussion, the entire thread is moved to the top of your inbox. This not only groups related emails together for easy reference, it can act as a reminder as new updates come in.”

“Edit your inbox aggressively; do not hang on to newsletters you’ll never get to. It’s like those old skinny jeans you’ve saved for three years – just get rid of them already!”

PerkettPR’s ‘Naughty & Nice List’ for PR and media in 2012

Before 2013 gets too far ahead of us, we wanted to share our look back at 2012 – a year in review of the PR triumphs and tragedies that made headlines: The good, the bad, the ugly. Here are a few of our top picks, along with the applicable business lessons we’ve learned from them.

First, the ‘Nice’…

Election Goes Social. This year’s Presidential race was one for the record books. The polls were close, the predictions were numerous and the attack ads were relentless, but it sure got national conversation going. From Big Bird memes to non-stop Invisible Obama jokes, the 2012 Election was one of the most shared and commented-on events in social media history.

Our takeaway: Ignoring the opportunity to engage via social channels is no longer an option.

 

NYC Marathon Near-Misstep. After becoming a lightning rod for criticism in the wake of Superstorm Sandy, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and organizers of New York City Marathon cancelled the race amid growing concerns that holding the event would divert resources from cleanup efforts. As a result, thousands of would-be marathon runners converged on the area to put their endurance training to work by lending a hand.

Our takeaway: The most effective crisis control always includes empathy for all involved.

 

Hostess Hoarding. After filing for bankruptcy twice this decade, Hostess threatened to liquidate after announcing that it will lay off 18,500 workers, blaming a labor strike. As a result, consumers took to convenience stores to snap up the snack cakes, and a ten-count box of Twinkies was even seen listed on eBay for an opening bid of $200,000, with a buy-it-now price of $250,000.

Our takeaway: Beloved brands die hard (as does the nostalgia of childhood!).

 

Royal Treatment. After years of tragedy (Diana) and scandal (Fergie) plaguing the palace, the Queen sought outside PR assistance, but it wasn’t until 2012’s Diamond Jubilee, Royal Wedding and baby news that the Monarchy seems to have emerged from its former dark days. As the most popular royals in history, William and Kate’s impact is far-reaching and, as a result, support for the Monarchy is at a 20-year high.

Our takeaway: Don’t underestimate the power of the ‘right’ spokesperson.

 

And now for the ‘Naughty’…

 

Fast Food Backlash. Between McDonald’s supersized #McStories Twitter backlash, Burger King workers behaving badly, Taco Bell employees defiling menu items and the industry grappling with the stigma of pink slime, it’s been a rough year for the fast food industry.

Our takeaway: For better or for worse, remember that every employee is an extension of your brand – and a network branding blitz can do a lot to promote panic.

 

Rogue Tweets. In an epic #BrandFail, we saw several companies get burned in social media mishaps: Chrysler’s Twitter account dropped the F-Bomb, a Red Cross employee tweeted about getting “slizzered,” a Ketchum exec insulted a client’s hometown and KitchenAid mocked President Obama’s dead grandmother on Twitter, just to name a few.

Our takeaway: Heed the old “measure twice, cut once” woodworking maxim and always “check twice, tweet once” when manning multiple handles.

 

Retail Blunders. In an attempt to ride the coattails of the storm, several retailers tried to be savvy with their marketing efforts, but ended up getting soaked for capitalizing on bad news. For those “bored during the storm,” American Apparel advertised a “Hurricane Sandy sale” in the Northeast with the checkout code “Sandysale.” Gap had the decency to plead that residents “stay safe,” but then followed it up with an inappropriate, “We’ll be doing ‘lots of Gap.com shopping today; how about you?” And last but not least, Urban Outfitters glossed over the storm with an offensive pun about wind, offering free shipping with the checkout code “Allsoggy.”

Our takeaway: There’s a thin line between agile and opportunistic, edgy and offensive – tread lightly.

 

Apple & Instagram Outrage. This year we also saw rivalry and greed get the better of some companies. For example, in the next chapter of the Apple vs. Google saga, Apple ditched pre-loaded Google services, such as Maps and YouTube, from its iOS 6 update. This was only made worse by the release of their own (ineffective) Apple Maps platform. And most recently, the majority of us have been involved in the collective Internet outcry against Instagram’s change(s) in its terms of service, which is still in the process of getting settled.

Our takeaway: Consumers don’t take kindly to feeling taken advantage of, and thanks to the web and social media, they have found their voice – and it can be heard louder than ever before.

 

Any other PR peaks and pitfalls from 2012 that you’d like to add to this list? Tell us in the comments below!