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By Sherry Alpert Q: I took a class on public relations last fall at my local junior college. Since then, I have written four press releases for our antiques business. I have been receiving terrific response from trade publications, but I can't seem to get noticed by our local community newspaper. I know that editors are busy, and it is not their job to train me. But, how do I know when to make a followup call regarding a release that was sent? How do I find out what was wrong with the release -- why it wasn't considered newsworthy? By the way, thanks for the informative story on promotions (see BW Online, 9/18/03, "Making a Network Connection"). -- Nancy, Santa Rosa, Calif.
A: First, you have to know how to write a press release, and since I don't know how well you wrote yours, I can't tell if it was up to snuff. You may start with a snappy opening. Or, if you're publicizing an event, you start with the date, time, and place. If your release is boring, or you "bury your lead" -- that news jargon for the bit that makes a story interesting -- no one will use it. It's also important not to make the release too long.
PICTURE THIS. Bear in mind that you could have put together an excellent press release and it might still have been ignored because the newspapers simply don't have space. As I've written before, two big parts of successful publicity are timing and luck (see BW Online, 8/24/03, "Raising Your Profile").
For your next release, come up with a diverting photo with a long caption, which recipients are likely to find much more interesting than a press release. For example, show a unique antique that you have acquired, with a colorful description of its history. Be sure not to make it sound like an ad -- remember, the information you're passing along has to have some news value.
If your release hasn't appeared in a week, it's fine to call. Check if the newspaper received it (e-mail or fax it -- snail mail isn't worth your time or theirs). If it hasn't arrived, say you'll be happy to e-mail or fax it again. Get the name of the person who should receive it, which you should have done initially. If you have a photo, get it scanned to JPG digital format at 200 or 300 dpi (dots per square inch), or take it with a digital camera and attach it to the e-mail containing the release.
SUNSHINE CALLING. Regarding e-mail, your release should be in the body of the e-mail, not an attachment. Be sure you have a clever subject line on the e-mail, so that you will grab the editor's attention -- and make it clear that your release is not spam. If you reach the editor and find out that he or she doesn't want to use your release or photo, ask why. If the editor says there's not enough space for feature-type releases or photos like yours, suggest that it be held over until there is space. If the editor tells you where it falls short, then address those points and fix them.
Be prepared not to reach an editor, to get voicemail, and no call backs. Don't leave more than one message a week. It's better to hang up without saying anything than to make a pest of yourself. Find out the deadline days, or if it's a daily paper, what time the paper is readied for press. Don't call during those moments, as editors and reporters won't appreciate the distraction. And when you do make contact, be sure to sound upbeat and not as though you are complaining.
Have a question about the best way to promote and publicize your business? PR pro Sherry Alpert is here to help. Click here, here to e-mail your queries, or write to Spread The Word, BW Online, 45th Floor, 1221 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020. Please include your name and phone number in case we need more information. Only your initials and city will be printed. The principal of Sherry Alpert Corporate Communications & Graphic Design in Canton, Mass., Sherry Alpert, has been representing clients ranging from corporations, retailers, and nonprofits to books, trade shows, and entrepreneurs for 25 years.