Some publicity managers have been getting out the word about their nonprofit organization for so long that the job is almost automatic. That may be good, but it also could be the worst way to approach the task.
There are several aspects of press releases, I have discovered in decades of receiving them, that are often overlooked. When the publicity person considers these, everyone’s job becomes easier and the information is far more effective.
1) Know your goal. For each release. True, it’s best to understand clearly the underlying goal of the organization, but you also need to understand the goal of this particular publicity campaign. Is it to raise awareness or raise money? Be very clear with yourself so you can be clear with your audience. Then state that goal precisely in the lead paragraph.
2) Know your audience. It’s not necessarily everyone who reads the newspaper you’re sending the release to. When you try to reach everyone, you often end up reaching no one, because the message is muddled. Word your press release in a way that is most likely to make your specific target audience respond positively. And understand that the target may change somewhat with each campaign.
3) Know the medium. This should go without saying. Those media who you esteem most highly should be on your personal contact list. You should know what they need and want and then give it to them that way. If it means writing a separate release for the newspaper and the radio station, then do it. “Give ‘em what they want” applies first to the media who are your cohorts in the publicity game.
4) Know the deadlines. Come on! You’ve been planning this for months. Make sure you get it to the media on a timetable that conforms to their schedules. And it’s different for each. Know what they are and respect them.
5) Know your campaign. If you’re responsible for promoting an event or an organization, you’d better know what it’s all about, especially if it’s your name and number after “For more information, call . . . .” Have that additional information at your fingertips. In this age of cell phones, that could mean carrying the folder with you wherever you go.
6) Know the internet. Your organization has — or needs to have — a website. All the background on you group is there so the person getting your release can fill in details if need be. More information and photos of the event are there. Appropriate names and numbers can be found.
7) Write. If you know all of the above, all that’s left is writing it up. If you know the goal, you know what to say first. If you know the audience, you know what to include and what to leave out. If you know the medium, you know the basics of style and length and whether to include art. Include your e-mail address and the organization’s web address and send it all off, in a timely manner and in appropriate form.
8) Say thanks. Every editor I’ve known appreciates a kind phone call, e-mail or word somewhere in public. With that, you’re already promoting your next event.
Photo illustration from Markus Rödder