Stirrups... leg up... helping each other out... okay I'll get back in my box
Every week a stream of emails tumbles into my inbox attempting to convince me to cover numerous products, services, or projects that are somehow going to revolutionise the photographic industry, alter my life beyond my wildest expectations, or maybe even bring world peace.
As a general rule, most of the literature that I get to wade through is well written and well pitched, so it executes its intended purpose with aplomb. But sometimes, PR people just get it wrong. At best it can be sigh- or groan-inducing; at worst, you might hear an anguished scream released into my Twitter stream. Of course, it is far better to actually do something about the phenomenon of poor PR, instead of just moan. So in the interests of the betterment of society, here's my idiot's guide to producing reasonable PR that shouldn't leave journalists and writers everywhere banging their heads on their desks.
1. Provide a concise, accurate précis.
In the first paragraph of your release I want to know exactly what your product, project, or service is; why it is going to change my life in heretofore unimaginable ways; and just how it is a revolutionary upgrade on its predecessor, if it has a predecessor. If it's filling a hole in the market, tell me that, instead.
2. Include images.
I write about photography. I'm immersed in an image-based community. I, and dare I say it the people who read what I have to write, want to see what a product looks like and just what it can do. Reading about it is not enough. Don't make me go on a wild goose chase for useable images. Either attach some to the email or provide a link to downloadable examples. Even if you're just announcing something as mundane as corporate appointments, include a decent-sized version of the company logo.
3. Think about your language.
The tone of the language that you use in your PR acts as a key reflection of your company, how it operates, and what it stands for. Some companies are fluffiness incorporated and I expect their PR to reflect that by being informal and relaxed. On the other hand, some companies are going to use far more formal language. Both are entirely acceptable, and so are the infinite points in between. All you have to be is appropriate.
However, your text must not, under any circumstances, be dry or dull. You do not want me to fall asleep when I'm reading it. That's no way to sell a product, even if it can control the International Space Station in its spare time. Do not, whatever the temptation, use a smiley. I don't care how fluffy you are, you still need to be professional. If you want to use humour, I won't complain, but ensure that I laugh with you and not at you. Finally, do not talk down to me. I'm not stupid.
4. Provide your PR in good time.
Breaking an embargo is more than our professional reputations are worth, but in order to provide timely, accurate coverage that does justice to whatever radical product you're launching, we really do need to receive the relevant information ahead of the scheduled release. Put the embargo across the top of the literature in big red letters, and send it out a day or two in advance. We'll honour the embargo and thank you for the advance notice.
5. Provide background information.
Who, what, where, why, and when. If you're a small or new company, provide me with some background information that tells me about you, your history, and your philosophy. It makes you far more approachable and will help to bring to life whatever I write. You don't have to include the information in the PR itself - a link to a website is sufficient - but make sure that it's accessible.
6. Check your facts.
And that doesn't relate just to your product. If you're addressing an email to me personally, please ensure that you have my name and gender correct.
7. Include the basic details.
Chasing you up to find out how much something will cost or when it will become available is a frustrating waste of my time. If you don't have exact dates or prices, that's fine, but please acknowledge it.
8. Give a named individual as a point of contact.
It's entirely possible that I'll need to contact someone for more information or some kind of clarification. If you give the direct details of the individual responsible for handling these sorts of enquiries, it will inspire far more confidence in me than a generic email that I can't be certain will be answered or even reach the appropriate person.
9. Be friendly, polite, and personable.
You know, when I do call you up to find out something more, to request a review model, or to check a fact, please do not sound as if you would rather be anywhere else than on the phone to me. I won't mind if you say that you don't have the answer immediately and need to check, but I will mind if you don't get back to me. Similarly, I will also mind a great deal if you don't respond to an email or return a message left on your voicemail. That's plain good manners, let alone good business practice.
10. You'll win some; you'll lose some.
For various reasons, I might not want or be able to cover your pioneering gadget or ground-breaking service. If that's the case, please don't harass me or try to second-guess my motives. It won't win you any favours. Ask me politely, and I'll likely provide you with feedback. Be rude to me, and I'll not forget in a hurry.
That's especially important because just because I cannot or will not feature your gizmo this time around, it doesn't mean to say that I won't be interested in upgrades or releases next time around. Unless of course you were rude to me.
Remember: I need good PR to do your product justice. The more that you can help me, the more that I can help you. It's that simple.