Tuesday, October 19, 2010

A few thoughts on press releases. And also cute animals.

As a regional magazine editor I get boucoups of press releases, most of which are boring or not relevant to my publication. Those get deleted as soon as I glance at them.

But one particular organization sends press releases that I nearly always read. It's the Tennessee Aquarium.

The aquarium is in Chattanooga, Tenn. - a good four hours from my magazine's readers - and because I generally try to keep my magazine extremely local, I don't always have a need for the press releases.

But I read them anyway, without fail. And there will probably come a day when we're putting together a list of day-trip activities for the magazine and I'll almost certainly include the Tennessee Acquarium.

If you're a writer sending press releases on your book to members of the MSM, this kind of compulsive readability is something you want.

So I'm listing a few things I like about the Tennessee Aquarium's press releases:

First and foremost, I'll be honest. The communications manager who sends the press releases first won me over with...

...the cute. It's an Eastern Screech Owl, part of the “Thrills, Gills and Chills” animal encounters event running through Oct. 31. (Which, by the way, sounds really fun.) This was so adorable I forwarded the whole thing to some friends I thought would enjoy the pic, and maybe even the press release about the Halloween-themed event. A few months ago, the attached photo was of a baby penquin (!) sitting underneath its mom.

There's nearly always an attached photo with the aquarium press releases, and it's always of something cute or cool-looking. I'm not saying this would work for just anyone's press release - particularly if your book is about Nazis or something - and I know there are people who don't like attachments. But for what it's worth, I'm a sucker for cute animals and I WILL open this every. single. time.

Now for the nuts and bolts of the press release, which Thom (the aquarium's communications manager who sends the e-mails) absolutely nails.

1. The press release is in the body of the e-mail. No need for me to open attachments to get the general gist of the info.

2. The paragraphs are brief. There's never more than two or three sentences per paragraph, and there's a space between each paragraph. This makes easy skimming for me, which means I'll actually end up reading more of it than if Thom had packed everything into two or three giant paragraphs.

3. There's a sense of enthusiasm that comes out through the writing. Thom (or whoever writes these) doesn't pack in a ton of adjectives and overwrought descriptions, but there's always a feeling of "wow, this is so cool."

4. There's always a link at the end to an online press kit that includes photos. I've said this before, but you boost your chances of MSM press coverage by making that coverage as easy as possible for journalists and editors. You need an easy-to-find "press" area on your website that includes a downloadable high-res image of the cover of your book(s) and downloadable high-res photo of yourself. Then you'll also want a downloadable press release on the book(s) and one on yourself.

5. Lists. Put anything you can in list form: dates for book signings and events, places where the books are sold. Lists are easier to read and can sometimes give editors ideas for short blurb-y writeups about your book.

That's my two cents for the day. For a more comprehensive guide to press releases and getting MSM coverage, click here.

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