Tag Archives: press release

Will my readers really be interested?

Targeting matters if you’re trying to get a journalist or blogger’s attention. Several times this week alone I’ve had pitches that start off “I’ve enjoyed your writing” and then continue with “your readers will be interested in my/my client’s viewpoint/product…”

In principle this should be excellent. The sender has thought through who my readers are, which publication I write for and why the readers will want to hear from them. I should be excited.

Except that one of the pitches was for a toy (I have almost never written about toys, certainly not for five years or so). Another was for a restaurant launch (I am a technology and business journalist, you can argue that a restaurant is a business but it’s tenuous).

One of the pitches that might actually have been in my area but was a bit vague prompted me to respond: where exactly were you pitching this? I do write for more than one outlet, after all.

Good targeting enables you to send a good reply

Dismally, I didn’t get a response to that question. Literally nothing. This was a shame because I was prepared to listen and, once I knew a bit more about the story, consider where it might work best.

Presumably, bothering to send a response would have been too much effort. A second possibility is that the PR person involved took my query as a rebuff; I’ve had that before. I once told someone with a reasonable pitch that we needed a customer to talk to in order to make the story work, and he said “Yeah, I suppose you’re right” and hung up – when I’d have used him in the Guardian quite happily if he’d gone and done the leg work.

A third possibility, and I fear the most likely, is that the pitch hadn’t been targeted at all. The fact that it might have worked for me was a coincidence, and I was one of many journalists getting the same “This might work for your readers…” pitch, when the sender had no idea who the readers were.

Always, always find out about the readership you’re approaching through a journalist or blogger. You’ll be able to have a much more intelligent conversation afterwards if you have an idea of what you want to get out of it.

Before you send a quote, have you anything to say?

A meaningless quote is a no use to me – so why do PR companies insist on sending them? I can see the mechanics, but it really doesn’t work.

Here’s the theory. PR company notes that, say, the Queen is opening a new National Cyber Security Centre in the UK. Rather than call journalists who may be covering it, PR is proactive and sources a quote or five from client on the subject, and sends them to the likely suspects – people who, like me, might be covering the event.

Most often, the journalist won’t be covering the thing, but occasionally you strike paydirt. Today I was writing about it.

Only, there are some things I won’t quote.

“Today’s opening of the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) by the Queen demonstrates a new era as we continue our journey in the digital age”

OK I admit it, I’ve just quoted that here. But it didn’t go anywhere my news story (go on, admit it, you were wondering why I’d used a picture of the Queen).

A quote has to mean something

The subhead says it all, really. I had other quotes sent to me. One said the government couldn’t handle everyone’s cyber security needs by itself. Another said the issue wasn’t government money but a skills shortage.

You see how these examples actually take the story on a little – not massively – but they do take it further than “this is a jolly good idea, then”.

And that’s what I need. If you can’t deliver it, then you won’t deliver for your client – nobody who wants to write anything readable is going to repeat a platitude if they can possibly help it.

It’s worth the PR fraternity bearing in mind that the job involves consultancy rather than just parroting everything the client wants. It can be worth pushing back and telling them something’s not going to work; the better clients will listen to expertise and hey, they might even come up with something better!

Do you struggle coming up with messages for the media? I can help – email me and we’ll talk.

Where should your press release go?

Most press releases are awful. There, I’ve said it. People send them to me and I delete the majority. It’s not the quality every time, though. It’s the relevance, or rather lack of it.

Press release work must be the bane of the public relations executive’s life, to say nothing of the pain it is to the business owner taking the DIY approach. I can often tell they’ve taken care and drafted a press release well – but what happens to them next is crucial.

It’s clear they’ve sent them to me in my role as “any old journalist”.

Here’s a thought: I’m a technology journalist who also writes a bit about business. I edit New Statesman Tech for the moment and Professional Outsourcing Magazine and do a whole load of one-off bits and pieces, but they’re all in the business and tech area. I’ve done little else for at least two years. So I end up asking myself why have I received the following in recent months:

  • A query about whether I am writing anything about gifts people buy each other when they get engaged;
  • Something on quality wooden toys for the Christmas market;
  • A recipe for whole sea bass with orange butter;
  • A solicitation to sample some beer (I always say “yes please but I don’t write about beer” – nobody sends me the free beer these days)
  • Top tips on winter skin care
  • A luxury hotel in London

OK, I used to run a lifestyle blog for middle-aged men so the first, fourth and fifth might be understandable. They are out of date, though. The company that sent me loads of press releases on female sex aids a couple of years back was fascinating but not something I’d be writing about.

Send your press release wisely

Too many people see the word “journalist” in someone’s job title and send out a press release regardless of any specialism that writer might have. It’s honestly, honestly worth thinking about who I am and what I write about before sending it off.

You’re actually better off making a smaller list. Take the top ten journalists, bloggers, websites or magazines on which your business would like coverage. You’re never going to get into all ten, the competition’s immense – so why not improve the quality of your pitch and tailor individual releases/communications rather than send the same thing to 20 people?

The personalised approach often works better. I get the impression you’ve made an effort and know who I am, and over time you get a feel for who’s going to respond to what.

Just don’t get stalkerish. I had a call about 15 years ago from a nervous young PR person. My then-new daughter was safely at nursery and the shaky young (male) voice started off, before even introducing himself: “How is your daughter, Guy..?”

If I’d had security staff they’d have been onto it like a shot.


I’ve been taking part in a Facebook discussion on whether the press release is dead as a useful thing. My answer is generally “no” and a lot of my views are duplicated in this excellent blog from the Comms Dept:


The problem is that there are some pretty naff press releases out there. So if you’re writing one or are part of the team doing so, here are some of the things that would help me as a journalist.

  • A clear subject line. Too often (ie more than once) people try something clever. Just tell me what has happened: Company X lands major contract, Company B launches new product – whatever it is. If you can’t summarise it quickly does it really need to be said?
  • A good summary in the opening paragraph. I’m a journalist and I’m used to writing news. I therefore expect to read news in a newsy format which means the important stuff goes in immediately – who, what, when, where, how. I may read no further if I’m pushed for time so why not put everything important at the front?
  • Good targeting. Yes it’s difficult to keep track of journalists as their careers progress and they move from title to title. But yes that’s part of the job. If you want me to be interested in writing something you’d better have at least a vague idea of who my readers are.
  • Available spokespeople. A colleague recently replied to a press release and had an autoresponse message that made it clear that the sender was on holiday for a month and didn’t want to be bothered. OK, you’re entitled to your holiday and if you can afford to take a month off, good luck to you – but don’t bother me with a press release if you can’t be bothered yourself, OK?
  • Decent English. I know, I know, it shouldn’t matter, I’m looking for relevance rather than eloquence ideally. However, if you don’t know the difference between their, there and they’re, its and it’s, I might find it irritating. If you clearly don’t know your stuff I’ll be more so. Remember the security breach at married dating organisation Ashley Madison? I had two releases commenting on the incident at Madison Ashley. It just looked like opportunistic grubbing around after half-reading a headline.

Other than the targeting, it all ought to be fairly straightforward.

Do you need help with writing your releases? Email me and we’ll talk.

Don’t let me ask this question

When I’m writing something for the press there’s a question I ask myself after every paragraph. That question is: “Why am I telling them this?”

If I can’t answer that question then I abandon the paragraph and start again. Frankly if I can’t see the point of a section of an article I can’t expect the readers to do it for me. And yet so many people don’t seem to worry; this is particularly true of some sections (by no means all) of the PR community.

If I’m reading your press release and wondering why you sent it to me, you’ve frankly lost me and I’m going to be hard to get back.

Reasons I may not be interested

There can be many reasons I won’t be interested in a particular release and many are easy to eliminate. Here are some of the more frequent offenders:

  • The poorly-targeted release: Just before Christmas I had a lavishly-illustrated press release on hand-designed-and-painted silk scarves for women. To the right journalist this had everything including images. To a business journalist writing about SMEs, Outsourcing and a number of related areas like me, it was of no interest whatsoever. The fact that someone has “journalist” in their job title doesn’t mean you can send them just any old thing.
  • The poorly-written press release: These are in the minority, fortunately. I still get the poorly-spelled and punctuated release from time to time and I try to rise above them. More seriously I receive releases in which the main point isn’t clear from the headline, the thrust of the release is buried in the third or fourth paragraph or the point of sending it in the first place just isn’t clear.
  • The release is of interest only to the stakeholders: A good PR person is a consultant as well as someone who just does the bidding of the client. So if you’re aiming to be a good consultant, please do tell your client that their new regional manager or their ten per cent uplift in sales is interesting mostly to the people working for them. Outside the business is anyone really going to care who heads up the sales team as long as they don’t cause a problem?
  • The release with no point: Sometimes I get sent a release that just tells me a client has an opinion on something. There is no effort to find out whether I might be writing about the topic in question, I’m just offered opinions. I suspect the client is standing over the hapless PR person insisting the release be sent; these releases fail the “why am I telling them this?” question immediately.

A lot of these issues are caused by clients who think that if they pay a PR person, coverage will follow immediately. They are compounded by the journalists moving about so much: yes, I get a lot of poorly targeted stuff but no, I wouldn’t particularly want the job of keeping tabs on all of the thousands of freelancers like me in the industry. We get commissions in the short term that might well leave us appearing to be specialists in something we’re not. That’s the job, though, and the PR community can’t afford to let itself off the hook because keeping track appears a bit difficult.

So before you send your next release out, ask why you’re telling the journalist this stuff. If you can’t answer, you might do well to redraft it a bit.

Do you need help with your PR writing and interaction? I can help – fill in the form below, click here to email me or call 07973 278780 and we’ll talk.


Katie Hopkins: publicity master?

This week, a group of students at Brunel University first stood up and turned their backs on, then walked out on former candidate on “The Apprentice” and now columnist Katy Hopkins.

Hopkins has built herself quite a reputation. She is right wing and has made numerous controversial comments about refugees, women, overweight people…I could go on. She behaved pretty badly during “The Apprentice”, trying to plot the downfall of a couple of the candidates. And failing.

She is also a master at publicising herself and making a great deal out of what appears simply to be a particular outlook on life.

If I were here I’d be thanking those students at the moment. Look at what it’s done for her. She would have been unlikely to get into the Guardian and the Independent without their actions, these papers are not her spiritual home. She would also not have had the ammunition to launch an attack on universities and freedom of speech in her Daily Mail column, in which she has some justification for accusing the students of having closed minds and not researching other speakers with the same diligence. There’s an important lesson about handing people the moral high ground in there.

How do you solve a problem like Katie

It’s an old difficulty: how do you efficiently protest against someone without drawing attention to their views? There are a number of ways, and the students in this instance blew most of them.

First, you ignore the speaker. Just don’t invite them to speak and they won’t force themselves on you.

Second, if your uni or other organisation has invited them to speak and you object, don’t go. An empty or poorly-attended hall is not a news story.

Third, if you do turn up and want to object, give the speaker a chance to make his or her point first. Whatever objections you have, walking out before he or she has spoken is always going to look unreasonable. Putting a film of it on YouTube is going to hit the papers – Hopkins can probably charge a larger fee as a result of the last couple of days’ notoriety.

What Katie should do next

On the other hand, you might be the Katie figure rather than the listener in this case. If I were advising her or someone like her, I’d suggest:

  • Turn up to anything to which you’re invited and get a friendly colleague along with a camcorder, DSLR, phone with good video recording or something like that. Get any protest on disk.
  • Stay calm and be reasonable. Don’t allow yourself to look flustered. It’s your right to express an opinion in a democracy and the fact that I wouldn’t vote for you/buy your newspaper/whatever takes nothing away from that right.
  • If there’s a walkout, make it a bigger news story than it is – as indeed Hopkins appears to have done. Wait and see whether someone uploads their own footage for sharing, and use the copy you’ve made only if they fail to do so – so it doesn’t look like self-publicity.

I hold no brief for Katy Hopkins. The audience, however, has handed her an incredible win. I suspect this wasn’t their intention.

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Press release distribution: Aim for the right target

One of the things discussed in my media training sessions is the need to target press releases to the right outlet. You can craft an eloquent and beautiful press release if you like but if it hits the wrong target it won’t get covered. Sometimes I respond to people who have sent me something irrelevant; more often I delete the thing.

People don’t always understand that this is an issue. So here is a really quick explanation – I haven’t checked my in-box before writing this (honestly) but I’ll tell you that I write about small business, about large outsourcing engagements and about a number of political and economic issues for sponsored supplements in the New Statesman (there’s one coming out this coming Friday on manufacturing, which I edited and of which I’m particularly proud, if anyone is interested).

This information is easily available and hasn’t changed much for years. So here are some subjects about which people have nonetheless sent me press releases over the last five working days – and I’m going to check now, without having taken notes in advance (this will be important later):

  • Today: Where rich people get married
  • Yesterday: A video on how to do trick shots in basketball
  • Monday: Photo opportunities with a load of spacehoppers in London
  • Friday: Fabric artist launches a load of landscape images on her textiles
  • Thursday: Ride-on toys for kids launched

OK, two points to make here. First, if you’re a client and you recognise your story above, you are paying people to send it somewhere completely irrelevant and wrong. I have never written anything relevant about any of the subjects above and I’ve been freelance since 1993.

The second point – almost upsettingly – is that I didn’t even have to look before starting this post. I knew there would be something ridiculous and poorly targeted every day.

I suppose the good news is that if you think about where you’re sending stuff and target it properly, it puts you into the top quadrant of PR people and marketers.

There is of course more to it than that, and if your company needs help with its writing and journalist-related activities in general I’d be happy to help. Call me on 07973 278780 or drop me a note using the form below and we’ll talk.