Press Release

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Every PR pro should know by now that reporters receive a torrent of press releases every day from those who follow their writing and from those who foolishly fling releases out to anyone they can find. You might wonder, how bad is the press release deluge? We wanted to know too.


Zack Colman, formerly the Energy and Environment reporter for the Washington Examiner, now a Knight Science Journalism Fellow at MIT says he would receive hundreds if not thousands of releases every week. “I learned to swallow my anxiety as I watched my unread email count soar,” he said in a recent email exchange.

Colman was listed on dozens of congressional, agency and special interest group distribution lists— each of whom had an agenda to push or reaction to convey.

At one point, Colman had more than 50,000 unread press releases in his inbox — a problem he says he only solved by leaving his job. That is literally hundreds of thousands of dollars in PR effort lost!

To ensure he didn’t miss anything important, Colman would sift through “reactions” press releases. He would also open releases from organizations he knew or trusted.

Beyond that, he applied special criteria to determine which press releases he would take the time to read.

Press Release

I always read the emails from people with whom I’d developed a personal connection,” said Colman. “It’s pretty easy for someone to suggest a coffee meeting, and it lets me know that they care to know what I cover and what I’m interested in.”

With Colman’s thoughts in mind, here are 7 sure-fire ways to add some spice into that otherwise bland press release.

How will you capture the attention of your target reporter!

Personalize: Adding a personal touch to the press release, even if it’s just a sentence or two above the mass text sent to every reporter, can drive a reporter’s attention. “But don’t fake it,” Colman said. “There’s nothing worse than receiving a pitch from someone who professes to ‘read my coverage’ and then tries to sell me on something I’d never cover.”

Use Visuals: Distinguish press releases with visuals that tell stories in a different way. When most people think of “visuals,” their minds default to images. In reality, images represent just one type of visual. Slideshows, charts, renderings and even memes are other types of visuals that may successfully pique a reporter’s attention.

Video Content: With smartphones, compression services, and endless multimedia platforms readily available, it’s never been easier to make and share videos. That’s a good thing, as studies show that multimedia embeds can bump traffic by up to 77 percent. Embed GIF animations or looping videos into digital press releases and enjoy better results.

Change the Subject: A casual subject line that mentions a specific story and is relevant to what you’re pitching can be a difference-maker. “Saying something along the lines of, ‘Read your story on offshore oil drilling, just fyi…’ often works,” Colman said. “I’m not one for formality, so that kind of subject line lets me know you’re not a PR drone who picked up my email through some mass list.”

Infographics: Though technically a visual, infographics are worthy of their own space in this blog, as they help tell stories succinctly and intelligently. If you don’t have in-house designers, you can create an infographic yourself with the help of websites like An infographic takes time to craft, but when done properly, it’s sure to drive above-average media buzz.

Enliven Quotes: The person behind a story is often more exciting than the story itself. Interesting characters make for catchy headlines, and in today’s news cycle, that’s what drives readership. Bring quotes to the top of the press release, and embed audible video clips to bring the words to life.

Less is More: Avoid gimmicks and cuteness. Just lay out the facts, use quotes to add human depth, and send away.
Follow Zack Colman on Twitter at @zcolman.

By Alex Altman

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