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Amateurism Hurts PR Field

By: Andy Marken

In his nearly 25 years in the advertising/public relations field, Andy has been involved with a broad range of corporate and marketing activities. Prior to forming Marken Communications in mid-1977, Andy was vice president of Bozell & Jacobs and its predecessor agencies. During his 12 years with these agencies, he developed and coordinated a wide variety of highly visible and successful promotional campaigns and activities for clients. A graduate of Iowa State University, Andy received his Bachelor's Degree with majors in Radio & Television and Journalism. Widely published in the industry and trade press, he is an accredited member of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA).

Well developed press materials can be a powerful part of a firm's total public relations program.  They get information on the company's product developments, services, personal changes, and financial reports where they will do the most good ... to the pertinent publications and on target Ezines.  Even though many members of the press won't readily admit it; they are also the springboard for major editorials by the editor on the company, its products, and its industry position.

Knowing this, we find it appalling that news releases, the most basic form of external communication for any firm, receive such little care and attention.  Poor and incomplete news releases and publicity practices, not only make the issuing firm look bad, they insult an editor's intelligence.

To validate the above statements, we interviewed more than 50 business, financial and computer/communications publication editors.  We talked with an equal number of on-line editors.  Most of them said that they receive an average of 200+ releases per day over the wire, in the mail and sent electronically.   More than three-fourth of the releases they receive are so weak or amateurish that they go directly into the wastebasket (electronic or physical).

Gauge Editorial Needs

How should publicists go about providing information that will be used?

There is usually a lot going on in an organization that is of interest to an editor.  The good "stuff" isn't delivered to you on a silver platter.  A good public relations person has to be like a good reporter and dig out the information. 

Then the person who is writing the publicity has to determine what the information's worth is to the company, to the editor, and to the reader.  If it doesn't serve all three, forget it. 

Once you have found company information worth announcing, determine the publication(s) you want to target.  It's quite simple for anyone who is doing PR to gauge the editorial requirements of a given publication or group of publications.  All he or she has to do is read a few issues and study the editorial direction/ emphasis.  It’s surprising – scary – how few people actually read the publications that cover their industry as well as their primary and secondary markets.

If the publicity writer is worth his or her salt, he or she will provide news releases that have the style, content, and necessary current angle to satisfy the publications' requirements.

Those are the releases that get published.

The Creative NEWS Release

Over the years, we have seen literally reams of releases that pass right over editors' desks, across their screens and into the circular file.

For the most part, the releases uniformly lack any spark of writing excitement, comprehension of news style, or the solid information that gets an editor interested and maybe even excited.

Here some basic guidelines our organization regularly follows when preparing news releases for the press:  
  • Write the release simply and factually to make certain the full story is told as quickly as possible.

  • When the story dictates, prepare a strong, in-depth backgrounder that gives the facts, not personal "puff." This kind of information should assist the editor, not flatter management.

  • Photographs should be real, not with sharp contrasts, not retouched ad shots.  Make certain that the cutline explains the photo and ties into the release.  Hand shaking events, stiff suited mug shots, dull products on a non-descript or very busy background seldom find their way into print.  The editor is looking for information for his or her readers, not sex or self-serving ego shots.

  • The release should contain the name, telephone number and e-mail address of the person who can be contacted for additional information.

    In fact, it's a good practice to add the home telephone number so that the editor can make contact while the news is hot in his or her mind.

  • If the release describes a brochure, catalog or data sheet, include a copy.  It is good source material for future articles and it gives the editor more information to work with.

  • Just as salespeople tailor their information to the interests of their prospects, write the release with a specific publication's or group of publications' readers in mind.

  • If the product has a number of applications, write separate and tailored/targeted releases with the leads and body copy focused to appeal to each class of publications.  Properly done, the results can be dramatic.

Common Faults

If you analyze any business-oriented product category, it can't possibly be of interest to 200-300 business and trade publication readers.  Yet a common practice with people who relate quantity to quality and who weigh clippings by the pound is to cast/spam releases to the four winds in hope that someone, somewhere, will find something of interest and print their gems of creative genius. 

Even firms that are able to find information and present it in a way that might interest the editors often fall short when it comes time to getting the piece out.

Commonly voiced complaints of the Editors regarding the most simple of PR activities -- publicity handling -- include:
  • Hand-delivering a release to an editor to make certain that he or she receives it

  • Reading a release to the editor over the phone 

  • Simultaneously giving the release to four or five editors at the same publication

  • Emailing the release and then calling to make certain that the editor received the release or to ask if it is okay to send him or her a release

  • Meaningless personal notes accompanying a release

  • Excessively long releases

  • Cute, meaningless and trivial notes in an email before the editor gets to the message

  • Spamming the release to 50-100+ editors listing all of their names/addresses before the reporter can get to the reason for the email

  • Embedding the release in the email and attaching an HTML copy that must be downloaded and usually discarded before it is open (no one trusts unsolicited attachments any more).

  • Requesting that no changes be made in the release copy

  • Expecting clippings of the printed release

  • Making no bones about pointing out the fact that the firm is also an advertiser
Few public relations professionals can honestly say that they haven't been guilty in one or more of these areas at one time or another.  Actually, we're a lot like our editorial counterparts ... we work hard to get an item that we feel is newsworthy placed.

But this is a far cry from the marketing neophyte who feels that he or she has a hidden talent for writing and placing "masterpieces" for a company.

Publicity is a Powerful Tool 

An organized, well-executed publicity program which is integrated into the firm's total effort can reap handsome results. It can:
  • Make readers aware of the company, its products, its capabilities

  • Pave the way for the sales force

  • Help explore new potential markets

  • Build relations with present customers

  • Establish a stronger position with the financial community
If the company isn't looking for this approval, acceptance, and coverage, then they can let a clerk or junior member of the organization handle publicity and news releases.  However, it has always been my opinion that good publicity deserves attention since it can contribute the sale of goods and result in profits for the company.

© Copyright 1999, G.A.Marken, Marken Communications

Other Articles by Andy Marken

The author assumes full responsibility for the contents of this article and retains all of its property rights. MarcommWise publishes it here with the permission of the author. MarcomWise assumes no responsibility for the article's contents.


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