'How to Get the Press on Your Side' Written by Clare Wilford
Extract from Clare Wilford’s 2016 PR Presentation ‘How to Get the Press on Your Side’ for the ICO’s REACH: Strategic Audience Development participants
IN THE BEGINNING THERE WAS THE PRESS RELEASE - all roads lead from here.
It’s really important to recognise that press releases are the start of the dialogue, not the dialogue itself. So don’t get hung up on the press release as the be-all and end-all and channel all PR energies into writing one, and thinking that’s the job done. Oh no! It’s just the start of the process.
Plus, remember when writing a press release its essential not to forget to whom you’re sending it, when and how it’s going to be sent, and why you’re sending it in the first place!
WARNING – Film Programmers PLEASE be prepared to have your copy severely edited into bite-sized chunks. Don’t get too precious about copy! There are many programmers/curators and filmmakers who are atrocious communicators but who still manage to produce good copy.
How do they do it? They rely on few simple techniques, many of which will be revealed below.
So firstly, what is a Press Release?
Press releases are ye olde ancient PR tool, but still used today. The press expect them and are used to responding to them. They prefer you to contact them using this form of address, even if you call to pitch a story directly, you’ll usually get asked to follow up by sending a press release.
PRESS RELEASE MYTHS AND TIPS
- Press releases are as much about form as they are about content
- If it moves it needs a press release - A press release is a selling tool. It should be only of interest to the targeted press it’s sent to.
- Press releases can be as long as you like - Two pages are plenty.
First page main story - WHO, WHAT, WHERE, WHEN, WHY and a little bit of HOW. Second or supplementary page, Editor's notes with background info, sponsors details, filmmaker biog, PLUS box office number, web address etc
- Always date your press release – It’s surprising how many don’t!
- Press releases should never ever be sent to the general public - They are for journalists only. They are devalued in the eyes of the press if widely available to members of the public. Journalists like to feel they are getting special attention, the wider circulation of press releases undermines this.
- Embargo dates (avoid if possible - journalists hate them) - Embargoes are a gentleman's agreement. Not a binding legal obligation. Most journalists will observe them but don't use one if you're not working with journalist you know that well and aren't sure that they can be trusted. Not worth the risk.
- Posting press releases/brochures - Don't just email out a release. If you have time and resources, then post it out as well. Journalists don’t get much post any more. Especially good idea if you have a lovely brochure or leaflet to send out with it. OR a freebie. Journalists love freebies!
- Press releases should never be sent out late! (or early) – It’s never ever better late than never when it comes to press releases. If you can't get it out on time why are you bothering. It undermines the value of the event if you can’t be bothered to get the release out on time. It also undermines your reputation as a PR if you send it out too late, 'just in case'. Likewise don't send press releases out too early
- Never send out a press release on a Friday afternoon - In fact avoid Fridays altogether. It will sit in an inbox for the weekend and get lost by the time Monday comes around! Midweek is best.
- Personalise – Wherever possible write directly to a journalist; remind them of when you last corresponded/worked together, and why you are contacting them today, what is it about this specific film/event which you think will appeal to them?
- Images – Avoid attachments. Send link to your website where pics are available to download. Or use Dropbox etc. Pictures are usually sourced AFTER you've set up the story anyway, so don’t send on ahead.
- Follow up calls - Don't expect to be inundated with interest!
The phone will not ring off the hook after a release goes out. ALWAYS follow up press releases with a courtesy phone call. Journalists usually prioritise emails that are from people they know and organisations they've worked with before.
GENERAL PRESS RELEASE COPY GUIDELINES
- Use attention grabbing headlines - Catchy heading/title is essential.
On average 5 times more people read the headline than read the body copy, (according to advertising guru David Ogilvy).
- Avoid jargon, corporate speak and mumbo jumbo - If you don't understand it chances no-one else will either, and you risk ending up in ‘Pseud’s Corner’! Clear and simple is best, don’t show off or try to be clever.
A famous US ad copywriter once said: “Write to the chimpanzee brain: simply and directly”.
- Include quotes - Good way of getting a sponsor's name or your egotistical director in print! Journalists like quotes because it looks like they actually did some work!
- Never ever use the words - 'unique and exciting' together in the same sentence, OR the phrase ' appeals to press and public alike'. Hackneyed and has become meaningless!
- Never ever lie or exaggerate – You will be found out and give a journalist a great negative story to spin. If you make any claims make sure you back them up.
- Be concise – People have shorter attention spans than ever. Use short sentences, short paragraphs and short overall messages to hold attention. Wield an axe to flabby language and unnecessary words.
As Anton Chekhov put it, “Brevity is the sister of talent”.
- Don’t use sugar-coated clichés or OTT superlatives – There are other more subtle ways of giving this impression than by spelling it out. OTT superlatives have the opposite effect, even if they are true.
- Limit number of exclamation marks (or remove altogether!!!) - They look juvenile, naff and undermine your professionalism.
- The devil is in the details – Double check and check again, ideally with a fresh pair of eyes, to ensure your message is clear and understandable. And always check punctuation, spelling and grammar.
- Verbs are more powerful than adjectives – ‘Doing’ words are more effective in selling copy than describing words; action has more impact.
- Avoid using ‘weasel words’ – Such as ‘may’, ‘hope’ ‘could’ and ‘perhaps’ etc. Instead use ‘will’ ‘can’ and ‘do’ which reinforce a positive, confident message.
- Give your copy ‘eye appeal’ by making it ‘skimmable’ – Such as:
- using a good typeface that’s easy on the eye and big enough to read,
- short paragraphs,
- variety in the text such bold/italics/underlining etc.
- bullet point and numbered lists,
- indented paragraphs or quotes,
- headings and sub headings,
- vary between long and short sentences.
- Use some of the 5 most powerful words in the English language – Which are: ‘Free’, ‘You’, ‘New’, ‘Instant’, and ‘Because’. Use in headlines wherever possible.
WORDS & CLICHES TO AVOID in PRESS RELEASES
Most overused words in Press Releases
(submitted to The Guardian Online)
East meets West
Best of the best
Appeals to a wide audience
Spring into summer with…
Direct from the West End
Pop up space
Theatrical event of the year
Has been described as
Is interested in notions of
Deals with issues of
And the worst offenders….
© Copyright Clare Wilford, January 2017
Clare Wilford is one of the UK's leading film, television and animation publicists, specialising in event and film festival PR. Clare gained over ten years' experience in arts marketing including Head of Press & PR at the Barbican Centre London, before moving into Film PR in 1992.
She has orchestrated press campaigns for the following festivals, venues and organisations: Channel 4 Television; ICO; Screen Australia; Film London; BFI; UK Film Council; Lighthouse, Brighton; Phoenix Cinema, East Finchley; Tyneside Cinema, Newcastle; Brief Encounters, Bristol; Borderlines Film Festival; BFI London Film Festival; AV Festival, Newcastle; Cinecity: Brighton Film Festival; Cambridge Film Festival; Bradford International Film Festival, and more recently the Berwick Film & Media Arts Festival, and Slapstick Festival, Bristol.
Clare was Talent Manager for three Empire Magazine Film Awards, as well as Hospitality Co-ordinator for the Media Guardian Edinburgh International Television Festival for several years. She freelanced for leading film PR company Premier PR for over 10 years, handling press campaigns for features premiering at international festivals, as well as in UK distribution.
In 2006 to 2009 Clare lived in New Zealand where she worked as a PR consultant for the New Zealand Film Commission, since returning to the UK she has been based in the North East.