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How to Write a Friendly and Easy-to-Use Press Release

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Cybergrass LearningIn part 4 of our Cybergrass Education Series, we address the concept of a "Press Release." You would think that all publicists and promoters know how to write a press release. After all, that is what they are paid to do. Many, in fact, do not. I would estimate that 40% of what I get cannot be used in the way I receive it. If you want my site to carry your news, make it easy to do so. I always have more input than I run and those items that don't run frequently have nothing to do with the content but rather how it was packaged or presented. I want to help you write better releases and that is the purpose of this 4th article in our Cybergrass Education Series for bluegrass artists and promoters.

The first thing to remember when writing a press release is WHY are you writing it and WHO is it for. Second is the PURPOSE. Your press release is a direct link with the media, promoter, association or other entity. You need to be sure it is clear and concise and communicates your purpose effectively. Package your release for your intended target.

I get 4-color separation image files for web publishing. Not! I tried to rebuild the image but the color was way off. I don't run sloppy color images on my site. Our first article in this series addressed photographs and is an excellent starting point for those who desire to cook their own. Our local association newsletter wants clean images however, 72 DPI JPGs don't work when screened for print. Obviously one size does not fit all. The best alternative is to have available either as a download or attached to a press release, a large high-resolution image. It is easy to reduce these to the desired dimensions and size. It is impossible to go the other way -- from small to large.

Sadly, many press releases I receive do not communicate much, if anything. I actually received a press release on a new album coming out that never mentioned the artist or the title of the album. It went directly to the recycle bin. I knew about it from previous press releases but, this wasn't worth my time correcting. Others just say this artist is appearing at this venue on this date. Where's the PURPOSE here? Nothing of value.

There are those agents and management that are extremely good at what they do. Others are not. Often I see bands and artists doing releases that are far superior than those produced by PR Agencies. Those that plan and put out quality releases generally also get good coverage.

Proof Read! I love the one I received with the band name spelled wrong! I almost wanted to run it just because of that. Again, I don't fix many releases unless they are really newsworthy so, again, it was trashed. Bad spelling and bad grammar will not get your release published and will not endear me to your publicist. I frequently see 'there', 'they're' and 'their' misused a lot. These words do not mean the same thing and are not interchangeable.

If there is a press release, there should be a story behind it. Thus, there should be enough to write about. If there isn't enough for at least 3 paragraphs, you may want to reconsider sending it. I received one that was a photo and a cut-line. That was all. It also was immediately deleted with me wondering why somebody wasted their time (and mine) to even send it.

Three paragraphs doesn't mean 3 sentences! One agent constantly sends press releases where every sentence is its own paragraph and sometimes, he even bullets them! That makes his press releases into "insta-trash!"

The Title is NOT the first paragraph of a press release! The title may get altered to fit space and layout. Also, the title doesn't need to be a mile long or, I can guarantee that it will be cut. I frequently get a press release that says abc band will be doing a special benefit for some organization in city. The band, purpose and state are never mentioned anywhere in the body of the press release. If the title gets altered, the information is no longer there. Repeat the information in a new and different way in the body of the release.

This brings us an especially important part. The WHERE of your press release. Not everybody knows what state you're talking about! Saying your event is in "Central Park, Littleton" tells me absolutely nothing about where the event is taking place. Without the state, I don't know where the event will be. Neither would my readers so, into the trash it goes.

Another point - One release Per Topic! Don't put three different press releases into one. I probably won't pick the important topic. If you have three important topics (new release, special tour, band member change, new label, etc.), then send three separate press releases.

A release has to have all the necessary information. Don't make me have to write and ask for the date, location, or member's instrument information. I won't. I get over 100 press releases a week. I don't have the time to do your job. If you give me too much info, I can cut it but if it isn't there, I cannot add it. Please put all the superfluous writing at the end! All the important stuff should be in the first 3 paragraphs. What follows should support those starting paragraphs.

But, don't ramble. Don't go on and on and on just to fill a page with words. The information has to be meaningful, interesting, newsworthy and relevant. The fastest way to get your press release trashed is to ramble without saying anything. Don't give me a ton of historical information and leave out the important elements.

As an artist, it is your responsibility to label or brand yourself. If you want people to refer to your music as "Pop Hop" then say so. Otherwise, you risk having it called "Punk Junk" which may or may not be acceptable to you. You're in control so, be in control.

Please don't make your press releases fancy with various fonts, UPPER CASE parts (artists, album titles, record labels, guests, etc.) scripts, music, etc. Keep It Simple! If I'm having to put your release into a newsletter or another web site, I have to remove all of that noise just to get started. Most publications, print and electronic, have their own style guidelines and they are not the same as yours. Save that for your web site but not for distribution and publication. Please, don't send me off to another website to read your press release. Send the complete release to me for our files. Get rid of those multiple headlines, side block text, sub-heads, ... They are just noise and won't be included anyway. It the information is relevant, put it into the press release. It takes a lot of time and increases the chance of error when we have to change these fancy things manually. We want it right as much as you do.

If you post the press release on the web or send it in an E-mail, send it as plain text or simple HTML. No style sheets. No fancy html. Just the basics. No fonts, no div formats, no weirdness or, it may not get used. Publishers have deadlines. If possible, they will cut & paste what you send. If they can't, and they have a tight schedule and they have many releases that they can quickly and easily post, which do you think they are going to use? Also, don't include complete articles from other copyrighted sites. We won't publish somebody else's copyrighted material as it takes too long to get permission. One line blurbs are fine but entire articles can't be used.

At least every week or two, I get a "correction" to a press release. Too Late! I do not honor correction notices much. The cat is out of the bag. The article has already gone out over the network and it cannot be changed. Furthermore, many syndication hosts (e.g., drop any article that gets edited after they run it. To edit it is to kill it. Obviously, this is not what you desire. Maybe in 15 years, I have adjusted 2 or 3 articles. I will add a comment with a correction but the original story can only be changed on our site. The copies in Google News, Facebook, etc. will remain as originally published. I can't correct material on other sites -- only our own.

I sometimes get requests to pull articles from Cybergrass after they have been run. It requires a very valid reason for us to pull an article. I receive a valid press release from a recognized source, I run the article and then, several hours later, I receive a request to pull the article from the person who originally sent me the press release. Here is what ultimately ends up happening -- every other site (our competitors) that carry our feeds now have the article. The search engines have the article. Other news sites that pick up our stories have the article. In fact, we are now the only site that doesn't have the story that originated with us. This does not make good business sense for us. People trying to access our site for the article now get a page not found or access denied error. Doing so means that all our competitors have the story and we no longer do. The reading audience will go to those sites that now have it. When a publicist does this, it directly harms us and benefits others. Thus, please make sure your press release is meant to go out because, it is hard to put the cat back in the bag once it has gotten out.

Another thing is to avoid is the use of images or PDF files as a text document format. I can't use them. If I see a PDF or a JPG file in an E-mail or CD, it goes immediately to the trash. I don't have the time or inclination to retype an entire press release in by hand. With today's technology, that should never be required. I do not waste my time with these. If I can't copy & paste, I rarely use them.

Please don't E-mail me a press release on the day of an event. I create everything in advance for publication. If you send me a press release about the band being on the Tonight Show TONIGHT, well, it won't run. I don't run old news. If it is a calendar event coming up, send me the notice early enough to get it out to my readers. Announcing that your new album is available TODAY means my readers won't hear about it for a few days. So, please be considerate. You can include a date for release. Most press releases do this:

  • For Immediate release Send it when you can
  • Release on: June 22, 2009 means its OK to post on June 22nd or later
  • Kill Date: August 23, 2009 means do not post after this date. Since print newsletters and syndicated articles cannot be recalled, this does not mean to delete the post after that date!! Once posted, a press release runs forever due to search engine caching, the Wayback Machine's archives, other sites that carry the information, printed materials in libraries and people's homes.

Please do not call me 2 minutes after you sent the release asking when I'm going to run it. That is a sure fire way for me to respond, "I'm not." Read our news and see if it ran. There are services out there that will do automatic searches for your materials too. Even the search engines can be used to find your articles.

The bottom line is that I get releases from artists, management, record labels, instrument manufacturers, agents, talent buyers, distributors, promoters, publishers, producers, ... I don't have time to spend hours on each one. Make it easy to use your materials by keeping them simple, relevant, newsworthy, concise, clear and informative and your chances of getting them run are a lot higher than some fancy fonted, send me to another website to see a JPG image of a printed flyer in PDF format.

I could go on and on but these are the major annoyances. Be aware of what you produce as it reflects the artist or the organization. News agencies actually want to write and produce your news but, they are not going to jump through hoops, make judgment calls, correct spelling and grammar and other things for you. Help them and they will be more likely to help you.

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