Could any PR or press experts give these 4 a shot?
April 20, 2014 4:11 PM   Subscribe

I'm handling PR as a volunteer for a nonprofit for a month. I'm fairly new to dealing with the media. I've read PR for Dummies, looked at online resources and related questions on askme. I found some great stuff, but no answers to these questions.

My goal is to get coverage for a recurring massive community-organized event in a large town that's in a big city. It's only gotten local coverage in past years and not much of that.

1) I have about 800 media contacts (print, blogs, radio), none of whom I've ever contacted before. A number of contacts work for the same outlet (Editor, Asst Editor, blogger, etc.) My idea is to email the release via bcc to all 800, then follow up with a few by email or phone. I've read some advice to personalize the emails (which I can't do), or to pinpoint the best person at select outlets and email them individually. What's the best strategy?

2) I thought I'd paste the release in the body and hyperlink to things (our website, FB account, photos, brochure, etc.). I'll also attach the release as pdf. Though I read that some media filter out emails with attachments. Is this true? Is it better not to include the pdf? Alternately, I could also link to the pdf in the body.

3) When I load 3 small pics in the pdf the file jumps to 1.8 MB. Will this irritate my contacts? Is it better to paste the pics in the email or forgo pics in the release altogether?

4) I'm a writer who's terrible at self-promotion but great at talking up other people, so I'm exploring this as a possible line of work. However I just today uncovered a lead that's tells a bigger story than the event, which I wouldn't mind writing for the local section of the city paper. Is there any way this is possible without leaving the PR gig? I'm considering pulling out and getting a replacement so I can write about it as a freelancer, though maybe is it too late? If not, would I then disclose to editors I pitch to that I did PR for it? The Dummies book really confused me on what's acceptable. I'm, of course, serious about doing good journalism.

I hope I didn't ask too many questions. Thanks for any advice you can offer!
posted by lillian.elmtree to Media & Arts (11 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Do you have Constant Contact or another mass email system? An email with 800 bcc:s is likely to be filtered as spam.

I wouldn't attach the PDF if you don't need to. I'd also shrink the photos' file sizes.

I really would personalize it to the top 10 places you think would cover it. Why can't you personalize them? Google "media pitch" for some ideas about how to do it.
posted by slidell at 4:55 PM on April 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

Former journo turned non-profit PR/comms type here. I've read countless bad press releases and written some good ones. There are many different approaches, but here is what I would do:

1) If the press release is a generic "Hey everyone, this thing is happening on this date" thing, send it to the editor or the general news intake account (these are usually addresses like or, not individual names) The editor will assign a journalist to it if it meets their criteria for publication. If the event is relevant to a particular beat, copy in the relevant beat journalist too. Sending a release to multiple people in the same newsroom can lead to everyone rolling their eyes and saying "Oh yeah, I got that too…" and no-one actually doing anything about it.

Eight-hundred is a LOT of people to have on your media list. Do you realistically expect to generate 800 news stories about your event? If not, then you probably have a lot of irrelevant email addresses on your list. Bothering people who aren't interested will, over time, damage your organisation's reputation. The best approach is to simply call the newsrooms of relevant outlets and say, "Hi, it's Lillian from the Elmtree Foundation, I'm just updating our contact list. Could you please confirm the best address for sending you a press release?" Don't give a long spiel about your organisation or event - just get the address, thank them and hang up. Assume you're talking to someone frantically busy and somewhat disorganised, with a mind like a sieve and far too many things on their plate. Don't waste their time.

After you've sent the media release, follow up with a call, but don't just ask whether they got the release or pester them about giving you good coverage. Offer them new and interesting information - preferably an angle on the story that is relevant to that particular publication. Is a person from a local newspaper's distribution area involved? Offer the paper an interview and photo op with that person. Does the event exemplify some broader issue of city-wide or national interest? Pitch that story to the larger metropolitan outlets. You might say something like, "Hey there, it's Lillian from the Elmtree Foundation. We have the Elmtree Festival coming up on June 3 - you might have received our press release yesterday? Anyway, I have a story about one of your locals that I thought might interest you - Sarah Jones from Smithtown is going to receive the Elmtree Achievement Award. Would you be interested in setting up an interview and photo op?" This gets the journalist to engage with the press release you sent (which, to be honest, is probably languishing in an inbox full of other releases they may or may not have read) without making them feel like they're being harangued. And if you have identified a story that's a good fit for their publication, you've helped them fill a few column inches while saving them a lot of legwork. They may ask you to email them the details (remember, mind like a sieve) so have a couple of paragraphs typed up and ready to send.

2) Copy the press release into the body of the email and attach a PDF. If you just attach or link to the PDF, journalists might not bother to open it. But many journalists appreciate having a version that saves and prints easily, particularly if the newsroom still has some kind of paper-based filing system for upcoming events. Don't put a lot of hyperlinks in the body of the text (they'll probably be ignored), but do provide relevant links at the end, for example:
Further Information

Download high-resolution photographs here:
See our 2014 brochure:
Visit us on Facebook:
3) With the exception of your organisation's logo, there should be no need to include pictures in a PDF press release. Some outlets may be interested in publishing high-resolution photos of the previous year's event, but you wouldn't send such large files unsolicited. Mention in the release that photos are available by request or provide links to a download page. Some publications will only publish photos by their own photographers, so it may be better to help them set up a photo opportunity intstead.

4) Nope. Nope, nope, nope. Do PR or journalism, not both. Having volunteered for this organisation, you already have a conflict of interest that would preclude writing about it as a journalist. It's becoming more common for journalists to transition into and out of PR, but it's not really okay to blur the lines when covering specific issues. If I returned to journalism, for example, I would opt out of writing about the work of my non-profit employers - or at least, fully disclose my involvement in those organisations my editor, who would likely veto my involvement in the story. Bending the rules (or showing a poor understanding of the rules) at the very start of what you hope to be a print journalism career would be…not a good move on your part.
posted by embrangled at 5:31 PM on April 20, 2014 [11 favorites]

My idea is to email the release via bcc to all 800,

I have worked both add a journalist, and in pr. How did you get these contacts? Did they sign up for emails from you or your org? If not, this is spam and a pretty terrible, profoundly annoying thing to do.

Most news publications will have a email addresses and a fax number send releases to. Only send general releases to these addresses. You can usually find them in the papers. Well your releases get picked up this way? Unlikely, but dude if you put shit all in, you will get shit all out. Boring general releases mass mailed to hundreds is the epitome of shit all.

Firstly, you need to only target people and publications that have a reason to cover your event, then you need to give them the reason to cover it.

That reason could be they have a calendar of things going on the neighborhood ("could please add this event your calendar?", it could be the writer often covers events like this ("i see you regularly cover events like this, here's some info, would you like to interview the director?"), it could be there is something topical or special about the event this year (last year we had 2000 sign ups, this year, we have 10000. Local politician X is going to be there [here's a quote from her], and weird al will be performing. We have some free tickets to give away to your readers, and it's relevant because it's about poodles and the president just kicked a poodle and is all over the news.") It could be that you bought some advertising and this is quid pro quo.

Forgive me if I sound testy, but what you propose is the lowest common denominator of pr. I hated it as a journo, and I don't like it much better as a publicist. It puts the onus of the work on the journo, doesn't apply an angle or sell to editors, is nakedly self interested and not reader orientated, and does nothing to stand out.

If you want results, you will have to work for it because other pr agents spruiking other events will be. Make personal contact (tailored email followed by phone call a day or two later), with a concise, interesting pitch that makes it obvious why publication would cover, resources including offers of interviews and especially decent quality pics, and free tickets or whatever, finished off with polite responsiveness.

That's how you do it, if you want quality coverage. The age of bulk press releases being worthwhile is decades gone, if it ever existed.

Ps, don't attach all that shit into an email until they tell you they're interested. Just say it's available, or better yet, upload somewhere and links in the email.

Best of luck, pr is very much a case of you out what you put in.

Edited to add on preview Nthing embrangled so hard.
posted by smoke at 5:32 PM on April 20, 2014 [2 favorites]

It's helpful to spend some time with your top target publications really understanding what they cover and why. Then write a short personalized email to one contact there, explaining why the story fits for them specifically, with links to the press release (I wouldn't attach it), high-res photos on Dropbox or other site for download, and any other info. Forget the mass email.
posted by three_red_balloons at 6:16 PM on April 20, 2014

I have about 800 media contacts (print, blogs, radio), none of whom I've ever contacted before.

Your first contact with these people should not be a mass email.

If you can't be bothered to write an individual email, why should 800 people you've never contacted before be expected to spend their time reading it?

Most email providers aren't going to let you send to 800 contacts in BCC, and no one like Constant Contact is going to approve of you sending to a list like this.

Just skip the 800-person spam and instead of following up with a few key people, just talk to them to begin with.
posted by toomuchpete at 6:30 PM on April 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

Then write a short personalized email to one contact there, explaining why the story fits for them specifically, with links to the press release (I wouldn't attach it), high-res photos on Dropbox or other site for download, and any other info.

The problem with sending personalised emails is that you currently have no personal relationship with any of these people. If you develop good relationships with journalists this year (by making relevant pitches, always following through, and never wasting their time), they may become the kind of friendly contacts who you could email directly ahead of next year's event. But as it stands, you have a list of 800 people that you got from who knows where, (Inherited from the previous PR person? Bought in bulk from a media contacts clearinghouse? Compiled by an unmotivated intern in 2007?) and you don't know any of the people on it, and they don't know you.

Imagine you were applying for a job. You don't know anyone at the company, and the job advertisement asks you to email your resume and application letter to the HR department. But instead of following the proper procedure, you track down a bunch of employees at the organisation and send them chatty emails telling them how much you want the job, with a link saying, "Click here to download my resume!". Does it work? Probably not, because those people have no reason to be interested in anything you have to say, nor to click on a mystery meat link in an email from someone they don't know. And the fact that you thought that approach was a good idea suggests you're maybe not at the top of your game, judgement-wise, which will further weaken your chances of getting the job through the proper channels. Press releases and news intake email addresses are an established way of communicating with news outlets precisely because they communicate all the relevant information while wasting as little of journalists' time as possible. If you have personal relationships that allow you to bypass those systems, that's wonderful, but if you don't, it's a little presumptuous to behave as though you do.

I think PR people who haven't worked as journalists are completely oblivious to just how much completely irrelevant crap most news outlets receive in a given day. When I worked in the newsroom, the main intake address received dozens of emails per hour, most of which were quickly deleted because they had absolutely no news value. We also received a lot of emails and phone calls from tinfoil-hat wearing cranks wanting to share their latest conspiracy theories, or complaining about some aspect of our coverage that they didn't agree with. But despite the high volume, emailing the intake desk was still the best way to get a story covered. Emailing the individual addresses of multiple journalists would achieve nothing more than a collective shrug and murmurs of, "Huh, that PR flack is really annoying". The signal to noise ratio in a newsroom is is astonishingly small. Do not be noise. Do your best to never even resemble noise.

And yes, verify the details in your media list before you send anything to anyone. When I was producing Australian radio show that covered social and community issues, my name ended up in a huge media contact database that was sold to companies for use in exactly the kind of low-quality PR that smoke describes. At one point, I was receiving multiple press releases a day from US-based pharmaceutical companies, announcing, say, the approval of a new heart disease drug in the European Union or the results of a clinical trial in China. Instead of taking the time to track down people who actually cared (sharemarket analysts, cardiac health journals, health journalists at newspapers in the EU or China), their PR flack probably just ticked a box that said "health", downloaded thousands of names, including mine (because yes, I did sometimes cover health-related issues) and emailed the lot. It was like the PR equivalent of the dude on OKCupid who messages "hI how r U i hAvE a big pennis" to every woman on the site and then wonders why he never gets laid.

I also received a lot of chatty personalised calls and emails from PR people who got my job title wrong, mispronounced my name (even though it was regularly read out on the radio), completely misunderstood the nature of the show I produced, wasted my time with long, rambling pitches and generally demonstrated that they hadn't done a shred of research before contacting me. I was less likely to cover stories pitched by those people than by those who simply emailed a press release and followed up with a friendly phone call. To me, their sloppy attempts at personal contact were disrespectful and indicated a lack of professional skill on their part. I was reluctant to pursue further contact with someone who, in all likelihood, would continue to be unprofessional and disorganised in their dealings with me, even if I did end up covering their story.

All of which is by way of saying…yes, personal contact is great, if you already have a personal relationship with the journalist, or the story is highly relevant to a particular journalist's beat, or the news outlet is so small that it doesn't have a general news intake address. Otherwise, don't presume. Certainly don't presume that the details in your media list are accurate. Confirm them by reading, watching or listening to the news outlets you're targeting or contacting them directly. Since this is your first time doing this kind of work, do things by the book to begin with, and maybe next year you'll have a contact book full of friendly journalists who love you and will happily listen to your latest pitch, because they know from experience that it'll be something worthwhile.
posted by embrangled at 10:12 PM on April 20, 2014 [3 favorites]

I asked Metafilter for help with PR stuff back when I was first starting out with nonprofit publicity too! (My experience since then has mostly been with local media in Chicago, and mostly with arts & culture reporters).

Biggest rules of thumb:
- Avoid doing anything in publicity by rote. Sounding like a PR person is a good way to get ignored. (At the same time, don't be too clever or cute. Just sound like a human, ideally a human who is genuinely excited about the thing that you're telling them about!)
- Remember that your media contacts are people, specifically people who get a LOT of email.

To do and not do:
- Do personalize and pinpoint, especially for the outlets that are the most important to your goal. (For example, do a little searching to figure out who at the outlets you're targeting have covered your event or ones like it before and write individual emails to those people). I agree with those above who say that simply bccing your 800 contacts is a bad idea.
- Also agree with everyone above: pare down that list. Verify that you're sending things to the right people.
- Don't follow up with anyone by phone unless you have a specific reason to. Otherwise, they will call you if they're interested in talking further.
- Don't bother attaching a PDF of the press release. Why would they need one if you're pasting the same thing into the email itself?
- Since you're promoting an event, be sure to make the What, Where, When and public contact info highly visible and easy to find on first glance. (It's shocking how many event-focused press releases fail to do this!)

Also, think beyond press releases and media lists. Neighborhood groups, local email lists, churches, and other smaller organizations can be great ways to get the word out about events of community interest. And since it sounds like your event is community-driven, perhaps some of the community members involved have connections that could be useful?

Some possibly useful further reading:
- Seattle alt-weekly The Stranger runs occasional press release critiques on their blog.
- Chicago alt-weekly NewCity has some cranky and forthright guidelines for publicists.
posted by bubukaba at 10:20 PM on April 20, 2014 [2 favorites]

- Don't bother attaching a PDF of the press release. Why would they need one if you're pasting the same thing into the email itself?

Because PDFs print well on a single page, and many Old Media newsrooms still use an embarrassing amount of paper. Seriously. There are in-trays and out-trays and filing cabinets for organising information about upcoming events. Assistants print out press releases and put them in editors' in-trays. Editors hand press releases to journalists to follow up. Journalists leave press releases on their desks to remind them to call the PR flack back in the morning. Even in places where absolutely everything is digital, saving a PDF document in the system is easier and clearer than copying and pasting text from an email. Also, a competently designed PDF press release (letterhead, logo, lots of white space) is a subtle visual indicator that you probably know what you're doing, PR-wise. It's maybe not such an issue if you're contacting individual arts and culture reporters with whom you're already friendly, but if your press release is going to make it through main news intake desk, looking visually different from the text-only emails sent by tinfoil hat wearing cranks can be…helpful.
posted by embrangled at 10:34 PM on April 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

The problem with sending personalised emails is that you currently have no personal relationship with any of these people

Sorry, by personalized email, I didn't mean personalized in that it's directed to that specific person, but in that you're showing that you understand the publication's audience and what they'd want to cover. Surprisingly, this can work at the major national publication I work don't always have to know someone first, though of course that's helpful.
posted by three_red_balloons at 4:08 AM on April 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

This has been extremely helpful. Let me say for the record, I've never done PR before. My only contact with editors has been as a writer (and not much there). I'm going based on what I was told to do and got the impression this was how it's done. Here's what I understand. Please correct me if I'm wrong:

1) It is acceptable to send out an email blasts to intake desks (recognizable b/c there's no name attached to the email address). They expect it. Otherwise I'm spamming. Put the email in the body and attach as PDF (unless it's a blog). Only offer links to the photos.

2) If I email an editor or reporter it should be a personalized pitch with a link to the release. I should follow this with a phone call or another email a couple of days later, seeing if they got it and if they're interested. Developing personalized relationships with your media contacts is how this works. Otherwise you come off as unprofessional.

Quick question: We've already sent out 3 releases the wrong way (bcc to 400 emails) with my name attached in the incoming address (Ex: Lillian Elmtree
Thanks again for your advice, Mefites. This has been invaluable.

posted by lillian.elmtree at 7:22 AM on April 21, 2014

I'm not a "PR person", but I have done some PR for events and small organizations.

I'm handling PR as a volunteer for a nonprofit for a month.

If who the PR contact is changes every month, it's going to be difficult to build relationships with the press.

Quick question: We've already sent out 3 releases the wrong way (bcc to 400 emails) with my name attached in the incoming address (Ex: Lillian Elmtree

You might want to see if there could be a new email address for the PR position, since you aren't going to be an ongoing contact at that organization.

Write the press release in such a way that if someone needed to fill a space on a page they could just paste it in without editing. Sometimes a publication will do exactly that. Be sure to proofread it. Actually, go ahead and have someone else proofread it even if you think it looks great, it's always a good precaution.

It's not clear if you want your contacts to mention in a calendar or something that the event is coming up, do a larger story on the event before it happens, or send someone out to cover the event. If you want to be listed on calendars there are often specific addresses just for the event listings, and they might want things formatted in a certain way. Some publications require you to enter the info in an online form instead of submitting by email.

Three press releases about the same event over a few weeks seems excessive, but I don't know your event and perhaps it makes sense to treat it as a number of different events or something.

If you are trying for a longer story or having a reporter come out in person before or during the event you'll want to contact specific people, such as an editor for the section of a newspaper where a story about the event would run. I'm not sure if it's really possible to develop a personal media contact out of an email list in a month, but maybe you'll get lucky. Places where you run paid advertising might be better bets. If there's something especially photogenic about your event mention that towards the beginning.
posted by yohko at 5:22 PM on April 21, 2014

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