News Release Basics
Contributor: Steve O'Keefe
For many creative professionals publicising their
work is a constant struggle. Here's how one method
of email publicity might just get you the results
the Email News Release
Several of my clients refer to the process of using
email news releases as "trolling". While
trolling will never replace standard prepublication
publicity, it is revolutionizing publication date
launches. Here's a quick primer on how trolling
The usual practice for promoting book reviews is
to prepare a list of media outlets, mail review
copies, then hound recipients until they write something
or tell you to go away. Typically, less than 10
percent of review copies lead to coverage. If you
send 300 review copies and get 30 reviews, stories,
interviews or mentions, you're doing well.
Compare this to trolling, made possible by email.
Instead of sending books to hundreds of outlets,
you send a short email pitch to thousands of media
contacts, asking if they'd like a review copy. Out
of those thousands, maybe 100 will ask for the book,
and half of those will lead to coverage with timely
and persistent follow-up.
Let's compare the results. The old method uses 300
books, extensive follow-up, and generates 30 hits.
The new method uses 100 books, less follow-up, and
scores 50 hits. Many publishers are sceptical about
email news releases. Heck, I was sceptic until I
saw the results myself! The trolling method has
worked for me book after book, season after season,
for eight years, with no signs of diminishing returns.
Once you try it, you'll never go back.
Makes It Work?
Many publishers have gotten into trouble with indiscriminate
use of email news releases. If you follow some simple
rules, you should be able to troll comfortably with
consistent good results. Here's my checklist:
I wrote a four-paragraph news release for the training
session at Gibbs Smith Pulbishers, and the publicist
there suggested I cut it to three paragraphs. I
could have kissed her. Length is enemy number one.
You can't be cute or coy; you've got to cut to the
chase and get out of the way.
Text Only - No Attachments
Journalists want straight text messages with no
styles, colors, graphics, or attachments. You don't
need all that fancy stuff for a three-paragraph
Target Your Media Carefully
Only send releases to those media most likely to
be interested in the story you're pitching. You
can't mail bomb everyone on your list with every
release or you will soon be filtered or blacklisted.
If someone complains, immediately remove his or
her email address from your list and apologize.
What Results Can You Expect?
Email news releases will not usually
work for glossy magazines, national publications,
network TV, or other major media outlets. These
people are used to being courted the old-fashioned
way and often need galleys months ahead of time.
Email news releases are good for building broad-based,
grassroots support under a title. While you can't
afford to send review copies of a new book to every
newspaper in the U.S., you can afford to send them
an email news release and follow up with a book
for those who request one.
That said, every trolling effort usually catches
a few big fish. On average, I send releases to 500-1500
contacts, get requests for 50 to 150 books, and
land between five and 10 "heavy hitters"
- major media outlets, any one of which would be
a significant publicity victory. In the training
campaign for Gibbs Smith, there were about 100 requests
for review copies, including these heavy hitters:
The Milwaukee Journal; The Chicago Tribune; The
Boston Globe; USA Today; Popular Woodworking; Metropolitan
Home; RealSimple Magazine; Fox News; The Today Show;
Problems with Trolling
There are several obstacles to making trolling a
regular part of your publicity program. First, many
people are simply not prepared to process the huge
amounts of email involved. If you send out thousands
of messages, you are going to get hundreds back
- within a matter of hours - including bounces,
requests, and complaints. Email processing can be
automated using filters, but setting good filters
requires training, trial-and-error, and someone
clever at the controls.
A second obstacle is software. Trolling relies on
email and contact management software. Programs
such as Outlook and Access (or equivalents) work
fine as long as you have the latest upgrades. Many
publicists think new software will solve their problems,
but it's more important to learn how to fight well
with your existing software.
third obstacle is finding the personal email addresses
of media contacts. Commercial media directories
are weak in this regard. There is simply no substitute
for gleaning email addresses by sifting through
publications and web sites. This work can be done
by interns and entry-level staff.
If you haven't tried trolling, I encourage you to
test the waters. Most folks love it, some don't.
If you have tried trolling, I'd be curious to hear
about your successes and hardships; your lessons
will help everyone else improve their techniques
for getting people talking about our books. Good
O'Keefe is a prolific writer. He has edited
six newsletters and has written more than
100 articles and several books. His writing
has appeared in Harper's, The Wall Street
Journal, Outside, Salon, HotWired, NetWorth,
Entrepreneur, Curio, and dozens of other magazines.
He was one of the original writers for Internet
World magazine, a columnist for the COSMEP
Newsletter, and a frequent contributor to
Small Press, PMA Newsletter, SPAN Connection,
and other publishing periodicals.
Steve's writing has been anthologized in several
books, including Publicity Basics, by the
Council of Literary Magazines and Presses.
His latest book is Complete Guide to Internet
Publicity (John Wiley & Sons, 2002-2007), the
successor to the critically acclaimed 'bestseller',
Publicity on the Internet (Wiley, 1996).
Adjunct Faculty, Tulane University College
Executive Director, Patron Saint Productions,
741 Saint Philip St. #241, New Orleans, LA
Voice: (504) 586-9517 Fax: (504) 586-9518
Web Site: http://www.patronsaintpr.com
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