Features — 22 January 2014


A Press Release Primer

Tips on how to make news the way you want to see it presented

For many shooting facilities, the only time they “make news” is after an event—or, perhaps following an unfortunate firearm-related incident—and, then reporters come calling with an agenda. Gun ranges in the know, however, realize that generating positive and game-changing news through press releases keeps their range in a positive light. Properly prepared and delivered press releases can help your range build positive community impressions and call rewarding attention to your services. This is also a great means to build your range’s brand and possibly increase the number of attendees at events. pr_sample

Though word of mouth is a powerful way to move your range-related message, generating and sending press releases can help you develop a stronger working relationship with numerous local outlets.

What you need to do

Successful press releases start with a detailed plan. You need to create a yearly calendar and set deadline dates to get ahead of your range’s important events. Remember that newspapers are prepared by the day or week, and magazines might be produced weeks or even months ahead of your event. On the pro-active side of the communication coin, it is better for you and the publication to announce upcoming events, classes, open-to-the-public days, new-member drives, etc. than to simply send out releases covering scores from competitions or reporting on last weekend’s clays tournament. Think ahead and plan diligently.

It’s important to choose your words carefully.

“You need to grab the editor’s attention,” said Bill Kempffer, president of Deep River Sporting Clays & Shooting School in Sanford, N.C.. “You need to be succinct and concise with your message and the details.”

Kempffer also noted that a news release should be prepared so an editor can simply pull and plug the information into the newspaper’s or magazine’s outdoor page or calendar, making his or her job easier.

Just as important as the details of what to include in a release is where to send the release. If your event or news is at the local level, then start with local newspapers and city community calendars with websites. If, however, your release has statewide or regional implications, pursue those avenues. This would include many tabloid outdoor publications. Use the correct channels to reach the right audience.

If you advertise in any newspaper or magazine, those outlets would also be likely places to reciprocate that support by publishing your release. News, however, is not advertising.

Though newspapers and local business or sporting magazines would be top outlets for releases about range activities, don’t overlook the basic community magazines and business-focused communications vehicles. Groups such as Chambers of Commerce and economic development boards frequently publish magazines and newsletters and often search for news. When you see a regional or local magazine on a newsstand, community distribution box (often indicated by the sign: Free, Take one) or on the table in a dentist’s office, write down the name of the editor (or managing editor) and contact information. Start there with your news release submission. Look for e-mail addresses and phone numbers so you can reach out and develop that relationship and those channels to receive your releases.

Remember, of course, to post the news on your website, as Deep River Sporting Clays does.

Another important part of successful news releases is updating and refining the mail-to recipients. You should strive to build, refine and manage your list to keep it current and to increase the odds of the text being picked up and reprinted or distributed. You may need to prepare several mail-to lists to disseminate your release to the properly targeted audience.

A top tactic is to record on a spread sheet some details of your press release, such as when you released it, all the sources who received it, who actually printed or posted it and what the results or customer comments were. If a magazine or newspaper always cuts your release in size, be certain to contact the editor, thank that person for printing the information and ask if they have a desired word count. Most releases are one-page and number less than 500 words.

Another way to track the success of a press release is to do a Google search of your range’s name or title of the release about two weeks after it is released. Many online outlets pull releases and repost the news, but this may take 30 to 45 days in some channels. Your staff could also keep a running tab of customers who comment that they read or heard something about the event covered in your press release.

This detailed tracking and effort helps you plan and refine future communication strategies—and aids in spreading the news.

We live in the electronic age, and e-mail has become the fastest way to send a press release—and the preferred way by most outlets to receive it. An attached Word file works best and can be handled by most printing and website-based systems. A news release that is typed or copied and mailed on paper will face a challenge of ever seeing print!

Do include the details

If there is one golden rule for proper press releases, it’s that “Content is king.” As you begin working on a release, create an outline and then fill in the details. Many of those details should be included in the first paragraph, because unfortunately, this is often the only segment read by busy readers. That lead paragraph could also be the only piece read by an editor or webmaster and used to determine whether your release lives or dies under the delete button. In fact, it might be the only portion of the release picked up by an editor. These few first sentences should summarize your release.

In all releases, you should keep your sentences short and to the point. Avoid run-ons and long, jammed-together sentences that require deep concentration to be successfully read and understood. Get to the point quickly and hook the reader. Use action words when possible. You can also find programs online that will scan your text and evaluate it. Many readers read at the sixth- to eighth-grade level, so avoid words and phrases that require the use of a dictionary to understand what you are trying to communicate.

In the press release subject line, use catchy words that encourage the recipient to open the email attachment. Always run the release through spell check to find and correct errors.

Then provide more and useful details in the following press release paragraphs and clearly wrap it up. Most professional releases conclude with “-30-“ at the end, centered beneath the final line. This lets the editor who receives it know there is not a page or paragraph missing.

Five Press Release Pointers

Any press release should cover the basics: Who, what, where, when, and possibly, how and why. Releases should also include some other information to better inform editors who receive the news.
Included are:

  1. Date of Release: Indicate “To Be Released Immediately” if you don’t want to hold up on publication. Put this information at the top left-hand corner to guide the recipient or editor on when the news should be plugged into a calendar or editorial schedule.
  2. A Catchy Title: For best results, the title should be limited to five words or less. Though it is important to catch the eye and interest of readers (and the editor where you want the release to see life), beware of using catchy phrases only you or your range and club know. Catchy phrases could be misunderstood by those outside of your loop, including the public. Use action verbs in the title when possible.
  3. Location: Be certain that the city and state from where the release came, or where the news was made, is included.  This lets editors know the information could be of special interest to their readership—and not possibly something that’s outside their readership region.
  4. Date: Any release should include the date of when something will happen—or when it happened. If it is something that has occurred, try to send a release the day the event concluded. Old news (such as the following week) rarely sees print or coverage. We live in the “know it now” age.
  5. Contact: At the bottom (or upper right corner) of the release include the critical details of whom to contact, a phone number, and an e-mail address in case the recipient needs more details—or wants to do an interview.

Additional information that your release could include is an ABOUT: section. This is a place to park details about your range such as: in business since ___, has ___ number of indoor or shotgun ranges, serves a ___-country region, is open to the public, carries ___ number of brands or top lines from ___, etc. List website, phone number, address, and a contact person here to increase the chances you’ll receive follow up. This often is italicized and appears at the end of the press release, below the “-30-.”

Press Release Format:

Your Range Name and LOGO

TO BE RELEASED: A date or “For Immediate Release” CONTACT: Your name, number and
e-mail address

TITLE (FIVE-WORD MAXIMUM)

(CITY, STATE) DETAILS> The text starts here covering what, where and when, plus other details.
Body: Provide more details or motivate the reader to come to your event, visit the range, etc. This is a good place to include quotes.
Wrap up. Tell them what you’ve told them.
The end is indicated by “-30-”
ABOUT: A spot to reveal more details about your range. These are the last few sentences in the release. This info sees print rarely but helps the editor better understand where the release came from.

The pro photograph advantage

A clear and carefully staged or composed photo that is related to the release topic will highly—make that dramatically—increase the chances your release will be printed or posted online. Websites, newspapers and magazines all struggle to find quality photos to print.

“I like to include a photo with the release to stimulate interest,” said Kempffer. “This helps the editor, and it helps call attention to the news in the release when the photo sees print.”

If you have to do so, hire someone to shoot a photo for the release. As an alternative, consider developing a portfolio of images about your range and business from which you can pick and choose to accompany any release. As a rule, cell phone photos are not of the quality to send with a release.

A well-crafted and properly timed release can have big–and surprising—impact. Kempffer sent out a release about a pre-dove season clinic to be held at his shooting range. One newspaper editor who received the release sent a reporter to the range to do a full feature story. That simple press release turned into a half-page article in a newspaper with an inset box that included the initial press release details. The reporter who wrote the story also took photos to accompany the feature. That is clearly positive press release performance.

Getting Help

Writing successfully is not easy for everyone. If you need help preparing a professional-quality press release, consider hiring a writing pro. National, regional and state outdoor communicator associations can help you locate a pro. Here are four such organizations:
Southeastern Outdoor Press Association (SEOPA) (www.seopa.org)
Association of Great Lakes Outdoor Writers (AGLOW) (www.aglowinfo.org)
Outdoor Writers Association of American (OWAA) (www.owaa.org)
Professional Outdoor Media Association (POMA) (www.professionaloutdoormedia.org)

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