“A terrible thing happens without publicity — nothing.”
– P.T. Barnum
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Paul Hartunian is one of the world’s top experts in writing star-powered press releases.
Paul’s strategies for writing a killer press release:
“I’ve seen so much bad advice on the Internet about how to write a press release. Not only can this waste a ton of time and money, it can also affect your standing with reporters. If you keep sending out lousy press releases, if you don’t play the game according to the media’s rules, you’ll get a reputation as someone who doesn’t know what they’re doing. Reporters will avoid you in droves.
There are rules you should NEVER violate. I don’t care what the other so-called publicity experts–or those $20 books on publicity you see in the bookstores and libraries–say.
Press releases should be one page and one page only. If you can’t tell your story in one page, you don’t know what you’re talking about.
Your release should be on 8-1/2 x 11” paper only. No odd sizes. No special shapes. No “original designs.” Outside the U.S., use the standard paper size for your country.
You must use plain white paper. No letterhead, printed borders, or photographs. No other color, tint, or shade. Absolute nothing but plain, white paper.
Your press release must be double spaced. Never single-space the entire body copy. This is probably the #1 reason press releases are tossed out by reporters. It also screams to the media that you don’t know how to play the game.
Now, let me give you some tips on what should go on this one-page press release:
In the upper left corner, you only have two options. Choose the one that’s more appropriate for your purpose. The first option is to put the words, “For Immediate Release” in that corner. You’ve probably seen these words before, but you may not know their purpose. These two words do two things for you and the reporter. First, they tell the reporter that he can use your information whenever he or she wishes. Today, tomorrow, next month, next year, whenever.
“For Immediate Release” does something even more important, however. When you put these three words in the upper-left corner of your press release, you’re letting the reporter know that you know how to play the publicity game. The more clues like this you include in your press release, the more confidence the reporter will have in you.
The only other option you have for the upper-left corner is what I’ve termed a “time qualifier.” A time qualifier tells the reporter exactly when–and when not–to use your release. Let’s say you’re putting together a release about Father’s Day. In the upper-left corner, you would put “For Release On Or Before Father’s Day.” Not only are you telling the reporter exactly when to use your release, but you’re also again giving him a signal that you know how to play the game. Not many press releases have time qualifiers. So if you use one the right way, you just scored big points with the reporter.
Now let’s look at the upper-right corner of your press release. Here you only have one option. You’re going to put these exact words in the upper right corner of every release you ever write: “For Further Information Contact:”. On the second line in the upper-right corner, you’re going to put the name and direct phone number of a real, live human being. You’re not going to just put the name of a company, organization, etc. (If you do that, you’ll scream to the reporter that you probably don’t know how to play the publicity game.) So, on that second line, I’d put “Paul Hartunian – (973-857-4142).
Now let’s look at the headline. The headline of a press release has one job and one job only. The only job of a press release headline is to force the reporter to keep reading. Don’t force your press release headline to do anything more than that. You don’t need any special skills to write a great headline. You should use a formula headline for your release. There are hundreds of tried, tested formula headlines. One example is “New Product Offers Benefit.”
Let’s move onto the body copy of your release. The body copy has three parts. In Part One, you tell your whole story in just two or three sentences–and I mean that literally. If you can’t tell your entire story in two or three sentences, you don’t know what you’re talking about, and you’ll tell reporters that you can’t get to the point.
For example, I can tell you the entire history of the Revolutionary Wary in two sentences:
1. We fought the British.
2. They lost.
If I can tell you the entire history of the Revolutionary War that quickly, you can tell me your story in two sentences.
Part Two of your press release should contain quotes from you along with your credentials. Always quote yourself. Never quote anyone else. Why give someone else any attention in your press release? It’s your release. If someone else wants attention, let them write their own release!
Part Three of your press release should contain your call to action. What do you want to happen as a result of your press release? That’s what should go in section three.
The entire time you’re writing your press release, you must write in what I call the “Who Cares Styles of Writing.” This means that after every sentence you write, stop and read the sentence out loud and ask, “Who cares.” If you can’t answer that question, it’s a lousy sentence.
Let me give you a couple of examples of lousy headlines that don’t pass the “Who cares?” test:
“Janice Jones Promoted to Vice-President of Sales”
Who cares that Janice Jones was promoted to Vice-President of sales? No one cares. Not even Janice Jones. She didn’t get a raise–she just got more work!
“Allied Manufacturing Announces 35% Increase In Sales”
Do you care that Allied Manufacturing had a 35% increase in sales? I doubt it. Who cares?
Get the idea?
Be sure every sentence you write in your press release passes the “Who cares?” test.
There are two more pieces of paper that are part of any successful publicity campaign. Unfortunately, the vast majority of people who are trying to get publicity either don’t know what they are or they don’t know how to write them. These are the bio and the Q&A.
Never sent out a press release without also having a bio and Q&A ready to go. Without them, you’ll almost certainly waste your time trying to get publicity or turning that publicity into dollars in your bank account. After all, isn’t that the ultimate reason you want publicity?
If you’d like to learn how to run your own publicity campaigns locally or nationwide for less than $10, go to MillionDollarPublicity.com.
Need story ideas for your press releases? Go to 101WaysToGetPublicity.com
Want a whole slew of ready-to-go press releases, headlines, opening paragraphs and story ideas specifically written for your business, profession, or industry? Go to NichePublicityManuals.com.
Publicity has given me–and many other people–everything I’ve wanted in life. It’s also given me one of the things I value most–my freedom. I want you to have the same opportunity.
“Celebrity-izing” Your Press Releases
There are many ways you can use celebrities in your press releases (or at least link to them). Here are my favorites:
Link your press release to celebrity news.
“Hypnotic marketing” expert Joe Vitale, the author of The Attractor Factor and contributor to The Secret, often uses celebrities in his press releases. This is one of the reasons he’s been so successful. Here, Joe shares advice about how to do it:
“When I was promoting my course, Hypnotic Marketing Secrets, I was trying to think of different ways to drive traffic to it. One night I was watching television, and I saw a commercial with Britney Spears promoting a new perfume she was endorsing. It was fairly mesmerizing, and as I was watching it, a light bulb went off in my head.
I started writing a press release that said: ‘Britney Spears Accused of Using Hypnotic Marketing Secrets in Her New TV Ad.’ This was very legitimate because I–as a hypnotic marketer, hypnotic writer, hypnotic salesperson–had a whole package of hypnotic selling secrets. So I commented on her marketing efforts. I also associated myself with a celebrity.
This was all truthful–I just tied it into something that was going on. Now, of course, I was piggybacking off of a HUGE name. When I sent out that press release, a whole lot of people who were Googling ‘Britney Spears’ saw it. And when they read it, they learned about me.
Suddenly, tens of thousands of new people–not just on the Internet, but offline as well–were aware of me, my product, my service, and everything I was doing. When I did my next teleseminar about a week or two after that news release went out about Hypnotic Marketing Secrets, we had record-breaking numbers of people come on who heard me speak about how Britney Spears was using and misusing them.
This was publicity; this was thinking in a bigger way; and in this case, I was taking a ride off the fame of Britney Spears. People searching for her name suddenly saw my name associated with hers, and a whole new audience became aware of me.”
“For years, Debra Holtzman kept wishing and hoping that she’d generate publicity in top-tier newspapers and magazines and on the big morning TV shows like Good Morning America. A mother of two who’s also an attorney, Debra is one of the foremost experts on child safety. But the wishing and hoping didn’t do much good. Then Debra found the key that not only unlocked the door to publicity but had the media practically tripping over themselves to interview her. She ties her expertise to celebrities–sometimes several times a month. It all depends on how much material the stars feed her. And feed her they do!
“On May 17, 2006, when celebrity magazines printed a photograph showing Britney Spears driving in her convertible, with 8-month-old son Sean Preston in the back, sitting in a car seat facing forward, slumped over to one side, Debra wrote a press release titled ‘Britney Spears Needs Baby Safety Training!’ She posted it at ExpertClick.com, the subscription-based Web site that serves as a database of experts for the media and lets subscribers post up to 52 press releases a year. The story was picked up by celebrity gossip bloggers and top-tier media outlets.
“That same month, when Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt welcomed their baby girl, Shiloh Nouvel Jolie-Pitt, Debra swung into action and issued a press release with the headline, ‘Angelina and Brad’s Perfect Baby Room for Shiloh.’ It described some of the dangers of a baby’s nursery and included a checklist of 11 tips on how the couple could keep the baby safe.
“Also that month, with the paparazzi on his trail, Pitt went out for a bicycle ride in Langstrand, Namibia, with son Maddox Jolie-Pitt, 4, and daughter Zahara Jolie-Pitt, 16 months. Maddox, who wore a helmet, peddled a tricycle. Zahara rode in a blue papoose strapped to Brad’s back. As soon as the photos hit the newsstands, Debra swung into action. She wrote another press release about the dangers of riding with babies on a bike ‘(Zahara) needs a helmet and closed-toe shoes,’ she told Us Weekly. ‘I highly recommend toddlers ride in a child trailer pulled by a bike. It’s more stable and secure.’
“On August 1, 2006, just after Mel Gibson’s drunk driving arrest, Debra issued another release titled ‘Top 10 Tips to Drive Like a Star, But Not Mel Gibson.’ On September 4, 2006, just after Crocodile Hunter Steve Irwin was killed by a stingray while snorkeling, Debra posted another press release on ExpertClick.com, this one titled ‘Teach Children How to Be Safe Around Pets and Wild Animals.’ She didn’t name Irwin or the incident in the release. However, journalists and anyone else who was searching online for information on that news story probably would have found her press release in the list of organic search results.
“All those releases mean more sales of Debra’s books, The Panic-Proof Parent and The Safe Baby, which she mentions in the releases. Her expertise as a child safety expert and all those press releases that tie into celebrities are responsible for Debra being quoted in newspapers like USA Today and The New York Times and booking guest appearances on shows like The Today Show. She has a list of media hits a mile long on her Web site, The SafetyExpert.com.”
Joan Stewart says that others can use this same piggybacking approach in their own press releases. She notes that “half the work is just keeping your ears open for opportunities.”
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Tie your press release to a popular movie or TV show.
This is one of my favorite strategies, and it can work equally well whether you’re based in Boise or the Big Apple. One of the most-watched TV programs, especially among women, is The Real Housewives because so many viewers identify with the housewives and their problems. So if your target market is women, why not stage a Real Housewives (or similar show) event?
Think about what other TV shows people talk about at the water cooler. As the famous copywriter Robert Collier once said, you want to “enter the conversation already in their minds.” Any number of businesses from dentists to hairdressers could offer Ugly Betty promotions, Next Top Model makeovers, Project Runway wardrobe consultations, etc. Travel agencies could create a Survivor adventure vacation to an exotic island, a The Hills getaway to Los Angeles, a Nip/Tuck vacation to Miami, or a Sex and The City trip to New York City.
Here’s an example of a successful tie-in to the TV show Survivor. In 2001, Cold Stone Creamery ice cream decided to hold a limited-time Survivor promotion in 2001. Because contestants on the show are often forced to eat bugs in order to “survive,” Cold Stone’s customers were offered chocolate-covered crickets as a mix-in at 142 of the company’s locations. Doug Ducey, Cold Stone’s CEO, said that every location sold out of the crickets the first week, even though they expected the supply to last a month. Cold Stone’s sales rose 8% that summer, and after the promotion, they received publicity on CBS’ The Early Show where the hosts even tasted the crickets!
Name something after a star.
Restaurants and diners often name sandwiches after stars. L.A.’s famous Pink’s Hotdogs names its hot dogs after famous stars. Sometimes they even ask the stars to create signature hotdogs, then name it after the celebrity. Some of the items on Pink’s hotdog menu are a “Martha Stewart Dog” (with relish, onions, bacon, chopped tomatoes, sauerkraut, and sour cream), a “Rosie O’Donnell Long Island Dog (with mustard, onions, chili, and sauerkraut), and an “Ozzy Spice Dog” (with nacho cheese, grilled onions, guacamole, and chopped tomatoes). You can name items after popular movies as well. Starfish Sushi in Atlanta offers a Gone with the Wind roll, a Memoirs of a Geisha roll, an Oceans Eleven roll, an X-Men roll, and more.
To get publicity, hold a contest where you ask diners to create an item after a star, then ask patrons to vote and choose the winner. Or host an “all-you-can-eat” contest with selected items named after stars or movies from your menu. Of course, be sure you let the media know about these events with a star-powered press release!
Give a celebrity an award.
Choose an award based on your business, and then choose a celebrity to be the “Best” or “Worst.” Best teeth, best hair, best body, etc. always works. Be sure to choose a celebrity that’s constantly in the news or tabloids. Dermatologist Dr. Vail Reese chooses a list of celebrities each year with the worst skin and the best skin. When Britney Spears was publicly rushed to the hospital in an ambulance following her alleged breakdown, Dr. Reese sent out a press release naming Spears as having the “worst skin in Hollywood.” Because of the intense Britney coverage at this time, this “award” made national news!
Create a “Top 10” list.
The late Mr. Blackwell created the well-known “Worst Dressed” list of Hollywood stars. Autograph magazine creates a “Top 10 Best & Worst Signers” list each year that always gets a lot of attention, often nationally covered by the Associated Press. Contact Any Celebrity creates a “Most Wanted Celebrities” list each year naming celebrities who are most sought out by fans, businesses, nonprofits, and the media.