Is Your Press Release A Sinner, Not a Winner?

In his intro to today’s (02/04/10) Reporter Connection email, Steve Harrison made a point about press releases that I thought was worth sharing with you. (Reporter Connection, by the way, is a free media leads service you should subscribe to if you want to know who’s looking for experts to interview and quote; more info here:

Steve Harrison wrote: “Most press releases commit the same unpardonable sin. Last weekend at my church a woman got up and spoke. She droned on and on for ten minutes. I looked around and people were all but falling asleep because she hadn’t done what was necessary to get everyone’s attention. That’s the mistake so many people make when writing press releases, emails and pitch letters. They should start by answering the most important question that really matters to the media and stick to it. That question is “Who cares?” So XYZ Company hires a new manager. Who cares? An author releases a new book. Who cares? Answer that before you write anything more. Got it? Then get to it.”

Amen to that! If you want your press releases to trigger any action on an editor’s part (besides hitting the “Delete” key), you’ve got to overcome the “so what?” factor. In your headline and first paragraph, you must make it absolutely clear why the editor (and by extension, the editor’s audience) should care about your news. A word to the wise: if you are sending a version of your release directly to your market or audience, the same rule still applies.

If you need help turning your press release from a sinner into a winner, contact me at


Media Gatekeepers are Looking Online for Sources – Will They Find You There?

The media’s process of looking for experts and sources has changed dramatically, over a relatively short period of time. Pre-Internet, when I first started working as a journalist, we all depended on battered Rolodexes stuffed with business cards from trade shows, conferences and glossy press kits. If you didn’t have a source at the ready, you searched trade association and company directories, and called around to existing sources for help. With the advent of email and the now-primitive-seeming online newswire feeds, a time-consuming process got a little easier and faster.

Now, journalists are increasingly looking online for experts and sources. Paper press kits have been replaced by PDFs downloadable from a company website. I’ll highlight three points from a blog post by John Thompson that illustrate this point. (Read “Ten Things Every Journalist Should Know in 2010” at )

Thompson argues that journalists must know:

  • How to monitor Twitter and other social media networks for breaking news or general conversations in their subject area using such tools as TweetDeck, and using hashtags.
  • That they are “curators.” Thompson writes: “Part of your role will eventually be to aggregate content (but not indiscriminately). You will need to gather, interpret and archive material from around the web to help your readers get news from social media.” (Note that journalists still act as information filters.)
  • “If you are unable to tell a story in an accurate and compelling way, no one will want to consume your content.” I believe this last point applies both to journalists and those who would be noticed by them. So before you ask someone else to tell your story, be sure you have it clear in your own mind and in the materials you use to communicate with the outside world.

Expert Sources and Guest Bloggers Wanted

In all the above points, you can see a pattern: journalists are looking for information and sources online – not just company or organization websites but Twitter posts, blogs, and social networking sites. The Internet also allows them to put out requests for specific information and people with specific expertise. If you want to get a quick read on what journalists in all types of media are looking for, on a real-time basis, check out these free lead services.

Help a Reporter Out (HARO) – Get leads on reporters for print, broadcast and online media looking for expert sources to interview; sign up for emails at

Blogger LinkUp — Want to be a guest blogger? Need guest blogger content for your own blog? Sign up for emails at

Reporter Connection – Service is in beta mode, sign up to get emails with media leads at

Remember, all media are hungry for content. If you are sharing a clear and compelling story online, you can increase your chances of media exposure. Any questions? Success stories to share?

Getting Publicity and Introducing Yourself – Two Presentations in January

Even in the middle of the pre-holiday whirl of project wrap-up and gift wrapping, I’m looking ahead to the new year. Here’s a quick heads-up on two speaking engagements coming up in the first half of January 2010:

  1. A workshop I’m co-presenting at the Enterprise Center ( in Salem.Getting Publicity for Your Business in Print and Digital Media

    When: Thursday, January 14 – 8:30 am to 10:30 am, Enterprise Center, Salem, MA

    What: With so many messages vying for attention in our wired world, how do you get your company noticed, whether in digital or print media? You must craft your message so that it catches the attention of the media gatekeepers like editors, reporters, and bloggers, and make it appealing to your target audience. Panelists David Thomson of Thomson Communications and Kate Victory Hannisian of Blue Pencil Consulting will offer specific tips and strategies for getting your business noticed. The event is co-sponsored by the Small Business Development Center.

    If you’d like to pre-register for this free (but limited-seating) event, here’s the link:

  2. A presentation to the North Shore Business Forum ( a Good First Impression – Who Are You?

    When: Friday, January 15, at 7:30 am at the Danversport Yacht Club

    What: How to create your 30-second “elevator pitch” and write an effective bio about yourself. You only get one chance to make a great first impression. Learn how to create your 30-second “elevator pitch” and write a bio that will intrigue your audience and effectively get across who you are and what you can do for them.

    Admission is $9, which includes continental breakfast and the meeting. No pre-registration is required. More info at

    Hope to see you at one or both of these events in January.

Last month’s speaking event at the Beverly Chamber of Commerce, on Marketing and Publicity on a Tight Budget, went well. Here’s a link to a photo of me and co-presenter Charlene St. Jean of Purple Diamond LLC, which ran in the Beverly Citizen on 12/4, and the Salem News on 12/15.

NaNoWriMo 2009 – Mission Accomplished!

NaNoWriMo 2009 – Mission Accomplished!Whew! Last night I finished writing a 50,000-word draft of a novel as part of National Novel Writing Month (which ends tonight at midnight). See for more about this challenging event. This is the third year in a row I’ve participated and “won” by hitting the 50K target, and it was a terrific experience.

In a celebratory chat with a writing buddy who finished up today, we agreed that going through the NaNoWriMo process taught us or reinforced at least three valuable lessons. Here they are:

  • Nothing motivates like a deadline. (This is an especially powerful one for former journalists).
  • If you get stuck and find yourself bored with the story, try writing a sex scene. This works, honestly, although we could come up with no good explanation for why. While this particular technique is perhaps more useful to novel writers than someone preparing a corporate PowerPoint, the more universal take-home here may be that venturing off the track from the main story (or your primary topic) and exploring the unexpected side paths gets the brain’s wheels unstuck from the rut.
  • By devoting a set amount of time each day to the process or by hitting a target amount of daily writing output, you can complete a large, daunting project – whether it’s drafting a novel, putting together that how-to guide or writing a long article for a prestigious professional journal.

The end result of this November madness is not a great novel – or even a coherent one, not yet. What I do have is a draft manuscript that made me laugh while I was writing it, a treasure trove of quirky information gleaned during my on-the-fly research, and a mass of raw material that I can revise, add to, and polish into something readable. Perhaps more importantly, the month’s work has brought me a renewed appreciation for the writing process, and added to my storehouse of tips and tricks for getting writing projects done.

Congratulations to my fellow NaNoWriMo participants, wherever in the world you are!

Marketing and Publicity on a Tight Budget

If you need to rev up your company’s marketing and publicity efforts but face the constraints of a tight budget, come to a breakfast seminar I’m speaking at next Tuesday, November 17th, to pick up some practical, budget-wise tips for marketing smarter and getting mentioned in the media. My co-presenter is the terrific and knowledgeable Charlene St. Jean, owner of Purple Diamond LLC (, a marketing coaching company and advertising agency based in Beverly, MA. Together, we will show you how to get the most mileage from your marketing dollars, explain what makes an effective press release, and how to work successfully with the media.

The seminar, “Marketing and Publicity on a Tight Budget,” is presented by the Beverly Chamber of Commerce ( and takes place at Blueberry Hill Healthcare, 75 Brimbal Avenue, in Beverly, MA, from 7:30 to 9 AM on November 17, 2009. Cost is $8 for Beverly Chamber members, $13 for non-members, and includes continental breakfast. Registration is required; contact the Beverly Chamber of Commerce by email or call 978 232 9559. Hope to see you there!

For many people, the word “publicity” conjures up thoughts of a press release that’s sent out to print and digital media, but there’s a host of other techniques to use to get publicity for your company, organization, or event. For instance, you could grow a mustache. Seriously. I just learned this morning that men all over the world are growing mustaches during the month of “Movember” to raise awareness and funds for men’s health issues ( A shout-out to Tyson Goodridge, principal of South Hamilton, MA-based social media education and consulting firm Dialogue (, who is bravely growing a “Movember” mustache – you grow, bro!

Make a Mess Now — Clean Up Later

NaNoWriMoFor fun, this month I am participating in National Novel Writing Month (also known as NaNoWriMo), which means I have made a pact with myself and thousands of other NaNoWriMo participants that I will write a 50,000-word first draft of a novel between November 1 and November 30. Tonight I got that word count up over 10,000 words, so I’m one-fifth of the way there.

Is it deathless prose or great literature? Not at all, not yet — it’s presently a glorious mess of characters and plot threads that skitter off in contradictory, unexpected directions. And that’s what makes it so much fun. Because this is my third year doing NaNoWriMo, I know that whenever my inner professional editor pipes up and starts fretting about sentence structure or plot continuity, I simply need to remind that editor and myself that my goal is to pound out the draft this month. I reassure the editor that I can clean up later, during the revision process, and then get back to writing that draft.

I think of participating in NaNoWriMo — or the drafting phase of any writing project — as being much like a kid who has been allowed to take out the art supplies and create, without worrying about whether she’s wiping up the spilled paint or erasing the smudges as she goes along. The time for cleaning up is after the party. Earlier today, I was talking to a book editing client who told me how helpful she found this analogy when she was in the process of revising and reshaping the manuscript for the second edition of her book. It helped to free her up to just write new sections and rearrange others without getting stuck in “self-edit mode” when she needed to be creating. Yes, the editing is vitally important for a polished end product, but trying to edit and draft at the same time can bring a project to a standstill.

So have that messy party first — you can clean it up later! And if you want to know more about National Novel Writing Month, visit for more info.

Why Writing is Like Learning to Play the Trombone

The process of writing anything – whether it’s a book or an article for a professional journal in your field – has quite a bit in common with learning to play the trombone (or any other musical instrument, for that matter). Your first efforts don’t sound so great, but eventually, if you keep at it, you can produce some fine sounds.

What prompted this analogy? My daughter just started learning how to play the trombone. While the sounds at first veered between comical and ear-splitting, it didn’t take long for a few actual musical notes to emerge from the happy din. Over time, I expect the music-to-din ratio to improve.

So too, with writing: The first draft of any piece of writing — be it a book chapter, blog post, or brochure text — is likely to be full of not-quite-formed ideas and rough prose. If you Google “Hemingway on first drafts,” you’ll find his famous opinion on what all first drafts resemble. A crummy first draft is actually a good problem to have – because it means you have something you can revise, edit, and polish.

A side benefit: sometimes writing badly is fun and freeing, especially in the world of fiction – Exhibit A would be the winners of this year’s Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest (see to read the winning entries). The exuberantly bad writing warms the heart – congratulations to overall winner David McKenzie, and to the winners of the individual categories, particularly the Vile Puns division. Go ahead, take a minute or two to read some of these deliberately terrible opening lines of novels – then get back to work on your writing project.

Give yourself permission to write badly, to pound out a messy first draft. Once you have something on the page or on the screen, you can start revising, and keep on revising, until your writing says what you mean it to say.

Somewhere, in a heaven where fictive meets factual, Professor Henry Hill and Papa Hemingway are smiling, as 76 trombone players trade tips with writers …

Be Clear and Compelling to Get Press Coverage

With so many messages vying for attention, how do you get your company noticed in the press, whether it’s digital or print media? One key is crafting your message so that it catches the attention of the media gatekeepers like editors, reporters, and bloggers, and appeals to your target audience.

Tomorrow, September 23, I’ll be conducting an “Ask the Expert” session at the Enterprise Center at Salem State ( on “How to Get My Business the Press Coverage It Deserves.” Having sat on the editor’s side of the desk for 17 years as a B2B journalist, I know what members of the media want to see in a press release or query, and I’ll be talking with session participants about how to get their businesses noticed. (Tomorrow’s session is full, but please contact me if you’d like to learn more about this topic.)

Many factors play into a company’s “media appeal,” but today I’ll focus on one that may seem painfully obvious, but is all too often overlooked when companies send out press releases:

Are you sending a clear message in the headline and very first paragraph about:

  • Who you are?
  • What your company does?
  • What your newsworthy event or quotable expertise is all about?
  • Why it matters to a particular audience?

Trust me – the last reaction you want a media gatekeeper to have to your press release is “Gah! What are they talking about?” It’s just too easy to hit the “delete” key – and that’s what is likely to happen if you leave out or are unclear about any of the above.

Remember, the media folks out there do want your news if it is relevant to their target audiences, and they do want to tap you as an expert source if you have credibility and a unique perspective. But it’s up to you to make it easy for them to quickly recognize your company’s newsworthiness, credibility, and relevance – and that all comes back to crafting a clear, concise, and compelling message for your press release.

Two Terrific Online Resources for Aspiring Authors

One purpose for this blog is to spread the word about the excellent resources available online for anyone hoping to write and publish a book. Here are two blogs I’ve come across recently that I think you’ll find extraordinarily helpful, whether you are pulling together a business book or writing the next Great American Novel.

Literary agent Nathan Bransford, with the San Francisco office of Curtis Brown Ltd., offers an entertaining, terrifically informative blog about the ins and outs of query letters, finding an agent, and negotiating the process of getting published. He also keeps his readers up to date on publishing industry news and trends, and encourages lively discussions via the comments. Check it out at:

Over at “The Book Deal: An Inside View of Publishing,” consulting editor Alan Rinzler offers his own information-packed take on writing and publishing books, covering topics like the changes in the publishing industry, how to build your author platform, and a whole lot more. Visit Alan Rinzler’s blog here:

Please let me know what you think – and share links to your favorite online resources on publishing.

How to Help the Media Find You, Oh Quotable One

In the early seventies, Doctor Hook and the Medicine Show had a hit song about a musician’s ambition to see his “smiling face on the cover of the Rolling Stone.” Solopreneurs and owners of small companies also crave national recognition, but get their thrills (not to mention increased credibility) from mentions in major business media.

Two North Shore businesses were featured recently in The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal– how’d they do it?

Nancy Black, owner of Organization Plus in Beverly, MA ( said the NYT reporter found her website and liked it. The result? Nancy was quoted in a feature article about organizing a home office. (See the article here:

Ruth Sheets, owner of Ducks in a Row Consulting in Newburyport, MA ( said her company’s name came up in the WSJ reporter’s Internet search. The result? Ruth was quoted in Kelly Spors’ July 13, 2009 advice column for small businesses. (See the article here:

For both these businesses, having an effective online presence led to exposure to a national audience. And by “effective,” I don’t necessarily mean flashy with lots of bells and whistles. What’s most important is having a solid, professional website filled with content that clearly conveys what your business does and includes keywords the members of the media might search on when they’re looking for experts like you.

So that’s one way to “pull” the media to you — here’s a bonus tip for getting the word out about your notable and quotable expertise. If you’d like the chance to serve as an expert source for the media, sign up at Help A Reporter Out. This service was started by marketer and PR strategist Peter Shankman, operating with the motto “Everyone’s an Expert at Something.” If you sign up at, you’ll get up to three emails a day that aggregate 15 to 30 queries from reporters (print, broadcast, and online) who need expert sources to interview.

The service is free and simple, with the main rule being this: Reply to a query only if you truly have the expertise the reporter is looking for (or if you are a PR person and one of your clients has that expertise).

If this sounds great, but you’re a business owner too pressed for time to scan these emails, I’m developing a service where I’ll scan these opportunities for clients, and with the “pitch” response as needed. If you’re interested or have questions, contact me at

And, by the way, when you DO get that mention in the national media, like the song said, don’t forget to “buy five copies for your mother.”