Are you interested in learning how to create successful press releases? What makes a press release attract proper media attention? How can you work with media outlets to boost conversions?
Mickie Kennedy is an expert at helping small businesses, authors, and startups increase their visibility and credibility. Mickie founded eReleases 22+ years ago after realizing that small businesses desperately need a press release service they can actually afford, giving them access to the media and to a national newswire – all with a personal touch. Mickie lives in Baltimore County, Maryland.
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In This Podcast
- What is a press release and how does it work?
- Mickie’s tips for writing a winning press release
- Why do some press releases fail?
- How can a company use media coverage to get more sales?
- How can you get free local coverage?
What is a press release and how does it work?
If you want to write your own press release, the general structure is:
- Subheading, optional
- You then have your main body of text, the:
- Whereof the announcement that you are writing.
Press releases are written in the third person and may contain a few first-person quotes which Mickie recommends that you put in an about-you or an about-the-practice section as well as a media contact.
Tips for writing a winning press release
- Focus mostly on the headline:
Avoid using puns or click-bait headlines because you want the context of what you are announcing to be in the headline, so you do not want to trick someone into opening your press release.
When something goes over the newswire, it’s just streamed by industries and topics by headline and the journalist will click through to the headline to read more, so you want the headline to be really captivating. (Mickie Kennedy)
- Make sure to write a good opening paragraph that will further entice your reader by providing them with the further context of the press release.
- Provide a captivating quote that cannot easily be paraphrased. If you are a creative spirit or you want to learn how to become better at using your language, writing a good quote is a good place to learn.
The biggest thing to be aware of when it comes to writing a good press release is knowing what the press release is actually about. Try to be strategic with what you are announcing so that it is both applicable and interesting.
Mickie’s strategic tip: media loves data, so use surveys and collect data and publish it as the author of the survey.
The one hack that I do recommend is always throw one or two oddball questions in the survey [because] you never know if those might hit some mileage and often … they really resonate with journalists. (Mickie Kennedy)
Why do some press releases fail?
Many press releases are “safe” releases. They have the appearance of being written by a committee and they have nothing that helps them to stand out, or that captivates a reader.
At the end of the day, a journalist is acting as a gatekeeper, and he’s trying to protect his audience and only shares with them what he feels they would be interested in. (Mickie Kennedy)
The safe press releases often do not get picked up by the bigger media platforms and therefore they do not help to increase conversion rates for your business.
How can a company use media coverage to get more sales?
A smart company will:
- Put video clips on the website of their media,
- They will take links when they get a media pickup: if a particular publication wrote about them, they would post that link on their website and in their newsletters to share it with their audience,
- Try to get a lot of mileage out of the media coverage of their press releases.
How can you get free local coverage?
Local media coverage is often free compared to international news outlets. Work with local TV, radio, and media outlets that can support you and boost your work.
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Mickie Kennedy believes that with some effort and a little money, the possibilities are endless. He is an expert at helping small businesses, authors and startups increase their visibility and credibility. Mickie founded eReleases 22 plus years ago after realizing that small businesses desperately need a press release service they can actually afford, giving them access to the media and to a national newswire all with a personal touch. He holds an MFA in creative writing with an emphasis in poetry from George Mason University. His press releases have resulted in articles being published in the wall street journal, CNN, Bloomberg, and many more prestigious news outfits. Mickie lives in Baltimore County with his family and two cats. He enjoys British science fiction and acknowledges an unhealthy addiction to diet soda. He still writes poetry most Monday nights virtually with a group of fellow misfits in Brunswick, Maryland. Hi, Mickie. Thanks so much for joining us today.
[MICKIE KENNEDY] Hi, so glad to be here.
[SAM] So I see I’m talking to fellow cat lover.
[SAM] That’s awesome. I’ve also got two and they also feed every now and then, but not too much.
[SAM] So can you share a bit about your story and how you got to where you are now?
[MICKIE] Sure. So around 25 years ago I was finishing up graduate school. I had been pursuing an MFA in creative writing with an emphasis in poetry and at first I thought I would just wait tables, but I did that for briefly and discovered it was a very taxing and I really didn’t feel like writing anything after a long shift of standing on my feet all day. So I got a job at a telecom startup and I was employee number three and I just started doing a little bit of everything. One of the things I had to do was send out press releases. We were using fax machine at the time that was state-of-the-art, held a hundred numbers, but we had almost 200 journalists we needed to contact. So I was spending an hour and a half programming a fax machine with all these numbers hitting send.
It would take all day the next day, I delete those numbers and enter another 80 to 100 more and hit send again. And the thing that I saw was a lot of journalists started to call and say, “Hey, could you just email that press release over?” We were publishing a lot of telecom traffic and statistics, so they found it much easier just to copy and paste in a word document than try to work off of a paper fax. That was what gave me the idea for eReleases and I mentioned it to my boss and he said, “You should start that.” So I spent about a year contacting journalists asking them if they would receive releases from me if they were on target. And most of them all said yes. So when I launched about a year later, almost 23 years ago I had about 10,000 journalists in my database.
Over the years PR Newswire reached out to me and said, “Hey, you should also send your releases through us.” And I pointed out that my customers are paying two to $400 on average, and they’re charging just a thousand dollars and up to send a release nationally over their wire. So we worked with them, we discovered that their overnight team doesn’t do a lot, but they have to be there for breaking news and for people who have recalls where they want to get something to Asia or different markets. So they weren’t, they were just sitting idle. So we started putting all of our press releases out by default the next business day so that they could work on those overnight and it wouldn’t cost them additional labor. So we were able to get the price down. So that has now included a custom national distribution with PR Newswire with all of our press releases.
[SAM] Sure. That’s awesome. So for those of, for people in the audience who are maybe new to the concept of a press release, can you just share a bit about what it is and how they work?
[MICKIE] Great. So I always recommend that people just do a search for press release or press release template. They’re very simple. It’s usually a headline, perhaps a subhead, the meat who, what, when, where of the announcement right there upfront, sort of a top down approach and it’s written in third person. There might be some first person quotes that you would include. And I always recommend that you include a quote and at the very end there might be an about you section or about your practice section as well as a media contact. And that’s usually for most people, it’s just them that they might have an assistant or somebody else, but a lot of times the journalist does like to speak to someone who has a lot of knowledge and can answer questions, perhaps lend something that could be quoted in the article.
[SAM] And what are some tips that you can provide for writing a winning press release?
[MICKIE] So focus mostly on the headline. When something goes over the Newswire, it’s just streamed by industries and topics by headline and the journalists will click through to the headline to read more. So you want that headline to be really captivating. You don’t want to use a pun or a New York Post style headline, or a click baity headline because you want to have the context of what you’re announcing to be there in the headline. So you don’t want to sort of trick a journalist and they won’t generally fall for it. They’re more apt to click on something that’s just got the real facts right there in the headline. Opening paragraph is very important for the same reason. It’s job is to drive you through the release and to really get your announcement there.
Having a really captivating quote, something that cannot be easily paraphrased. So many times people will do a quote and it’s just safe language and it’s not really meaningful, and it doesn’t really have any creativity to it. So I always say that if you are a creative spirit or you did want to spend a lot of time elevating your language, the quote would be the one place to do it so that your quote would stand in the actual article and not be paraphrased into something else. And those are all really good tips for the basis of a press release. But the bigger thing is what is the press release about? And that’s where a lot of people trip up because they already have a topic that they want to do and many times it’s not the most newsworthy topics. So I try to be really strategic with what you’re announcing.
I put together a, a PR strategy course for my customers that’s completely free. Basically I’m trying to train my customers to send out more newsworthy press releases, because a lot of the stuff that I get is like a new hire or someone has a new responsibility at the company and that’s not really newsworthy. It also might be, you might have spent a lot of money making your website mobile responsive, but that’s not really worthy of a press release. So what I’d like to see are things that are more strategic, for example the media loves data, numbers, statistics. You can put together a study, a survey, send it out, whether it’s to people that or other practices. You can partner with a trade association and get them to send it to their members which might be other practices and get them to complete the survey for you.
That creates a win-win where you can mention the trade association in the press release and that they love to participate for things like that, the smaller and more independent trade associations. So they are definitely the ones I target, because they’re much more likely to do that for you. And then you just publish it as the author of the survey. And often you’ll get lots of media pickup from that. The one hack that I do recommend is always throw a one or two oddball questions in a survey. You never know if those might get some mileage and often they are what really resonates with journalists and things like that.
[SAM] Sure. Those are some awesome tips. Thank you so much. So for members in the audience who are interested in taking part in that free PR strategy course you mentioned, where can they access that?
[MICKIE] Okay. So it is that ereleases.com/plan [P L A N]. It’s less than an hour, but it goes through about eight strategies that work for most anybody. I recommend it for authors who write about a particular topic. If you can do a survey within that topic in your industry, it can do really well for your book and really catapult you. It’s a way to add such a strong layer of newsworthiness. Other things that work really well are, that are mentioned in the short course is being a contrarian, sometimes taking a hard stance that sort of contradicts a movement within your industry is a great way to stand out. A lot of people who publish articles are often this, they’re only reporting one side because no one’s out there pointing out the cons or the negative side.
So if you’re willing to do that, you stand a chance of getting picked up almost every time an article is written on that subject just so that they can be more fair and balanced. You do want to be careful that you’re not saying something that’s going to make you look less by your clients or people in your industry, but generally if you can be level-headed and reasonable and point out cons to a particular topic that’s sort of hot right now, you can stand out there as the friendly contrarian who gets picked up by a lot of journalists.
[SAM] So just on that, I’m kind of interested if somebody had to take, as you say, a bit of a controversial stance against something, does your company then equip them on how to handle maybe some backlash on that, or would you kind of make sure that from the get go, the press release isn’t too kind of negative, as you said?
[MICKIE] So we don’t provide a lot of education, but the people that generally use it are often, don’t get a backlash if they use it effectively. For example, everybody’s pro-environmental, pro-electric cars, it’s the future, but someone to say, “Hey, not so fast. You know the minerals for the batteries are mined in ways that are labor-intensive and there’s a lot of exploitation happening there. And we don’t know what to do with these batteries at the end of their life. Are we just creating more landfill issues?” No, one’s going to say, “Wow, that’s terrible. This guy needs to be canceled,” or something because of that standpoint. So you just have to make sure that what you’re saying is reasonable and that you are pointing out, because there’s pros and cons with everything. And if you’re a reasonable person just pointing out the cons on a particular topic or subject I don’t think that you’re going to face that big of a backlash.
And if you do, I would just get out in front of it and just say why the backlash is warranted or not warranted. Sometimes you just have to acknowledge that this is the way I feel and I’m just pointing out facts and unfortunately you may disagree but I stand by what I said, or you could better crystallize your viewpoint and point out that no, I’m not necessarily saying all of that. But I am just pointing out the deficiencies or problems along with this topic
[SAM] So in your opinion, why do so many press releases fail?
[MICKIE] So I think that goes back to the strategy that I talked about. So many press releases are safe. I would say 95% of the releases that I get at the releases and I send out for my clients are safe releases. They have the appearance of being written in a committee. There’s nothing that really stands out as unique or captivating. At the end of the day a journalist is acting as a gatekeeper and he’s trying to protect his audience and only share with them what he feels they would be interested in. And if you are writing something without taking that into account, like what am I announcing? How could I make it more appetizing for readers or viewers, how could I make it more structured in a way that would speak to them? And if you can sort of get that formula down and understand that you have a better chance of not writing the safe releases that just don’t get picked up.
[SAM] So for those of you who are interested in taking part in that course that Mickie mentioned earlier but you’re maybe on the move, we’ll definitely have the link to that in the show notes, so that you can improve your press release strategy. So Mickie, how might a company use media coverage to improve conversions and get more sales?
[MICKIE] So generally a really smart company will put clips on their website of their media pickup. They’ll take the links when they get an immediate pickup. For example, let’s say the New York Times wrote about them or a particular publication wrote about them, share that link, that graphic, share it onto your social media, share it in your newsletters or your communications with patients or others. Try to get a lot of mileage out of that. We have a client who has a local carpet company in New Jersey, which I can’t think of a more non newsworthy company. And they used one of my strategies and my course and they got a lot of trade publications to pick them up, trade publications or other local carpet companies. So it wasn’t their audience, their customer base reading that, but what they were able to do is to compile that into a big book, because all together, I think they ended up getting like close to 30 clips and they then would take that when they give a quote in their home and they found that they started converting almost 20% more customers just by sharing that.
Because there’s an implied endorsement that happens when a publication picks you up. There’s that credibility. So it’s like of all the people that come and give you a quote, how many have been recognized by floor trade weekly, this publication, the local newspaper, this magazine. It’s just really gives someone an assurance that you are a professional and you’re going to do a great job. And their sales process pretty much remained the same, but they just started closing almost 20% more by incorporating that into their business. So any time that you can take and share your clips and your successes with those around you, you’re going to see that. You’re going to see, you’re going to convert better. You’re going to get more responses. People are going to, they’re going to have more visibility in their head when they’re thinking about you or the services that you provide.
[SAM] It’s amazing the effect that that has, but it does make so much sense because, I mean, obviously people only want to engage with people who are credible these days. And I think that actually makes so much sense for my audience in particular, because when people are searching for a counselor, as you said, if they are finding information about that counselor on reputable news sources that’s only going to encourage them to book with them even more.
[SAM] So how can I small business get some free local coverage?
[MICKIE] So local media is the easiest coverage to get, and I always tell people not to pay someone to get it. If you just think about it in your local market, there’s probably less than 10 people that would write about you. It might be your local newspaper, a business magazine or newspaper, if you’re lucky enough to have one in your area, perhaps some smaller newspapers or more community type newspapers in your area. And then there might be TV and radio. There might be segments from time to time that will profile experts out there that, you might see someone who is in a similar capacity to you, or there’s a feeling that they’ve had other experts on there and they might be open to having you as an expert on there. So once you’ve identified who the writers are at each of the magazines and trade publications, just get their email address. If you call and ask for it, they’ll give it to you.
They really aren’t trying to hide. They’re trying to be open. News works because people share tips and resources. So it’s not rude to ask for an email address or the preferred way to contact someone. Some people you might try Twitter because some journalists prefer that for communicating, but I would start with an email address for radio or TV. Once you’ve identified a segment or a show you’d want to reach out to the producer or the booker of that show, not the host. And again you just want to put together this email and send it to each of them and just say, “Hi. I’d like to introduce myself. I live in the area. This is what I do and I feel that right now, the time is right to talk and discuss this and I’d love to talk to you and have an interview with you about this topic.”
You don’t have to write a press release for this. It’s just you providing some ideas for a story. And I always recommend to try to contact them as you have ideas. It might be as few as four to five times a year. But it’s less than 10 people. So it’s a total of 40 to 50 emails a year, and it’s a great way to stay on their visibility so that when they are doing a story and they feel like, oh, this would be a great place to put a counselor in to get a quote or something like that, they’ll think of you and they’ll give you a call. And that’s why for so many people, you see a lot of the same names in local media and local newspapers. It’s the same type of companies that are again and again mentioned just because they have a relationship with a journalist and it makes it very easy for the journalists to reach out to them and plug them into a story where they might fit.
[SAM] That makes a lot of sense. So, Mickie, can you speak a bit into kind of your process at eReleases, and if someone was interested in working with you kind of what would be the process that you would take them through?
[MICKIE] Sure. So I would say for you to take that course at ereleases.com/plan, come up with some ideas for an article or a press release that you feel could be turned into article easily. If you feel comfortable writing a press release, and I think everybody should, because they’re pretty simple, they’re not meant to be written with flourish and a lot of writing creativity other than the ideas, and perhaps the quote. And we have some resources on the website as well about press release samples. I think if you look in the footer, ereleases.com, there’s links to press release samples. You can look at different industries and different samples and get a feel for what’s acceptable. But once you have a release that’s written, you could have us review it. We have chat on the website. You could also email us or give us a call.
We have no salespeople. So the only person you’ll be talking to is an editor. There’s no commissions. So we are very upfront if we feel that something’s not going to work or it’s probably not a good fit. So we will hold your hand through the process, get the release scheduled for distribution and after it goes out, you’ll receive some reporting that happens after the fact. But then again, there’s something you should be doing as well. Take that press release, share it on social media, put it in your company newsletter, get the messaging out there. If you have a place on your website or could make a place on your website for like a newsroom, start adding your press releases there, because it’s all great content for search engines to come and find you, and it’s just more places to lead to you and so a lot more people can see that. In addition to that, if you don’t have a newsroom or it’s just too difficult for you, a lot of times people will have a blog. And I always say at a minimum that’s a location you could be putting your press releases if nowhere else.
[SAM] And just one last question, in terms of the distribution, do you kind of tailor that to the topic of the press release or do you kind of have a standard set of people that you send it to?
[MICKIE] We do. So you get to choose some targeting when you schedule the release. You can also target by local saturation as well, which might be important for some clients. But in addition to that, when it goes to the Newswire, they also tag it, they read the release and they tag it accordingly. So they’ll do the industries that you selected, but they’ll also, if they feel something’s a really good fit, they’ll tag it for that as well. So it definitely has a contextual element. So it makes it a lot easier for people to find your content over the Newswire.
[SAM] And if people wanted to get in touch with you and Mickie, what’s the best way for them to do that?
[MICKIE] Go to erelease.com. All my social media is on the lower. It’s my personal LinkedIn. So feel free to contact me there. But if you have questions about press releases, just give the office a call, the phone number on the website or start a chat with someone and they can walk you through it.
[SAM] Awesome. And we always end every episode with this question, if every proud practice owner in the world were listening right now, what would you want them to know?
[MICKIE] I would let them know that you can be an expert. You can be a source for media, attention and news. So many people feel like I don’t have, I’m not important. I’m not worthy of putting my name out there. And the truth is the only difference between you and someone who gets quoted in the media dozens of times is their willingness to put themselves out there. And it starts with you just making a movement forward and trying to own some of your own real estate and create some of your own buzz. And I just encourage people to do it because I’m a very shy English major, but I’ve written a couple of books that are about press releases. I put myself out there like right now, talking to you, and yes, it was difficult in the beginning, but over time I’ve gotten more and more recognized, I’ve gotten more comfortable and I don’t feel like I’m faking it anymore. So there is that realization that I am an expert, and I do know a lot about PR and press releases, and I just love sharing it with a lot of people.
[SAM] That’s awesome. Thank you so much for everything that you’ve shared today and for being on the Marketing a Practice podcast.
[MICKIE] Thank you.
[SAM] Thanks for listening to the Marketing a Practice podcast. If you need help with branding your business, whether it be a new logo, rebrand, or you simply want some print flyer designed head on over to www.practiceofthepractice.com/branding. And if you’d like to see some examples of my design work, be sure to follow me on Instagram at Samantha Carvalho Design. Finally, please subscribe, rate, and review this podcast on iTunes if you like what you’ve heard. Talk to you soon.
Marketing a Practice podcast is part of the Practice of the Practice podcast network, a network of podcasts seeking to help you market and grow your business and yourself. To hear other podcasts like Beta Male Revolution, Empowered and Unapologetic, Imperfect Thriving, or Faith in Practice, go to practiceofthepractice.com/network.
This podcast is designed to provide accurate and authoritative information in regards to the subject matter covered. It is given with the understanding that neither the host, the publisher, or the guests are rendering legal, accounting, clinical, or any other professional information. If you want a professional, you should find one.