On several occasions I have seen well-meaning non-PR practitioners issue their own press releases, only to be puzzled when no coverage results. Often the answer is that the writer hasn’t been able to apply the “so what?” test to their own work, in order to create a story that stands out from the hundreds that a journalist will typically receive each week.
Unfortunately there is no benefit to your product or brand in sending out press releases that get no press coverage – all that you will achieve is to send spam to the journalist’s inbox, therefore reducing the likelihood of your email getting read by them next time around.
Successful PR companies can charge handsomely for their services as they can put together releases that have a high likelihood of obtaining press coverage. Good PR practitioners have a range of skills – including strong written English, an understanding of the types of story that will create media interest plus good contacts – that can take years to cultivate.
The TRUTH acronym
Take a look through a newspaper and pick out the most interesting story that you can find. I guarantee that it will include at least some elements from the acronym TRUTH:
T – Timeliness – Relevant to the time, such as a story related to tennis during Wimbledon;
R – Relevance – A story relevant to a particular group, such as the readership of a trade magazine;
U – Unusual – Something out of the ordinary;
T – Tension – A story that has tension within, such as a triumph over adversity;
H – Human Interest – Something that arouses the empathy, sympathy or curiosity of readers.
A press release about your new product/launch/client win is much more likely to get coverage if you can bring in a timely, relevant, unusual, triumphant or human interest angle. An experienced PR practitioner will be able to find the hook within the story to base the press release around. Here are three examples of stories that initially failed the “so what?” test, but were able to get coverage after using an element from the TRUTH model:
Woman gets married in hospital – Timeliness
A hospital asked me to write a release about their patient, who was suffering from a life-threatening illness and had had her wedding ceremony in the hospital’s chapel. In this particular case, timeliness was the most effective way of generating coverage for the story, and I waited until the morning of February 13th to issue the release. Several local newspapers featured the woman on their front page as a Valentine’s Day story (the story of course included other TRUTH elements, tension and human interest – but would have been unlikely to make the front page at any other time of year). As a result of that coverage a number of women’s magazines entered a bidding war to offer the woman a paid interview.
Hotel holds wedding fair – Unusual
I was asked to write a press release for a hotel that was organizing its annual wedding fair. The fair took place on the same day as the hotel’s nearby competitors’ wedding fairs; the hotels felt that they could attract more visitors by holding their fairs simultaneously. Therefore there was nothing unique or unusual about the act of holding a fair itself.
I asked about the suppliers who would be participating at the fair and found out that there would be a dress shop, cake maker, florist and even representatives from the local registry office. So I suggested that we ran a stunt – offering one couple the opportunity to dress up and have a practice wedding ceremony with the fair’s visitors as wedding guests. I issued a press release offering people the opportunity to “Get married without the commitment.” It received coverage on TV news, radio and in numerous print titles.
Solicitor qualifies at law firm – Human interest
A law firm asked me to write a press release about one of their staff members, who had qualified as a Solicitor. Whilst this was a great personal achievement for the person involved, as a standalone story it didn’t pass the “so what?” test.
Whilst talking to the Solicitor it transpired that she had begun her legal training after a career change. I used the press release to tell the story of how an advert in her local paper had encouraged her to look at legal training, and eventually to leave her job and begin working as a paralegal. I also mentioned the barriers that she had overcome in her success, as it is unusual for people to enter the legal profession a little later in life. The story got coverage across numerous local titles, as well as some trade publications.
There is a well-known expression to describe the difference between advertising and PR – “Advertising you pay for; PR you pray for.” Bringing TRUTH into your press releases makes the prayer a little less necessary.