In a given day, I wear about 3 different professional hats. Obviously, there's Mrs Mo and then I also manage NJMyWay.com and take care of various client tasks and projects for my pr/event business, H. Morris Solutions, LLC. So in the course of a day, you can imagine how full my inbox(es) become. Recently I received a number of emails that were formatted in a way that got my attention for all the wrong reasons and not for the topic of the pitch. And so that is what has lead me to write my this post of pr tips for beginners.
Bottom line: there is an etiquette and format that you need to follow when sending press emails. The tips that you may find to be common sense are often forgotten in the rush to get coverage. Here are 6 to get started:
- Subject comes first: Think of all the emails that your intended target receives in a day. If you simply write "Press Release:...." or start with the name of someone who is not well known in the subject, it'll easily get lost in the midst of the other "Press Release" emails. However, if you spice things up a bit and use some creativity, you may even get a response with interest. Here's an example of a catchy subject to a press release I received recently and 2 non-examples of the same release:
EXAMPLE: "The Jersey Shore gets a new cast member...Robert Hilton named Executive Director of the Jersey Shore Convention and Visitors Bureau"While there is nothing structurally wrong about the non-examples, there's no "spice" to make them stand out from other similar emails. Notice that the subject of the original starts with the name of a current and controversial show that everyone is talking about. It definitely got my attention.
NON-EXAMPLE: "Press Release: Robert Hilton named Executive Director of the Jersey Shore Convention and Visitors Bureau"
NON-EXAMPLE: "The Jersey Shore Convention and Visitors Bureau names Robert Hilton as Executive Director"
- Use common grammar and capitalization rules. This should be a no-brainer. Do not write a subject in all lower case and/or run-on sentences. This says unprofessional, not thought out and potential spam. You're not sending an email to a family member or friend. Take the extra time to check, recheck and triple check your spelling, grammar, punctuation and capitalization in both the subject and body.
- BCC your mass emails: I know it may not seem like it takes up that much time, but the last thing a journalist/editor/pr professional wants to do is scroll though a long list of email addresses who are also receiving the same pitch. First of all, mass emails should really be reserved for media alert and general press releases and not if you really want someone to pay attention to your personal message. If you want someone to pay attention to you, send a separate email addressing them by name. But when you do send a mass email, copy and past your addresses in the BCC: section and then paste your own email in the To: section. That way, when your message goes out, everyone will receive the same alert, but they won't have to read through a mass of addresses (See figure below).
- Research before you send: Some of your intended media contacts have specific formats and styles that they require for press pitches. In addition to sending to the correct person, look online or call the office to see if they have specific requirements. Also, if you are a novice at writing press releases and do not have access to or funds to hire someone, look online for press release formats. The more formatted you can be, the more you'll hopefully get noticed.
- Your HARO pitches should still be formal: If you don't know what HARO is, get on the list now. It stands for Help A Reporter Out (www.helpareporter.com) and it's a great service that gives us editors/publishers/journalists a place to submit queries for sources and, if you sign up on their mailing list, gives anyone an opportunity to respond with their business pitches/stories/expertise. I love this service and have used it many times. And of course, with all of the pitches I've received, there have been some sloppy and unprofessional pitches come through.
For example, when I did a Holiday Gift Guide request, I got a lot of well-composed pitches from every spectrum of professional-small business owner and national pr rep. However I still remember 2 emails that only had one sentence in the body and one of them at least had an attachment. When the recipient of your email says "What is this supposed to be??" that's not a good thing. First offense: there was no greeting. Second offense: no description of the product. Third offense: no closing/signature. Both emails caught me off guard that someone would actually send such an informal and sloppy email and then make me GUESS what they were pitching. Don't give your recipient a treasure hunt for the story. Moral of the story: you treat every HARO response the same way you would if you were pitching to a newspaper, magazine or talk show.
- Send a test email: I actually do this often. No matter how much you check for spelling errors and punctuation, there's always a chance you missed something. It's a good idea to have a friend or family member who is a good proof reader and can offer constructive criticism. Send them a test email so they can comment on your form and spelling.