Old school press releases never get much hype. Usually, they are not interesting to write or read. Smart marketers and PR professionals know that well-written press releases are crucial to land press coverage and influencer relationships that build brand awareness and establish companies as the authority in their niche.
Today’s guest is Mickie Kennedy from eReleases, a press release distribution company. Mickie discusses how to get press releases right to get coverage from even the biggest media outlets.
Ben: Hey, Mickie. How's it going this afternoon?
Mickie: I'm good.
Ben: Good. Good to hear it. What we're going to be talking about is making the biggest impact you can with the most minimal budget that you can realistically manage through PR Media Relations, press release distribution, and things in that area. The first question I have for you up front—with all the various communication channels that marketers have at their disposal these days, why should they still consider including these old school press releases, media outreach and media relations as part of their strategy?
Mickie: I would say the biggest reason is the ability of leverage. Anybody in marketing knows that if you have a really great advertising campaign, you might be able to put in $1,000 and get out $10,000 in revenue. With PR, we had someone last year that put $400 into a press release, and they got over $10 million in sales, and they got picked up in over 100 different publications. It went viral, it was really big.
That leverage, you just can't capture elsewhere in marketing and that's the fun thing that you sit back and watch. When it works, it works well. There's a lot of clues that you can take from those types of campaigns that work really well to reverse engineer something that will work for you. It may not generate that kind of ROI, but there's no reason that you can't get a factor of many times more than what you put into it for a PR and press releases to work.
Ben: Yeah, certainly. I feel like it's just such an easy area for companies to overlook, unless they really feel like they've got something huge that they have to get out there.
Mickie: There's a lot of them that do press releases, but they do it like they're zombies, asleep at the switch. It just looks like it's an obligatory press release. The only thing we have going on this month is we have a new HR assistant or something like that. Those types of announcements are not going to generate a buzz and get you articles in places and things like that outside of maybe a local newspaper or trade publication or something like that.
I always say the most important thing is to just be strategic. If you can be strategic with what you're announcing and craft your own news, you can really get out there and do really well with press releases.
Ben: Yeah, for sure. I think that that's true for so many things in marketing, a lot just comes back to strategy in being smart and thoughtful about what you're doing. That leads into my next question. When press releases do fall flat, they get sent out into the world and it's just crickets. What are some of the usual culprits for why they fail, maybe beyond just a general lack of strategy or just being treated as a line item? Someone just has to check this off their list of stuff to do in a day.
Mickie: Right. I think that press releases come out as if they've been written by a committee generally, because they're so safe, don't do really well. I think that press releases that shake up the world, where you have a quote that might be a little contrarian in the press release that goes against the grain of what people are talking about, people don't feel comfortable doing that, especially in a corporate environment, and yet, those are the types of press releases that the media would find engaging and more interesting.
If everybody is saying the same message, you're competing against all of them to get a mention in an article about that subject, but if you're the one person who's saying something contrarian, or saying not so fast, these are the cons for this argument, you stand a really strong chance of getting picked up because the media wants to cover both sides. Often they can't, because there's no one out there being that contrarian and saying something that goes against the grain.
That being said, you don't want to be stupid. You never want to say anything that's going to get you in trouble. I always tell people, are you comfortable with your customers knowing this opinion? You don't want to be a contrarian for the sake of being a contrarian. You want to have it thoughtful and make a lot of sense as to why you have that position.
Ben: Sure, yeah. I think it's probably pretty important to make it clear that when you talk about introducing a contrarian opinion or position into the conversation, you're not instructing people to be obnoxious, or to be a troll, or to do something just to be argumentative, but maybe more in order to just add a different perspective.
Mickie: There's a thoughtful way to go in. Every position has pros and cons. If you just jump on it and point out those cons, you can come across as being very reasonable and level headed while making those cons very apparent and bringing them to the surface, because a lot of times, they don't come to the surface. Electric cars are one where everybody is pro-environment. They feel electric cars are the future, but you could say, not so fast, the mining for these minerals that make up the batteries has labor problems there.
There's environmental problems taking them out of the earth, and we haven't really solved what we do with these batteries at the end of their life. How do we get rid of those and recycle them? That's a way in which I don't seem crazy or outlandish, but I'm getting a message across that goes against what everyone else in the industry is saying.
Ben: Sure, yeah. I think that makes a lot of sense. One issue with sending press releases is they aren't free to send, unless you take the time to manually build your own list through whatever means you have available to you to construct a list of contacts. Even then, if you don't have a way to get your release onto a news wire, you'd be further limited that way. Unless you put some money behind it, there's no way to realize the full potential or to reach as many people as what you could otherwise.
What advice would you have for marketers, for PR people, for communications, professionals to—how would you recommend they begin building the case or justify that expense? They've got to go to somebody and maybe even just winning the argument that that company should make a certain statement in the first place might be one battle, but how can they get past the potential objections to throwing a budget at this?
Mickie: I think the big thing is just to point out the ability to leverage and that for a small amount of money, you can get a many factor return. I would always tell people that if you are going to commit to it, make sure that you are doing a proper campaign of several releases, because I hate seeing someone judge whether PR works for them based on one press release.
I mentioned before being strategic with the press release. One thing that's the easiest strategic thing that anyone can do is put together a survey, a poll, a study. Generally, if you have 100 or more respondents, the media will pay attention to it. Even though it may not have any statistical relevance, they will run with it and cover you. We had a local auto repair place in Pennsylvania that was looking to get links because their only website had been Verizon super pages, had given them a brochure page, and it went down when their advertising stopped.
They put up a website, and they weren't ranking. They were looking for auto industry links. I'm like, well, if you're looking for auto industry links and not in your local market, I would recommend putting something out that the auto industry would find interesting. We did a survey and I always recommend throwing a couple oddball questions in a survey. They're always the ones that the media loves.
The one we asked was, what's the strangest thing someone left in a car while being repaired? We just had an open field and we just put the top most interesting ones and the press releases are linked to it. There were things like a python, grandma was left in an urn, things like that that they had to go back and retrieve from the car, and just little weird things like that that people respond to in a survey.
Their problem was they didn't know how to get a survey of other auto repair places, how do they reach them. I just pointed out that there's lots of trade associations and don't go to the large ones. They went to a small independent auto repair trade association. They were more than pleased to participate in this study and share it with all their members. They also got to mention in the press release—these associations don't get a lot of love. The small ones loved when they get mentioned in a press release, especially if they know what's going over the Newswire.
They ended up getting picked up in over 10 auto trade publications. Several small newspapers nationwide picked it up, and even their local newspaper picked it up. We hadn't really intended to be the main goal of it, but it worked out really well for him. Now when you do a search, the rankings are there and one of the things that happens with PR is the rankings.
In that case, I don't think that there was a revenue number that they could see that happened from it, but for their goal, it suited what they were trying to do. I always say, survey, study, numbers, anybody can put that together. They're SurveyMonkey, there's so many Google forms. There's so many free ways to do that. If you have a customer base for leads list, you can send it out yourself, otherwise, you could partner with a trade association.
That can work really well, especially if you have those questions in there that are a little off. You have your traditional questions, but put a couple in there that are left field and you'll get some really cool responses, usually, and you'll be able to build something with that when you do a press release.
Ben: Yeah, I think that is such an awesome idea. It's such a simple thing that you can do when you're constructing that survey to throw a hook out to the media a little bit. To give them something they'll latch on to, I think that's great. How can marketers know when it's the right time to send a press release? What criteria should they follow to determine whether they have a story worth telling or something worth sharing that the public or the press is going to want to talk about?
Mickie: I always tell people to put your hat on—that you're the journalist, you're the reporter. You're trying to basically act as a gatekeeper. Is this message important enough that I want to share it to my audience, my readers or viewers in the case of TV? If you look at your press release and say, how could I make this more appealing to an audience that I'm trying to reach? I think that that helps a lot.
Many people write a press release from the perspective of I have this cool thing that's happening for us, I want it front and center, and I want people just to push it. Many journalists are saying, when they see a press release, this is better suited for an Ad. There's nothing here really of interest or substance that an audience would be interested in.
You can figure out that formula of how can I make something that's engaging enough that a journalist would say, this is cool, I want to share it with my audience and get it out there, I love working with startups about a third of the people that go on Shark Tank use IE releases to announce their segment coming up when it airs and often will follow up after the segment goes.
Generally, they do very well with the media. It helps if they were on a major TV show, but also, I think that startups are usually doing something a little bit different that's why they got picked to go on the show. If you can figure out what it is that you do, what's your unique selling proposition, what makes you a little bit different, see if you can hone down and really elevate that. Journalists will often like to share it.
Journalists love to pick up small companies. They hate running articles from Microsoft and all the big companies, because they've got the money to advertise better when they come out with a new Microsoft Word or Office pack to advertise it. We're not going to write an article about it. If you're a really small company and no one or very few people know about it, they love to discover stuff like that, tools, cool shopping things.
We see that with a lot of people that get media pickup, that the traffic they get from those articles are really high converting, they convert better than their Pay-Per-Click landing pages. It's because generally, when someone reads an article about someone, they feel good, and they want to click through and visit the website and buy. They're not going to open another window and comparison shop to see if they can get it on Amazon, they want to do business with that company. That's why it works so well.
It's very similar to Indiegogo's, Kickstarter's and things like that. People get emotionally attached to the story, and they want to contribute and they want to help it succeed. That's another thing to really keep in mind. I have some clients that will send Pay-Per-Click traffic to an article that was written about them, because they find that that converts better than some of their best landing pages. That's one of the cool things that happens with an article that doesn't really happen with other types of content.
Ben: Sometimes press releases get treated like a one and done deal, and when they don't immediately drive results, there's a tendency for people to just want to give up on them. That's a mistake. Very often, it takes multiple releases and multiple pitches to journalists, editors, bloggers, TV producers, and other outlets, and other influencers before you land on something that's really of interest to them.
Every time you send something genuinely newsworthy that they happen to see come across your inbox, you're doing a little bit of work to build just a little bit more awareness with them, and showing them the value that you're creating, and all the interesting stuff that you're doing that just might be worth covering one day, even if they can't cover you right now.
If you don't get results right away, don't get discouraged. Instead, stay the course and commit to the long game. Now, back to Mickie.
Ben: If I'm a marketer, and let's say, hypothetically, I'm just getting started with media relations, with outreach, with writing press releases and so forth, how would you recommend that I get started with the basics, identifying a story, writing a release, and then putting together a list of contacts who are going to receive that release?
Mickie: For this strategy, I'm going to make a plug here for a masterclass I created. It's completely free. I created it for my customers to try and get them to think more strategically. It's at ereleases.com/plan. It's less than an hour and it goes through all of these strategies that work very well. If you're ever building a PR campaign, I would say, it's the tool belt you want to go to first and see if you fit. The surveys and studies are just one of them. Being contrarian is another, but there's several in there that almost any business can build a press release around.
I see so many people who get caught up in trying to write the perfect press release, that they don't realize that that strategy should come before that, and what they're writing about, it makes much more of a difference than the actual writing. Once you know what you're going to write about, you can just do a search for a press release template or sample and look at how a press release is written. You can use a service like ereleases, but I always tell people, press releases are very simplistically written, they're third person, they're fairly objective.
Spend your time and energy on being strategic before you write the release, and then the rest you don't need to worry about. As far as who to send it to, you want to target it to your market. A lot of times, that's industry specific. When you use a service like PR Newswire, which we use in ereleases, it goes to national media, newspapers, radio, TV, all of that. It also goes to the trade publications and journalists to cover a specific beat within that industry.
That's what makes the Newswire so good because you're going to reach who you need to reach. If you're doing it yourself, it's a matter of just finding the contacts and emailing them, or in some cases, using Twitter. Some journalists really like Twitter. It's such a great way to share your message with them.
If you're emailing, you don't even have to have a press release, you can just have your announcement. Generally, if you have a place on your website they can go for more information, you can get away with that with personalized PR pitches.
Local media is the easiest media to get. I always tell people that, if you can deconstruct how to get local media, then you can probably roll that out to your industry as well. I always tell people in your market, there's probably less than 10 people who would write about you, find out who those 10 people are and just email them.
At the newspaper, you might want to read, see who covers industries that are similar to yours, companies similar to yours, and then call or do a search online to get that email address. Just introduce yourself and say, I'm a local company, this is what I'm doing that I think is really cool and you may want to share with your audience. That works.
I always say try to do that two to four times a year, as it seems natural with these publications. If there's a local business, magazine or newspaper in your area, there might be TV and radio segments on certain shows that would be applicable. In that case, you don't want to reach the host, you want to reach the producer or the booker at those places.
Again, if you call, they'll just give you the email address. There's no secret. The media is not trying to hide themselves like celebrities or something like that. They're about being accessible and wanting to hear messages. You can replicate that in your industry, like, what's the key trade publications for you, who covers companies like yours, then just send an email.
It is something that you can do yourself if you don't have the budget, it just takes time and energy doing that research, and following up and staying on top of it. I always tell people, go for local media. It's the easiest media to get. It's why you often see the same companies again and again in your local market, because they know them and they have a relationship with them. It's easy when they're doing a story just to plug that company in.
Ben: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. Maybe that reinforces some of the value of doing this, because once you put in the work and you build those relationships, if they know you're a good story and you're a good source, they'll keep coming back. I would imagine then, you don't have to do quite as much work then perhaps to keep that coverage rolling in.
This leads in really nicely to my next question here. Once a marketer has sent out a press release, what can they do? Because you're talking a lot about strategy, maybe there's things you need to do before they even send the release. What are some things that they can do to improve the odds that their release will actually lead to news coverage?
Mickie: I always say, share it with as many people as possible. I see some people that treat the press release as something that's only for the media, but you can share that with your customers, you can share that with your vendors. If you are a reseller, you can share it with others. It can open a lot of doors, and sometimes the media will find you through non-traditional routes.
It's not unusual for a large supply company to be contacted and saying, do you have a small company that we could mention in an article? If you're on their radar because you share press releases and you send it along to them, they'll think of you and you'll be top of mind. It's also one of those things that you can do yourself. Once the press release is out there by tweeting it, sharing it on social media, people do pay attention to stuff like that.
It's always interesting how a journalist connects and clicks with you. I always say, try to get that messaging out to as many people as possible. Everyone should have social media accounts, everyone should have their own email, newsletter, and account and I say, share it.
When you do get immediate pickup, I do the same thing. You want to share it with social media, you want to get it out to your customers and things like that as well. Because it really is almost like an implied endorsement when a publication writes about you. That's something that's laudable in and of itself.
Ben: Yeah, certainly. The last question I'll throw your way, how do marketers prove the value of all this? In some of the examples that you've talked through, they were able to quantify, like, okay, we spent $400 on this release and then we made X million amount of dollars. I assume they had some means of being able to attribute those sales to that specific exposure. But then in some other cases, I imagine it's going to be more difficult. Maybe even proving the value could be different depending on your goals.
Maybe if just getting people to know your brand, then maybe impressions or exposure might be something you measure more than revenue potentially. Without leaving the question too much, what are some things marketers can do that, like, if their boss says, okay, you sent that press release, what happened? How can they tie their actions to a clear benefit with some data or at least enough data to show that it made a positive impact?
Mickie: Press releases are the worst marketing tool because it's hard as heck to measure the ROI. You can't embed a tracking link and send them to one specific landing page, and then determine what the conversions are. In the case of the company last year, it was a new initiative that was in response to the Covid pandemic. They just opened the doors and they had no revenue. Everything that came in was a result of that PR campaign, because it's all they use to launch themselves.
Some people measure if they see an uptick in revenue. If the revenue is predictable during a period, and they found that three months after we started this PR campaign, the needle moved, that's potentially something that they could look at. I hate that, I know that marketers hate that. But outside of other things, it's hard to measure.
In the case of the company in Pennsylvania, they had talked to an SEO person and said, we need to get ranking and they're just like, you're going to spend a couple hundred dollars per link that you get on average if you just pay transactionally. We don't recommend that. They consider it a gray hat. They recommended doing a media campaign with press releases and got in touch with me, and the rest worked really well.
They got, like I said, over 10 auto trade publications, several newspapers. If you were to pay $100 per link, they probably got like $1500 worth of transactional links. I guarantee you, they would not have been on major automotive trade associations, because they don't give links freely or even transactionally, where you pay $100 or something like that.
In their case, the SEO benefit was really strong and again, it was greatly more than they've put into it. For some people, they look at the articles and they try to reverse engineer based off of what advertising space would be. If you get a large mention in the New York Times, you know that an equivalent size of our advertisement might set you back $25,000.
That being said, the same space with an Ad will not generate nearly as much interest as the article because there is that implied endorsement, when people read an article, they feel great about it, and they want to do business with the company, as opposed to an ad. No matter how great it is, it's unlikely to generate as much traffic and conversions.
One way that you can do that is to look at where you got media pickup or what would be the equivalent advertising spend for something like that. That is one way to measure it. There are also some tricky things that happen with press releases that I'm not a fan of, like syndication of the press release, where the press release appears on multiple websites.
I don't feel there's any value to that, and yet, PR Newswire does it, everyone else does it. They're doing it less and less now. It used to be—probably in 2010, it was a bigger deal than it is now, where you'd have a couple 100 links to your press release on Yahoo and Hoovers and places like that. Now, it's beginning to dwindle down.
I think it's always frustrating PR practitioners, because you have the CEO say, oh, I see we're on Yahoo, and I see we're on this site and that site. The PR professionals like, well, that's not a real article, that's just the press release. You have to explain that this is just something that's smoke and mirrors so that if you spend money and you don't get an article written about you, at least this happened.
That is one thing that can confuse and muddle all this because some people try to attribute value to the Yahoo link, and I'm telling you, the press release is buried on a page on Yahoo that a very few people are going to see it. I might appear in some search engine results, but it's not the ultimate goal. What you're really looking for is earned media, where the New York Times writes about you, Washington Post writes about you, your local newspaper, things like that, as well as industry trade publications and things like that.
At the end of the day, I wished it was easier to measure the metrics of a successful press release. That being said, the clients who do really well and get a lot of media pickup, they see a movement in their revenue, they see an uptick in things, they see conversions. Generally, across the entire website increases as a result shortly after these campaigns.
There's lots of little possible ways to look and say, oh, these all help us, but it makes it very difficult to, rather than log into a Google Ad campaign and just see, this is the revenue we go, and this is what we spent, but that being said, it looks like at least online. It's going to get more difficult to measure those conversions in advertising anyways because of privacy, what Apple's doing with the iPhone, what is happening to third party cookies on websites and things like that.
I think the whole idea of tracking and measuring is going to be a little more complex than it has in the past. That makes press releases and PR a little more accessible, because it's always been a patchwork of trying to make it work and measure.
Ben: That's a really thorough and very honest answer to that question. Certainly, it's tricky but it is measurable to an extent. Cool. Thanks so much for your time talking about all this with us and shedding some light into how to actually, strategically, approach PR.
This is something that maybe seems really simple, but I think it's really under-discussed. Like I said, thanks so much for taking the time to join us.
Mickie: You're very welcome.
Ben Sailer has over 14 years of experience in the field of marketing. He is considered an expert in inbound marketing through his incredible skills with copywriting, SEO, content strategy, and project management.
Ben is currently an Inbound Marketing Director at Automattic, working to grow WordPress.com as the top managed hosting solution for WordPress websites. WordPress is one of the most powerful website creation tools in the industry.
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