PR Editorial: 5 DOs, 5 DON'Ts
As many of you know, Julia's been cranking out publicity communications — bios, press releases, one-sheets, corporate missives, you name it — for a good decade and a half.
She trained under a master, Bryn Bridenthal (see above), who, in her tenures presiding over various major-label publicity departments and her own company, has helped further the PR fortunes of, among many others, Guns Ní Roses, Nirvana, Aerosmith, Queen, the Eagles, Joni Mitchell, Jimmy Page, Steve Miller and the Red Hot Chili Peppers (not to mention founding the promotion/publicity department at Rolling Stone).
Following is a smattering of Julia's accumulated wisdom, bestowed by Bridenthal and some of her sagacious colleagues.
- ... the job FOR whomever you're targeting. Within reason (space limitations are always a consideration), include every bit of hard data a representative of the media will need to know about your client. Don't make him or her have to follow up on a single fact. It's much easier to toss your press release in the recycling bin than make a follow-up call.
- ... tell a story. No matter what you're writing, there's a narrative in there somewhere — find it and convey it with memorable details that will keep your audience reading through the last word.
- ... lean on quotes from your clients, even if you have to invent them (with approval, of course). Anything that comes out of their yaps is infinitely more authentic and thus relevant to the media than whatever YOU have to say (beyond brass-tacks facts). Whether you're putting words in their mouths or just editing their utterances, make sure they sound like humans and not cliché-spewing caricatures or corporate droids. Brief anecdotes and (genuinely amusing) humor go a long way.
- ... verify facts, proofread carefully (line by line on hard copy at least once) and run spell-check. If your written materials contain errors, your client looks bad. Cautionary tale: I misspelled the title of the Fleetwood Mac album "Rumours" — forgot the "u" in a moment of ugly Americanism — in a high-profile, major-label bio (on another artist) serviced to thousands of media outlets 10 YEARS AGO and it still stings. Don't let this happen to YOU.
- ... hire a pro. Many PR professionals got into the business because they're brilliant at pitching media, are able to effortlessly cultivate enduring press relationships and can throw a party to die for. A great number of these folks can't write their way out of a paper bag. The smart ones know it and delegate their editorial to a specialist.
- ... engage in hyperbole. The media knows YOU think your client is the greatest thing since sliced bread; you're getting PAID to like him. Hype only impugns the client's credibility. Your writing voice must be objective. Rely on reviewers — bloggers count — to offer THEIR opinions. Don't forget to attribute those review quotes, even if the attribution is simply "Mollie in Santa Monica."
- ... cry wolf. If you don't have something indisputably newsworthy to impart, put your hands on your head and step away from the "send" button. Even in the digital age, members of the media get "paper fatigue." If you bombard press with trifling editorial, when you have a REAL story, they will have long since stopped paying attention to you.
- ... service a bio that reads like a resume strung together with conjunctions. The primary goal of the bio is to capture the subject's personality (another good reason to use lots of quotes). If you can't hook the media with the "voice" of your client in the first paragraph — compel the reader in that first line to go on to the second — you've failed.
- ... arbitrarily decide that your bio or press release must be limited to one page if that length is inadequate to "do the job" (yes, you DO need reasonable margins and a readable point size). If the writing is effective, the reader will make it to the second page. More than two pages, in this day of gnat-like attention spans, may be pushing it, however, unless you're writing about, oh, I dunno, Bob Dylan.
- ... write a headline that looks more like a paragraph. If you can't sum up the point of your press release in more than two lines, you've got a problem. For that matter, no subject line should be more than 50 characters (with spaces). Otherwise, you run the risk of it being cut off, resulting in a fragment that screams, "I'm too clueless to consider subject-line length; please delete this e-mail." Think about how many e-mails YOU delete — really, any excuse will do.
There's surely more to it than this, but these should get you started on the road to the kind of PR editorial that gets your client the coverage YOU deserve.