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How to do it without embarrassing yourself and others

by Eleanor J. Lang


Rule #1 about contacts: They change. Unless you're in pretty frequent communication with someone, don't assume that they're still there, or that they have the same focus. Big publications frequently rotate or reassign people. Small publications get a high degree of turnover. This doesn't mean that you shouldn't call the person on your list; you should. What you shouldn't do is send something to someone who hasn't been contacted for six months without making sure that they're there.

So you're planning to do a mailing, and you're wondering how you know who to send it to. There are ways.


You've identified the need to let people know about something. Great start. Before addressing the more important questions of who or why, lets talk about what: release, pitch letter, articles, kit, keen stuff in color or desk sets with the company logo.

The Release: In all cases, you need one to tell people about a new product or thingy. It should be short, no more than two pages under any circumstances. It should have the contact information (name, phone number and maybe e-mail) either at the beginning or end; it's a matter of style and personal taste, and the only rule is that it's easy to find and read. It's swell if the release is brilliantly crafted and fun to read, but that's a plus. At a minimum, it must be clear, present the basic information early on, and should contain pull quotes so that someone doesn't have to bother calling if they're lazy. If you don't hold their interest in the first paragraph, you've probably lost them. It shouldn't be longer than it has to be, as editors get squillions of releases a day, and should be interesting enough to read. Finally, imagine how you'd feel if you saw 20 releases a day. Write accordingly, or hire a writer. People who write releases for a living get $125-$200 per release, on average, with $500 per kit content design being pretty average, too.

The Pitch Letter: You need one of these, too. The release doesn't have to say everything, as the pitch letter can contain information, too. Think of the relationship between the release and letter like the relationship between a resume and cover letter: the one gives basic information, clearly stated, the other sets the tone, customizes the document, and gives additional information not necessarily appropriate in the main document.

The Kit: You don't need one if you can't explain why you do, and then you probably don't anyway. You need a kit if you have much more information/documents than the two mentioned above, if visuals will help sell the product, or if you think that you need to make a really big impression. As with the release, editors get squillions a day. It should be short. It should have nothing unnecessary. To an editor, reading a kit is work. The more (and harder) the work, the less likely they are to do it. Each component should serve a function. In fact, it will help if you think of each piece as a modular component.

About articles: some people think that if you put them in a press kit, people won't cover you because they'll think it's been done. Others disagree. The bottom line is that if you're trying to get a client, investor or article about the company, load in the articles. If you're trying to get product-related press, add just a couple of swell articles.

I can't stress enough that short is good. If it's too long, it won't get read. Unless they're industry-shattering or involve billions, deals do not and should not get more than a release.

Swell Promo Items: If you have them, great. If not, it makes little (if any) difference, unless you have a particular catchy campaign in mind, which most likely you don't and shouldn't; it falls under the "kids, don't try this at home," section.

MAILINGS, PART #2: Why Bother?

Because one or all of the following conditions exist: The company needs increased exposure to grow and survive; you have a new product that won't sell/generate ad revenue without exposure; you have something pressworthy, which could be the product or could be something else; you need a better press portfolio to show investors. "Because we can," or in response to the competition are not good reasons.

MAILINGS, PART #3: Who Gets Them?

Who would be interested? Start with magazines that cover that sort of thingy. Go on to newspapers; minimally, you should target your top 25 cities (go to the library if you're not sure what they are) and all editors who might be interested at those papers. Then if you still have time and energy, you can move on to general interest magazines, if they have an appropriate column. Keep in mind that even the beauty magazines have a high-tech editor. When you've finished with that, you might want to take a look at weekly entertainment papers around the country, the local equivalents to the Village Voice or The Boston Phoenix. There are still things you can do after that, but you probably shouldn't without a dedicated publicist; in fact, you probably won't even be able to complete the first two items on the list. However, other things you can do include radio call-ins, university newspapers, and WWW-based publicity. The latter includes everything from reregistering with search engines and with site-of-the day stuff to doing a comprehensive search of on-line publications and doing e-mailings. It's a targeted market and a good approach. ALWAYS SEND A RELEASE, KIT OR E-MAIL TO YOURSELF, SO YOU KNOW WHEN THEY ARRIVE.


General Dos and Don'ts will be covered latter, as will how to make a pitch. This section is devoted to how to find out who is covering what, mentioned above, and it's really pretty simple.

First, identify what you need to know. This may be as simple as knowing that you need the name of the high-tech editor. You need to be able to ask a simple question clearly without stumbling all over yourself, so if you need a mailing address or the spelling of someone's name, figure it out in advance.

Next, get the number, if you don't have it. This can be easily accomplished by calling (area code) 555-1212, by using Bacon's or by cruising the Web; your choice.

Finally, dial the number and ask. It might go like this: Does Joe Smith still cover doogie applications for US News & World Report? Great, Thanks, and by the way, can you please spell "Smith" for me? Thanks lots. Click. If the answer to your questions is no, find out who does, and be prepared to explain to the receptionist what you need in as few short words as possible.


Additional information will be listed under Dos and Don'ts, but in general:



About a week to ten days after mailing material. Earlier, they probably haven't looked at it. Later, they'll forget. If you are trying to set up an interview for someone who is traveling, you must send the information 4 - 6 weeks before and call within a week. It's possible to do it in less time, but not desirable.

GENERAL INFORMATION: What to do and what to avoid

Various press options include the following:

The above all translates to the fact that it's better to do a small amount well than a large amount poorly, so do what you can, and then you can always do more.



Ask yourself what you want out of any particular mailing or publicity campaign. Then try to asses what's possible, and what thing or combination of things will substitute for what you really want. It's better to know that you want to be on the cover or Rolling Stone than not having any clue as to what you'd like, but unless Shak and the HTML Drones hit the charts in a big way, it's not likely to happen. Will a game review do? A game review in both Spin and Rolling Stone? What if you throw in an interview with the Boise Herald? Try to be both clear and realistic, because you can't always get what you want. You know the rest of the lyrics.


NO. No such thing. It works like this: you pay perfectly good money for advertising space. Therefore, if you get an ad without paying, like the USA Today ad, it's a free ad. Publicity can't be bought at any price. That's why it's publicity, and that's why it's more valuable; it implies an impartial endorsement. You can't get something for free if it's not for sale, and anyway, most publicists insist in being paid in cash, not mallomars, so each column inch you get costs in salary, in effort, and in aggravation. What you can get is EARNED PUBLICITY or EARNED SPACE, either term will do. This may seem like a pissy lecture in semantics, but it's not. Well, maybe a little bit, but it is an important distinction, and once you grok it, the process is much more comprehensible, economically and logistically. You can't completely control the outcome. You can expect to get a certain amount of attention as a result of a certain amount of effort, but there's no guarantee that the New York Times will do a story, no matter how hard you try, or the Newsweek won't bump you after committing to run an article. Try to be Zen. You can only control the things in your sphere of influence. It won't help, so eat Mallomars, which will at least elevate your blood sugar enough to make you a little happier. Good luck.

This is most of what you need to know. The rest is experience.

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Copyright © 1998 by Eleanor J. Lang.