Some friendly advice for publicists

Columns

This month, something very different. I'm going to put on my professor cap and we are going to talk about press releases. I do teach at a local international college, mostly business-related courses. (Teaching business ethics to multicultural students one semester was interesting; I brought in the local American FBI chief as a guest lecturer.)

One of my favorite topics is public relations—how to spin out news. It's so easy to do, but so many of you out there (in charge of PR) do such a bad job of it. Let me explain.

I get somewhere in the range of 100 or so press releases a week: invitations to screenings and other related news, newsletters, etc. Most end up in my electronic trash can.

Lesson #1: Target your recipient. Yes, I am an entertainment reporter and love to be invited to movie premieres. But I am based in Bangkok, folks. Invites to events in L.A. and New York are ludicrous (unless someone wants to fly me in—and nobody ever does). "Cull" your e-mail lists on a regular basis, making sure you weed out old e-mail addresses, and be as specific as possible in placing your contacts in specific topic groups. It may be easy for you just to spam everyone with the same information, but it is sure to make me filter any future e-mail from you as "junk.”

Lesson #2: When e-mailing press releases, make sure your subject line is craftfully written, interesting enough to make the recipient want to open the e-mail. And…

Lesson #3: Always summarize your press release in the body of the e-mail, which entices the reader to spend more time with your information and actually open and read your attached press release. Or better yet, have the entire press release in the body so the reader doesn't have to open the attachment—they are forced to read right there and then.
This week I received a press release from a major film brand announcing awards that will take place later this year. This company did in fact summarize their information and I opened the release. After reading through it, trying to find the "news hook," I finally noticed a sentence toward the bottom telling me the website for these awards would open in mid-June 2009.

Lesson #4: Make sure you have a news hook, some piece of interesting news or information that is not only going to attract the writer's attention but make them want to cover your story. And…

Lesson #5: Your news hook should be timely. Don't tell us today what we need to know two months from now.

Don't know why this one particular news release bothered me so much—maybe because I know the brand well and expected more of their PR people. They have always provided insightful information and news in the past.

So I e-mailed them and asked, “What's up? Why am I getting information in March about a website that is opening in June?” A day or so later, I get cc'd on an e-mail that apparently went out to their partners saying something to the effect: "Anyone want to explain this?"
Lesson #6: We are all professionals, folks, and we should always put our professional faces forward. Please know what you are doing before you release news to journalists and don't let any communication difficulties between you and your business partners show.
The partner shot back an e-mail, again cc'ing me that the press release was to announce the new categories for the awards. New categories? I did not even know there were old categories. What were they talking about?

Lesson #7: Please hire professionals to write press releases. The English language is a wonderful play toy. A nuance here, a nuance there can have many different meanings which you may not want to portray. Be specific with information. Make your information interesting. If I find it interesting, I'm going to tell my readers about it.

Lesson #8 relates back to lesson # 1: Target your recipient. Yes, there are some that print everything and anything they receive, but are they read? Picked up by search engines? (How would you like to have your valuable information dumped into a cesspool with posts by 19,999 others?)

So next time you send out a press release, think about these eight easy rules. I guarantee your information will be picked up and published more widely.

Mourning Wouter Barendrecht
In closing, a few words about the untimely passing of producer Wouter Barendrecht here in Bangkok on April 4. Wouter was in Thailand to work with 5 Star Productions on their new feature Nymph.

Wouter and his Fortissimo partner Michael J. Werner did more for Asian film, moving it into the mainstream of the international industry, than any other executives.
The shock of losing a colleague so suddenly at the prime of his career at the age of 43 causes one to stop and ponder. The Asian film community has lost a dear friend.

Contact Asia-Pacific bureau chief Scott Rosenberg with your news items at (662) 982-4525, by fax at (662) 982-4526, or by e-mail at scott.rosenberg@gmail.com.