October 21, 2010

Week 5: How To Write A Press Release


OK, we’re five weeks in on this project, so it’s time to deconstruct the promotional piece known as a press release. There are a few things that you need to make sure are included.

First and foremost, what are you promoting? Nothing is worse than a press release with no direction and no main point. Yes, you want a media person to know about your band, but that’s not enough. There’s millions of bands out there and let me tell you, each one of them think they are important enough to be covered in the press.

You need to have a hook to your press release. It could be the show you’re promoting. It may be an album you’re releasing.  Perhaps you’re headlining a charity gig. Maybe your band just won an award. Someone important reviewed your CD or said something on their show or in an interview about your band. There are hundreds of reasons to send out a press release… and thousands of reasons not to.

The deal is, it’s got to be newsworthy. Something that will make someone in media want to:
1. Read the press release
2. Listen to your music or come to a show
3. Be moved enough to write about it.
4. Find out more about your band.

So let’s strip it down to basics.

Step 1: Get a list of media contacts
If you don’t have a list already, you need to get one. Put someone in your band in charge of creating a good list of media folks. You need name of media outlet, name of contact, phone numbers, addresses, and e-mail addresses. Maintain this list and update it at least once a month to make sure it’s fresh. Even though I’ve owned INsite since 2008, I still get press releases to my infoATinsiteaustin.com address that are for the previous owner who took it over in 2005 and even the one before that. If you don’t care enough to find the current writer, why should they care to read what you have to say?

You can buy a list from a service, pay a company who has contacts to send your release out, ask fellow bands for their contacts, or create your own. If you want to create your own, here are a few links you may like.
(Use this list to find contacts on your own… or buy their service.. whichever you like.)

Step 2:  Find your Angle
I’m going to invent a band for the example. The band name is Dog Face Cow (which is not a band and dogfacecow.com is available right now. If a band forms with this name, you better thank me in the liner notes of your first album and you should send me $1,000 a month after you make your first million dollars).

Anyway…. let’s say your band, Dog Face Cow, is releasing an album called… um… Udder Times via a live show at Headhunter’s on November 30. Let’s also say you’ve got yourself a spot on FOX 7's Morning show "Good Day Austin" playing to promote the release. This is good.  The headline will read “DOG FACE COW RELEASES UDDER TIMES 11/30”and add a secondary headline that reads “Performing on FOX 7 11/28, CD Release Show 11/30 at Headhunters

Dog Face Cow's Udder Times CD Artwork

That’s an example of an angle. Now.. what would NOT be an angle you ask? Anything that is totally uninteresting. Guitarist leaves. Band forms. Band rehearses. Band has new songs but aren’t playing anywhere to promote it. General information about band. These things are not press release worthy because they are not newsworthy. The reason for a press release is to promote something that will cause the person reading the story to find out more about you, attend a show, buy an album, and talk about you.

Step 3: First Draft
This is not a quick and dirty process. Think about what you’re writing. Why would people care about this event? Who are you hoping comes to the show? Who are the people this particular media outlet writes for? What would make you come to the event? If it’s a show, who else is on the bill? Include websites for you, the other bands, the venue, and contact information for the band in case the media folks want more information. 

When you’ve written all you think you need to write on the matter, AND YOU’VE SPELLCHECKED, take a step away. Come back to it the next day and reread, make corrections. Spice it up a little bit. Make it an interesting read.  Then… Step 4.

Step 4: Shorten it by ½
Anything that can be said in 700 words can be said in 350. Take into consideration the attention span of the person reading the release. If someone sends me a 1,000-word press release… that sucker isn’t likely to be read. There’s a reason the top pop songs are 3 minutes or less… people don’t care to be engaged by one thing for much longer than that. Make sure you JUST include the important stuff.

Step 5: Make sure the important information is UP TOP and AT THE END.
Answer all of the important questions. Who are you, what are you accomplishing, when is this event, where is it happening, and why should I care.

If you’ve ever taken any public speaking classes you’ll know these two ideas: 1. KISS – Keep It Simple Stupid. And my favorite “Say what your GOING to say. Say it. Then Say it AGAIN.” Both of these are golden and can be used in writing. Learn them.

You may kick off with some witty little banter you think it really funny. Limit that as much as possible… maybe the first half of the sentence. Something like “Make sure you grab a change of underwear when you head to Headhunter’s on November 28 because Dog Face Cow is going to make you crap your pants with our amazing sound.”

Recap at the end of the release with some quick bullets

Who: Dog Face Cow
What: CD Release celebration
11/28: 7am on FOX7
11/30: 11pm at Headhunter’s (address)
Cost: $5

Step 6: Make sure you include an action.
What do you want to happen? In the press release, call for an action. Here’s a few examples:
-       Udder Times should be arriving at your office in the next week. Please give us a listen. Even if you decide not to review it we’d love to hear your thoughts.
-       We’d love to have you out at the show on our guest list. Let us know and we’ll put you +1 on the list. There may even be a beverage of your choice in it for you.
-       Here’s an online code to download Udder Times. Please let us know what you think.
-       Contact lead singer “Thwack McLovin” at fakeemail@dogfacecow.com to schedule an interview, if you have any questions, or if you just want his number so you can drunk dial him after the show.

Step 7: Headline
I kind of went over that in the “Find Your Angle” post, but I want to drive this home. The headline is the most important part of your press release. Most of the people who open your press release will read the headline and move on. Never even glance at the text below it. You have to make people want to read more… but don’t just write something for shock if you can’t wrap it into meaning something important to do with what you’re writing about. “SPLEEN REMOVAL MACHINE” would catch attention but it has nothing to do with your band. “UDDER TIMES CALL FOR UDDER MEASURES” might do it. “DOG FACE COW ATTACKS HEADHUNTERS / FOX 7” is probably where I’d go. You can have fun with it… be serious about it…make it epic….make it important… but make sure it conveys the heart of what your press release is about.

Step 8: E-mail Subject Line
If you’re going to use e-mail to blast your message out, you need to come up with a good subject line. Now, remember these people may not know you at all, so something like “What Are You Doing Friday” won’t make them open it. And if it does, they may be pissed it’s not a personal letter. Label it what it is. “PRESS RELEASE: Austin’s Dog Face Cow To Release Udder Times.”

Also, PLEASE if you’re going to e-mail something, make sure the people you send it to are via a “Bcc.” That way their e-mail address is hidden AND they don’t know if you sent it to just them or 1,000 people.

Step 9: Before you send… read it again.
OK.. you’re done. You’ve written, edited, made sure all of the right information is up top and in there, and made sure unimportant stuff is left out. Now… read it again. Spell check again. Make sure the days are right. Make sure the times are correct. Make sure the links are valid.

Step 10: Send it out.
Congratulations. You just sent a press release out. Now be prepared to sit back and hear nothing. It’s OK. Don’t get bitter or mad… it happens. A lot. I recall in the years I sent press releases out for bands… the best luck I ever had was getting contacted from about 3 people… and the release was sent to about a hundred targeted people in Austin media.

Step 11: Three Important Points
Even if a band get’s the first 10 steps down, below you will find three things you need to think about. Most bands do one of the following three "dont's."

1. Don't wait until 3 days before the show to send press release… you really need to send it 3-4 weeks ahead of time to make the best play at media attention.

2. Don't forget to follow up. Wait about 2 weeks and then reach out. Make it a question… something like. “Hey, I was putting together the guest list for the 11/30 CD Release show for Dog Face Cow’s Udder Times and I was wondering if you’d like me to add you +1 to the list? Headhunter's wants me to turn it in by 11/23 so please let me know ASAP. Also, wanted to make sure you received the press release I sent on 10/20. Here’s a link to it (post it to your website or a blog) in case you missed it.”

3. Don’t EVER accuse someone of ignoring you… or deleting your message… or not caring… or anything that would make you look like a whiney little brat. If you do, you can probably consider that contact dead and your band won’t ever be in that publication. I’ve got a few bands on my “not worth my time” list… and I consider myself the nice one in media circles.

That about wraps things up for this week. If you want to see me this weekend… come on out Saturday (10/23) to Emo’s for our INsite Night for November. Rockshow Promotions presents: Squint (CD Release), Trashy and the Kid, Waiting for August, Matches for Memories, and Radio Fallout.  I’ll be the one  not wearing a black t-shirt.

Sean Claes is the owner of Austin's INsite Magazine and has been a freelance entertainment writer since 1996. For an introduction to his "52 Weeks of DIY Music Advice" visit this link - http://www.tinyurl.com/Claes52DIY. If you like what you read... please share. To visit Claes' homepage, go here - http://www.seanclaes.com/.

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