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Sending Press Releases to Email Lists: It Happens #sm4np

By on Tuesday, August 28, 2012

A Twitter comment today on #sm4np (which looks like an awesome conference helping nonprofits with social media) advised nonprofits not to send press releases to their email list. I was a bit surprised. After all – nonprofit public relations professionals send press releases to email lists every day. A blast email would never be advisable – but good news release distribution often does involve email. The key is using a select list.

Sending every press release you issue to your nonprofit’s entire fundraising list (I have heard of nonprofits doing this) is bad form. You should only be sending press releases to people who would want to read them – namely – journalists who are interested in covering the kinds of topics your nonprofit can credibly speak about. Your donors, supporters and others might want to hear about your new program or project – but the copy needs to be tailored to them and their needs – not in news release style.

How do you know which journalists might be interested? You look at what they write about and cover. You don’t rely on only an email list harvested out of a mega-database of journalist contacts. You do research, write little notes to journalists with the release highlighting how they might find it helpful, and try not to be an obnoxious pest.

You should be segmenting your media list before hitting send – knowing that certain news may not be appropriate for all the journalists you want to engage with. If your organization works in health education, your news releases with new research and tips on how to raise kids who like to eat vegetables will go over well with people covering parenting, nutrition and schools. But leave out the journalists who are super interested in tobacco control, senior citizen health, or focus on adult fitness – they might be great for something else your organization is working on, but not this particular announcement.

While many have sounded the death knell for the press release – it’s not going anywhere. It remains a vehicle that shares a story and resources effectively and efficiently.  A survey of journalists last year found 87% of journalists prefer to get news releases delivered to them via email.

And while email delivery for press releases is still utilized – today’s news releases are not like the old double-spaced typed ones that we used to fax out early in my career (Lord, am I dating myself by revealing that – please remember I started writing press releases when I was five). Today’s news releases need to be loaded with resources (links to issue backgrounders, research, biographies, photos and your nonprofit’s social media handles) that make the job of the journalist easier.

Journalists also said in last year’s survey that they prefer for email subject lines to clearly specify the topic of the release. I’ve heard from a few friends working at national news outlets that they often have to wade through dozens of releases just to find one that might relate to what they actually cover. As a result – they are delete-happy – battling inboxes crammed with news release spam. So being crystal clear up front about why you are contacting the journalist and what story you have to offer is extremely important. When a reporter opens an email with a press release- don’t count on him or her reading past the first paragraph – so get to the point quickly.

And don’t forget that you can re-purpose your news release copy for the other audiences you want to reach like your nonprofit’s supporters, donors and volunteers – but you need to adapt the format if you want to communicate effectively. Harvesting copy from a news release for a blog blurb, Facebook post, or e-newsletter, lets you be efficient when explaining a new program or project. And don’t forget to consider timing – that might mean saving the announcement until the next e-newsletter goes out, so your supporters don’t feel overly emailed.

Ami Neiberger-Miller is a public relations strategist and writer. She is the founder of Steppingstone LLC, a virtual and independent public relations practice near Washington, D.C. that provides public relations counsel, social media advice, writing services, and creative design work for publications and websites (portfolio). Ami blogs frequently about media relations, social media, public relations and other issues. She also reviews books on her blog about public relations, nonprofit life, work-family balance and social media practice. Follow her on Twitter @AmazingPRMaven.

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