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Keys to Better Press Coverage

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If you want more press coverage, it’s time to focus on the journalists who can make it happen. I’ve spent the past year publicizing my book, while at the same time freelancing as a writer. That experience helped me increase my hit frequency and get quotes (and pictures) in hundreds of publications, including The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The Boston Globe, The Christian Science Monitor, and Health magazine.

How did I do this? Through relevant, witty, and helpful responses to queries from writers who were looking for the kind of material that I had. More specifically, I did it through ProfNet (www.profnet.com) and similar services, which disseminate journalists’ requests for information via email to thousands of experts and PR agents. Since I do my own publicity, I also use www.prleads.com to sort leads, so that I receive only those queries that relate to my book and my business. ProfNet costs $500 to $3,000/year, depending on your company status and desired sorting options. With flexible sorting functions, PRLeads currently costs $99/month for individuals .

Sure, building relationships with staff reporters and freelancers will help you get coverage, but that takes time, and most journalists don’t even bother culling through their lists of contacts, let alone press releases, when they start work on a piece. (That expensive press kit you sent? It hit the circular file.)

Rules for Responding

Originally developed as a bridge between PR professionals and writers, ProfNet also helps self-promoters. How can you take advantage? By recognizing two principles of responding to writers’ queries: (1) writers are never just working on a single story (they couldn’t pay their bills if they did); and (2) the easier you make a writer’s job, the more likely it is that the writer will use you as a resource.

As an occasional freelancer, I’ve been on the receiving end of hundreds of responses to queries from authors and other experts, and the following sums up what I learned and then used to my advantage.

Five tips will help you avoid the automatic “delete” button when you respond to a writer’s query by email.

Follow all instructions. Five basic instructions appear in almost every query.

    • No phone calls. This really means “no phone calls.” Unexpected calls are invasive and disruptive. They’re also less efficient and harder to organize than emails. Any writer who wants to speak with you by phone will schedule an interview.
    • Name that query. Put the exact query title in the subject line of your response. This helps writers, especially those working on multiple articles, organize their emails. Some writers even use Autosort, so that if you don’t include the keyword, your email could be labeled as spam. I often put not only the title but a couple of words so that writers can easily find my response when they go back and cull through the group. For example, “Vacation Email Overload article–ruined trip to France.”
    • Meet all expert qualifications. Sometimes the writer needs only experts with a certain background or in a specific city. If you do not meet those qualifications, it doesn’t matter if you have the best comment; the writer will not use it, and you’ll be wasting everybody’s time by sending it.
    • Do not send attachments. Downloading is time consuming, and no one should ever download anything from an unknown source.
    • Deadlines are deadlines. Most are not arbitrary, nor are they set by the writer. Emails sent after deadlines are useless. Most writers receive hundreds of emails and don’t want unnecessary ones.

Answer the question asked. Do not ask if the publication might consider a completely different article. Freelancers and even staff writers have no control over other articles in a publication. That’s an editor’s job. However, emailing a response to a writer’s query that suggests a slightly different angle to a story can sometimes be helpful. For example, for parenting articles, I often write, “Have you considered the single parent’s point of view, which is . . . ”

Give them specific information they will need. It seems to be mostly PR agents who neglect to do this. They email about a great expert, without giving any clues about the expert’s stance on the topic. This means the writer has to take the time to respond, “Can you tell me more?” For a writer, it’s much more efficient to simply hit “delete.”

Offer something original. Writers are looking for new takes on what is often the same old subject. A recipe for baking heart-shaped cookies for a Valentine’s Day article isn’t exactly groundbreaking, nor is it going to make for interesting reading. “Homemade beef jerky V-Day treats for the manly man in your life”–now, that’s likely to get at least a second look.

Be a reliable, believable, and credible source. While you can stretch your realm of expertise, step back and put yourself in the readers’ shoes before you go too far. Wouldn’t you wonder why an author of a book on dating is commenting on the outsourcing of IT jobs? Perhaps you are now writing books on dating because your IT job was outsourced, but you’ll have to explain the connection.

Sometimes writers look for “nonexperts” who have relevant experience, although not necessarily expertise. (Note that if you are quoted as a “nonexpert,” the quotes will often not be accompanied by your book title.) If your novel Dating in a Down Economy has a protagonist whose love life is in the dumps after his job was outsourced to India, then, depending on the publication, a writer might be interested in what you have to say about IT. (USA Today, yes; The Economist, not so much.)

Hopefully, by using these tips, you’ll survive automatic deletion. But how do you make it into print? Here are five more ideas for fine-tuning your responses.

Quotable quips. Respondents who can convey an original idea in a couple of well-written sentences in an email make life really easy for a writer. I do this by writing at least one sentence that could be a lead-in, a teaser, or a pull-quote.

Early responses. Some writers might wait until close to deadline to review all responses together. However, if you get yours in early, they may read and be influenced by your thoughts.

Tips and lists. Tips and lists are popular with writers, since bulleted lists can be scanned quickly, and a writer can pull a few tips from a variety of responses. Also, many articles use shorter, related articles or lists as sidebars. I recently pulled an entire sidebar of “Top 10 Do’s and Don’ts” from an initial response by an author to a query of mine, without having to change a single word. Some of his tips duplicated those provided by others, but his list was comprehensive and easier for me to use, and he received complete credit (including his book title).

Accurate identification. In your email, say exactly how you would like to be identified and include any links to Web sites that would help a writer with fact-checking. When responding, I often offer alternative IDs. Sometimes writers have too many quotes from book authors and are looking for a comment from an executive. I give them the choice. This may not work for everyone, but my business is related to my book, and I include all my identity and contact information in my signature line.

Review copies. Include a line offering a review copy if they’re interested. Don’t push it; just give the writer the opportunity to request one. Most writers probably can’t read every review copy they’re sent, and you might not be able to get a copy delivered before the story is filed. (Another reason to respond early.) Nevertheless, writers may want to see your book, and even if they can’t use it this time, they might find a way to work with you in the future.

Finally, here are two don’ts so you won’t ruin your chances of being quoted after you’ve survived two rounds of the delete button:

Don’t badger writers. A writer will use your quote if it works for a given piece. Calling or emailing journalists and asking whether they’ve read your email will not change that, although if you annoy them enough, they might decide not even to consider you. If a writer indicates that a quote from you will be included in an article, ask when it will run and take the initiative to find the story yourself. And don’t forget: an editor might cut your quote to meet space requirements, and the writer has no control over that.

Don’t give writers anything but your own original ideas. It’s not just your reputation at stake, but also the reputation of the writer, the writer’s editor, and the publication.

Writing of any sort becomes collaborative along the path to publication. The secret to increasing your press coverage is to recognize how the process works for journalists and to become an invaluable resource for them. Remember, it’s not about you; it’s about being a part of an interesting story. The rewards, however, are all yours for the keeping.

Diane K. Danielson is the co-author of Table Talk: The Savvy Girl’s Alternative to Networking (www.TableTalkBooks.com), the founder and executive director of the Downtown Women’s Club (www.DowntownWomensClub.com), and an occasional freelance writer on women’s issues.

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