You can have the best company, product line, or service offerings in the world, but if no one knows you exist, it really doesn’t matter because you’re dead in your tracks.
That’s why some of the most successful companies rely on a variety of marketing methods to “get the word out” about who they are, what they have going on, and what makes them stand out against their competitors.
While many of the bigger companies have marketing experts on staff or contract with a professional firm that offers this type of service, smaller and newer businesses can’t always afford this expense. This leaves them trying to figure it all out on their own.
If this is where you find yourself, you’ve likely already learned that, while many marketing efforts are intended to be a direct link between you and your customer base, alerting the media is another highly effective way to make your company and its offerings more visible.
There are two methods that are extremely effective for this purpose: a press release and a media alert. Knowing which one to use (as well as when to use it) relies on also understanding what each one is.
What Is a Press Release?
“In a press release, you are willingly ‘releasing’ the information of an announcement,” says Kailey Clymer, owner of Clymer PR, where she acts as a freelance consultant, offering clients professional public relations and digital marketing consulting services. Additionally, Clymer says that this information is
wrapped up in a strategic and neat bow that could also double as a well-written article in a newspaper or magazine if the media were to use your content verbatim.”
For instance, if you do a quick search of PR Newswire, you’ll see press releases—sometimes referred to as a news release or media release—from companies sharing new product awards they’ve received, clients they’ve been able to land, partnerships they’ve created, and services they’ve begun offering their customer base.
Some businesses also do releases to share when they’ve achieved certain accolades, such as if they’ve made a “Top Ten” or “Best in the Field” list. So, if a press release shares information about what is happening with a company, what is a media alert?
What Is a Media Alert?
A media alert is doing just that,” says Clymer, “alerting the media about an event, happening, or photo opportunity in which members of the media are encouraged to attend in-person with the goal of garnering news coverage.”
Therefore, if you’re holding a grand opening, sponsoring a charitable event, or hosting an informational workshop, for example, a media alert could be sent to invite local news agencies in the hopes that they will appear and provide your business more publicity.
“A media alert and press release are similar in that they are typically revealing something very important and newsworthy about the organization, brand or person involved,” says Clymer. “They are both factual in nature and present a no-fluff announcement approach,” she adds. But they are also very different. How?
Main Differences Between a Press Release and a Media Alert
Now that you have a better understanding about what press releases and media alerts are, let’s talk about a few of the ways in which they are different.
Purpose of the Release
The first and most notable difference is the purpose of the release. Clymer explains that a press release is a “detailed short story about [an] exciting announcement,” whereas a media alert is a “factual invitation about exciting happenings.”
Therefore, a press release would be the correct choice if your purpose is strictly to notify the media about what is going on with your company, Conversely, a media alert is the more appropriate avenue if you’re having an event you’d like them to come to so they can report about it both before the event and after attending it live.
Amount of Information Released
Press releases and media alerts also differ based on the amount of information they release. “A press release features more detailed information and quotes from the organization, brand or person you are publicizing,” says Clymer.
This is different from a media alert which simply provides the details of the event without any major commentary or input from company officials. It is simply “a bulleted list of the who, what, where, when, how, why,” Clymer says. That way, if your media contact is unable to attend, he or she has the most important facts, which they can then use to report on the event or to instigate any other questions they may have.
Another difference is the length of the content. Typically, a press release is one to two pages long and a media alert, because it contains less information, is much shorter.
Who You Send It To
Because a media alert is an invitation to attend an event, you’re going to distribute it to a smaller, more local audience of media contacts. Press releases, on the other hand, have a wider audience base because you’re not asking reporters to travel to a certain location; you’re simply sharing news with them about what is happening with your company.
Which Is Best to Use?
“I don’t distribute as many press releases as I used to,” says Clymer, “and I will always let a client know if and when a release is a good idea. A lot of times a short-targeted pitch with links will go a longer way to a few solid contacts than a long press release will that you pay to distribute over a wire service.”
That said, Clymer says that there is still some value in using these lengthier notifications. “In my experience, press releases are still very relevant for major announcements, product launches, investor relations, and trade media,” she says.
Healthcare publicist, Karen Dennis agrees. “As a publicist, I hardly use a press release,” she says. “It’s long, cumbersome and reporters generally do not have the interest or time to read it.”
Instead, Dennis says that she also writes a pitch, which is “a short paragraph highlighting the topic and painting a picture of how this topic will play out in the media.” She then follows this up with a media alert when the information she is releasing pertains to an event.
The lesson learned here is, in the end, it isn’t uncommon for companies to wind up needing both forms of media notifications at various times. So, what do you do if you find yourself in the position where you need to create a press release?
How to Craft an Eye-Catching Press Release
Clymer’s advice for businesses that are writing their own press releases includes:
- Make sure the information is newsworthy. This requires knowing your audience so you have a better understanding of what information will be most important to them, and which information can be left out.
- Use catchy, to-the-point headlines.“Do as much work as possible for your media contacts,” says Clymer, “and provide them with a good headline that you can see yourself reading in their publication. Just try not to get too cute so it doesn’t make any sense.”
- Release it at the right time. Different forms of media have different reporting deadlines. For instance, it isn’t uncommon for print publications to plan their stories one to three months in advance, while morning television shows are more likely to share a story with much shorter notice. “Always know when to cater to the media’s timeline of receiving and publishing news,” says Clymer.
- Use boiler plates that make the important information easy to find.“ALWAYS close out your release with a brief paragraph of information about the main parties involved in your copy,” says Clymer. “Explain who they are, what they do, and where to find them online.”
- Include links. “In addition to including notable URLs about your organization or news, be sure to include a link to view photos or other media that pertain to the release,” suggests Clymer.
- Don’t attach photos. Photo files take up space in your receiver’s inbox. Plus, some media contacts will delete emails without reading through them to see if there’s an attachment. Therefore, you’re much further ahead just leaving them off your releases.
Tips for Creating an Effective Media Alert
If you are in a situation where a media alert makes the most sense, here are some tips that Clymer says will make them more effective:
- Keep it brief. Remember, media alerts are bulleted lists designed to concisely share who, what, when, where, why, and how.
- Use the right subject. Let your media contacts know at a glance what you’re sending by using “MEDIA ALERT” in your subject line.
- Share benefits of showing up. “State whether there will be on-site opportunities for interviews, photos, or video,” suggests Clymer, “and whether the media have to schedule time slots in advance.”
- Offer an itinerary. If possible, let the media know what times certain things are happening during the event, giving them a better idea of when the important, news-worthy actions are taking place.
- Send it to the right person. “Always do your research to target the appropriate contacts,” says Clymer, “and don’t EVER send an alert out to a long list of media without understanding who they are and what they cover.”
What NOT to Do with a Press Release or Media Alert
Now that you know what to do to draft a press release or media alert that is more likely to command some attention, it is just important to know what NOT to do when preparing this type of content.
For this, Clymer has just one piece of advice: “Do not withhold the core information. Get straight to the point upfront as to why your media targets should be interested in your news or event. The last thing you want to do is waste their time.” Or, put another way, “Get to the climax!” she says.