Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Print Publicity 101

Print publicity is the cheapest form of advertising open to any company.

It’s free—if you know how. But first, you’ve got to learn how the print media operates. You’ve also got to remember that the working press is a corps of intelligent and decent professionals battling against time every day of every year.

The men and women who work in daily newspapers labor under the intense pressure of immutable deadlines. Editorial offices are a madhouse in the late afternoon. That’s deadline time for stories.

Phones ring non-stop. Everyone seems hunched over his or her keyboard madly typing away. A perspiring few stare blankly into space awaiting divine inspiration.

Your company’s press release arrives into this bedlam. If it’s on paper and is addressed to a specific editor, your release goes to that editor’s inbox pile. And it stays there until the editor gets to it.

You also have to fall in line if you email the release. Editors are deluged with emailed press releases. Now what?

Where your press release goes from here depends on how you “prepared” your release for publication. By “prepared” I mean going through a process that gives your release a better than even chance of getting published. Here’s that process in a nutshell.

1. Make your release easy to read so the editor won’t have to waste his time re-writing it. Writing a press release is never easy. If you didn’t take journalism, or if you had news writing but never took it seriously, you’re in deep shit this early. Better find someone who knows how to write news.

But if you do know how to write, you’re best served by using the five “Ws” (Who, What, When, Where, Why) and the “inverted pyramid” format (the most important news in the first three to five paragraphs; the rest of the story is background).

Keep the language simple but pack the story with information and quotes from a company boss, if possible. But make sure the most important info goes into the first three to five paragraphs.

That will make it easier for the editor to edit your story (without taking out the “meat” of your story) in case he runs out of layout space. Also, do create an appropriate title for your story.

Paragraph and make your paragraphs short. As a guide, make each paragraph consist of three short sentences. That’s the equivalent of about one printed inch in a newspaper.

Editors who can’t understand your press release, or who know they’ll have to spend a lot of their limited time re-writing it, will normally set the release aside.

A few matters of form: prefer Times Roman 12 points with 1.5 inch spacing when typing hard copy on MSWord. Also include your name and contact info (telephone, email) to establish your credibility. Proofread your story for mistakes.

Remove “honorifics” such as Mr., Mrs. and Ms but retain professional titles (Dr., Atty.). Refer to your company in the third person (not “our company” or “my company”).

2. Address your press release to a specific editor. You must never send out a press release addressed “The Editor.”

A broadsheet has a lot of editors. Sending it to that nebulous entity, “The Editor,” is the best way for your release to get lost in the newsroom forever.

Before you even write the release, however, call up the editorial department of the newspaper or newspapers you intend to send the release to. Identify yourself and your company and say you’re writing such and such a press release and whom should I send it to?

Jot down the editor’s name and his position. Ask if you should send the release by email or hard copy. Many broadsheets prefer email (it eliminates re-typing) while a few prefer hard copy.

Address the release to that specific editor in the subject line of your email along with the title of your press release and your company name. In the hard copy, legibly write down the editor’s name on the upper right hand part of the first page.

3. Do follow up your press release. This is probably the single most important factor in getting your release published if you’re unknown to the editor. “Huwag kang mahiya.”

Call the next afternoon, identify yourself and politely ask the editor if he got your press release. If he says he did, ask politely if he’ll use it. If he says he didn’t get the release, ask if you could re-send it and how you should send it. Follow up but don’t be “makulit” by phoning the editor everyday.

4. Re-issue the press release to the same editor if the release hasn’t been published after a week. Re-write the press release to make it read better. The editor might have forgotten receiving your first release and might not have seen the re-issue.

5. Increase the odds of your press release being published. You can issue it simultaneously to the seven English broadsheets, the top business paper and the two top English tabloids. That's 10 newspapers and odds are your release will see print in at least one or two of them.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

How to make your employees your customers

I find it odd that Filipino companies or Philippine-based companies hardly every bother to sell themselves to their employees. But do company employees need to be sold on the company they work for, you might ask?

The straight answer is, Yes. Because employees are employees for only eight hours a day, six-and-a-half if your exclude the one hour lunch break and two 15 minute meriendas.

Beyond that, employees are individuals who work for themselves. And all of a company’s managers and staff are also customers who’ll buy a competitor’s products or patronize his services if they’re convinced these are better than their own.

Company loyalty means just that—employees are loyal to their company. That loyalty doesn’t automatically extend to a company’s products or services. Brand loyalty has to be earned, even from a company’s employees.

And even if a company’s products or services can’t be used by its employees (call center services, for example), a company still has to work hard at promoting itself to them. That’s a good way of keeping hard-to-find employees, especially in leading edge industries such as call centers and business process outsourcing (BPO).

How does a company promote itself to its employees? The answer is to give employees a steady stream of information in a personalized package unique to the company.

Ideally, this information should build company and brand loyalty; foster productivity; create support for the company’s goals; make clear the company’s stand on vital issues and contribute to the bottom line.

That package is the company newsletter. Nowadays it’s also the company Intranet. The company website? Not quite since websites are impersonal salesmen that sell to the world.

Company newsletters used to be a big thing in the decades before the PC (the 1970s and 1980s). Now, they’re going the way of the Philippine Eagle and the precious few that survive are finding it hard to soldier on in the face of anorexic budgets and lack of skilled staff (editors and writers).

The latter, I guess, is the key reason for the dying out of the company newsletter. There simply aren’t that many good English editors and writers in today’s labor pool.

Ask the broadsheets. One of my editor friends, who also teaches journalism, complains that writing two paragraphs of passable English is a daunting challenge for many reporter candidates. And some of these people graduated with degrees in journalism or English!

If mass media is finding it next to impossible hiring good English writers, imagine what it’s like for corporations. Companies won’t hire an employee specifically to be a newsletter editor or writer. I haven’t come across a single instance of this yet.

A company usually assigns the newsletter to its human resources unit, which is usually understaffed and overworked. HR then appoints the newsletter’s staff after frantically searching its database for employees with even an iota of English writing experience.

When this fails, as it most often does, HR either does the job itself or cancels the newsletter. It might also hire an experienced editorial consultant like me to assist in providing content and layout for the newsletter.

Producing a printed or online newsletter is always tough. Ensuring its continued existence is even tougher considering its investment.

But you’d have to weigh the cost of this investment by the value of what you stand to gain. Newsletters impart information, a commodity that has value only when read.

Information, if intelligently used, is the basic building block of all sales. You buy because you’re convinced—sold—on the information presented to you. Advertising only jazzes up this information.

A newsletter or any other information carrier “sells” information to a market—a company’s employees—who are already half sold on the value of their product or service. The extra information provided by a company newsletter could push employees into becoming paying customers.

And there are also the other intangible advantages to the information provided by a newsletter. Advantages like improved productivity; stronger teamwork; a closer alignment with company goals.

A surprising bit of information is a recent report by U.S. retailers that TV is no longer the most influential advertising medium. Surprisingly, word of mouth and news inserts have replaced TV as more effective advertising media. Email and the Internet are also generating a lot of advertising buzz.

Word of mouth. Email. The Internet. Companies have these in abundance.

News inserts? That’s what newsletters are for.