The Power of a Press Release
11 Mar 2008
Freelance publicist Guy Adams explains the importance of a good press release.
At first glance it might, perhaps, seem entirely fitting that it was on ‘leap year’s day’ this year, that my negotiations to place an unknown, first time author, from a small, independent publishers on the Today Programme on Radio 4, received their successful outcome. That morning, John Humphrys interviewed Ken Wharton, whose book, A Long Long War: Voices from the British Army in Northern Ireland 1969-98, is to be published by Helion in April. Surely, particularly when the words ‘unknown’, ‘first-time’, ‘small’, and ‘independent’ are attached, this sort of publicity opportunity - the Today Programme receives an average of 5.5m listeners; Amazon registered a phenomenal ‘spike’ in pre-ordered copies of the book following the programme - is likely to only come around once every four years, if then. But I believe that with the right approach to PR and with far more care and attention paid to the writing of press releases, that does not have to be the case; then again, in the light of my job description, to paraphrase Mandy Rice-Davies, ‘I would, wouldn’t I?’.
I was very struck by the fact that the production team at the Today Programme took the time to compliment me on my press release, because it had “provided everything that we needed”, and this had meant that not only were they able to decide straightaway to feature the book, but equally they were far more inclined to. I asked whether that was not the case with all the press releases they received, and the reply was, “far from it!”. They also complimented the design of the press release by saying that it carried a lot of information which they found invaluable but that the layout and typography, enabled this information to remain readable and accessible. This serves to underline my belief that it is imperative that a lot of careful and lateral thought about both content and design is put into the production of a press release. It is, after all, the first point of media contact with a book that an author has invested so much time, heart and soul, into researching and writing, which makes it all the more gut wrenching if the opportunities to promote an author’s words are lost by a poorly considered, hastily written, press release.
Even best selling authors represented by large international publishing houses, do not necessarily escape from lacklustre press releases. A while ago I worked with a client who came to me because they felt that their publishers were not securing the sort of the coverage that the author might reasonably expect with the reputation established by their extensive past credits. The author had asked the publishers a number of times for a copy of their press release; all had proved futile. Eventually, he telephoned from his mobile when he was five minutes away from their offices, to say he was on his way for the press release. When he arrived the press release that he was presented with bore all the hallmarks of having been produced in five minutes. The missed opportunities do not bear thinking about.
Before I write a press release for a literary client I read the book. How simple and obvious that statement appears. But, I continue to be amazed that with almost every new literary client that approaches me, be they author or publisher, that they are surprised when in response to their question, “Right, where do we start?”, I reply, “First, I need to read the book, because I will not promote any book I haven’t read”. To me it is fundamental, because not only do I want to read the book as a book, I then want to dissect it to examine every possible facet that may be used for press and promotion. This also applies to the author’s biographical details. At this stage lateral and creative thinking is very important.
The most obvious route for promotion of a book is to approach literary editors with regard to review. This is an implicit part of the process, but I equally do not believe it should be the only part, particularly in light of the sheer number of books competing for review and also the small size, in terms of column inches, of the majority of reviews. It is important to consider whether there are other angles that one might pitch to different sectors of the media. I then produce a series of different press releases specifically targeted with pertinent information to each sector. With regard to A Long Long War, I noticed distinct parallels between the experiences concerning the lack of equipment in the early years of the ‘Troubles’, with current news stories about Afghanistan and Iraq. In writing a press release to send to the editors of the Today Programme, and other news editors, I made sure to stress these links and to provide substantiating quotes from the book; in fact, these quotes then provided the basis for the broadcast interview.
But equally one should be far bolder than this; working with best selling author and award winning war reporter Damien Lewis on the promotion of Cobra Gold, his novel about the world’s biggest bank raid allegedly carried out by the SAS in the 1970s, we approached all the sectors that the book clearly fits literary, news, military, history, crime and the like with specific press releases, highlighting areas of the book relevant to each. But in thinking laterally, I asked him wryly, whether war reporters tend to unwind by gardening. When he replied that he was actually just undertaking a major overhaul of his garden, I realized that there was another angle for a press release and, by extension, promotion. Besides, I have always found gardening editors amongst the easiest and calmest of journalists to talk to!
Guy Adams is a freelance consultant in press, promotion, curation and event management, with 15 years experience of working across the arts. He co-founded the multi-faceted London arts venue, The Horse Hospital. In addition, he holds an MA in English Studies and an MA in European Studies. He has lived in Finland and Paris, and speaks French.
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