October 9, 2008

Publicity requires forethought

Every day, I—and many people in newsroom jobs similar to mine—receive press releases that immediately go to the bit bucket.

Or, in the case of the one that was on my desk the other day, the real-world recycle bin.

This dead-tree release, which came by fax, goes along the lines of "[Firstname Lastname] recently addressed a meeting of [nonprofit group or industry association], speaking on the topic of [something probably very interesting that my readers might have cared to listen to].

The problem, of course, is that I have been told after the fact, when it is too late to tell my readers so they could attend.

If the senders of these notices—and I get dozens of them every month—ever read OBJ, they would realize that we don't publish this sort of post-event notice.

Look at this front page story from the Oct. 3 issue of OBJ. Had we been sent a release after the meeting that said "Dr. Deborah German recently addressed a meeting of BioOrlando, speaking on the topic of recruitment and funding at the UCF School of Medicine," we would not have known there was a story.

But our reporter was notified of the meeting beforehand, so she could attend, glean information from the talk, learn more about the subject, and transmit that news to our readers.

Getting such notices before the event allows us to
• Publicize speakers our readers might be interested in hearing for themselves
• Send a reporter to an event where appropriate

But Kristen, if Firstname Lastname's talk would be interesting to the readers, why not write about it afterward?

Because we weren't there to hear the talk firsthand.

Mr. Lastname's discussion may have been very interesting. But if he wishes to convey his knowledge to our readers, he needs to notify us of the event early enough for us to list it in our calendar section so the readers can attend.

Sending the release after the event tells me that he's not interested in conveying his knowledge to our readers. He's just seeking publicity for his public-speaking career. Sending a post-event release is not the best way to do that.

Here's the right way for a public speaker or other topic expert to get publicity:

• Invite media to attend events. (Mind you, I can't guarantee they'll show. Budgets are tight, and at many papers, staffs are shrinking. But if the event, like BioOrlando, is one that draws industry leaders, reporters might attend. Good reporters are always looking for new sources.)

• Provide editors and news directors with a bullet-point list of topics on which the expert is available for interview. (Don't expect to get a whole article written about you this way, but you might get quoted as a third-party expert in a story about someone or something else.)

• Submit bylined articles. (but— you must read the publication and customize your article for its style and readership.)

Of course, one could always pay for advertising, but few people seem to like that option.

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