I got back to the peace and quiet of my own office. Took off my tie. Took off my suit, and my good shirt, too, and jumped into a pair of shorts and a T-shirt. Slipped on my fake Birkenstock sandals. Opened one of the five windows I sit in the middle of, smiling at some of the dozen or so plants that are personal friends of mine and allow me to share their space. Not a day goes by that I am not thankful for what I have and where I am. Fifteen voicemails, and they could all wait. One part-time employee, and she was gone for the day. It was quiet. I had just returned from a tough meeting with a consulting client, the owner of a top Philadelphia PR firm, who had told me in no uncertain terms it wasn’t necessary to send a letter with a press release. And they send thousands of press releases–each week! "Why include a letter that says ‘Enclosed is a press release’?" he roared at me. "They can see that! Magazine and newspaper editors are busy." Still too wound up from the meeting to take a quick nap, I wandered in self-doubt, asking myself whether, all these years, I’d been sending press releases the wrong way–by including a cover letter. It was a short walk. Let me tell you why you absolutely must include a letter with every single press release you send. I don’t care what anyone else tells you. And you can believe this or not, it’s your choice. A press release is, of course, a one- or two-page document, written in a news-style format, that you send to editors of magazines or newspapers and which, if published, appears to have been written by the publication. About 70 percent of the stories in most newspapers, beyond the first few pages of hard news, are generated by press releases sent to an editor. The objective of sending a letter with your press release is not to say, "Here’s a press release." It’s to improve the chances that the press release will turn into a published story. An effective covering letter will:
1. Build credibility.
While your press release is fine in black and white on bond paper, your letterhead may be on better paper and may be printed in several colors. Including a letter makes it a more impressive package. Shows your company has substance and quality.
2. Show you’ve done your homework to determine that this particular publication should publish your release.
You did your due diligence. You took the time to research the market–and this publication. Then you took the time to write a personal message to the editor. Sure, you send hundreds of press releases–they’re printed in bulk–but you made time to contact this particular person, mano a mano. Your letter is personalized with the editor’s name, and you name the column that you see as appropriate for your press release, showing that you indeed read their publication. You get lots of additional points for this–and will make the editors give extra consideration to your release because it shows beyond a doubt how much research you’ve done, how hard you’ve worked, and how important it is to you for them to publish it in their magazine.
3. Give additional reasons their readers will be interested.
Use your letter to explain more about why the readers the editor serves will be interested in your product or service. "Your readers will welcome our new tchotchkes–they’re the only ones on the market that come in 27 colors! Also, we ship each order within 24 hours of receipt, and we offer an unconditional guarantee of complete satisfaction. Our refund rate is less than 1 in 10,000 orders." Nice. Does this build additional credibility for your firm . . . and encourage editors to publish this additional information as well as information found in your release? You bet!
4. Assure editors that your products are of the highest quality.
While you mentioned this in the press release, you can reiterate it here to reassure them. And a funny thing: when you mention this in a letter, they’ll believe you. Because this is a letter. It’s one to one. A personal message, just to that editor.
5. Offer free samples.
This is a lot cheaper than sending a sample to each editor to start with, and still a very effective way of letting them know how great your product is: "Check us out. We’d be pleased to ship you a free sample, so you can see for yourself the high quality we manufacture into every tchotchke we build."
6. Show that you’ll be a great firm to deal with.
By showing that you’ll be responsive to their readers’ needs, your letter encourages editors to believe that anyone seeing your release as a story in their magazine will be happy with your product, your service, and every communication they have with your firm. "Just give us a call–and our attentive customer service people will be glad to ship your free sample right out to your office or your home. Our customer service team will make your publication look great to your readers who request information from us."
7. Persuade them that you’ll make them look good.
This may be the best reason of all to send a covering letter: you can use it to assure editors that you’ll make them, their publishers, and their publications shine in readers’ eyes. "Any of your readers who inquire will receive our full literature package within just two days of their request. We’ll be happy to remind them that they saw it in [name of publication] and to say how proud we are to have been covered in one of the industry’s top periodicals."
8. Compel editors to read your letter. If they’re busy, they may not read your press release, but they’ll read a letter addressed to them personally.
By the way, if you ever feel driven to call an editor after you’ve sent a release, don’t say, "Did you get my release?" Instead, ask the editor if there is anything you can do to provide further help, or to improve the chances of having your story published. It’s a nicer premise for your call. Kindly notice I didn’t say that a cover letter should tell them a press release is enclosed–they can see that. I’ve often heard PR agencies, and editors too, argue both sides of "Should we send a letter with our press release?" I say, it can’t hurt, it can only help. With no downside risk, and at a cost of only an additional 2 cents, it’s cheap insurance. I’d be happy to match our press release publication percentage against anyone’s–even the top firm in Philadelphia. Hummm . . . think I’ll knock off early today.
©2003 Jeffrey Dobkin