Feb 24, 2012

Dear Gracie: Press Kit Tips for Better Media Exposure

Each week, Dear Gracie answers questions from ProfNet Connect readers with advice from our network of nearly 50,000 ProfNet experts. Has there been a question burning in your mind lately, something you’ve been wondering that none of your colleagues can answer? Please send it to grace.lavigne@prnewswire.com

Dear Gracie,

There’s a lot of information out there about what can be included in a press kit, but I want to know what should be included in a press kit. What information do journalists actually use from a press kit? What annoys them about press kits? How can I make my clients’ press kits better?

Press Kit Contemplator

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Dear Press Kit Contemplator,

Nine ProfNet experts provide their insight:

What Should Be Included in a Press Kit?

“A media kit is absolutely essential for anyone mounting a public relations or media campaign,” says David Johnson, CEO of Strategic Vision, a PR and political consulting agency. “Many of the major media outlets won’t even consider a guest or doing a story if there is not a media kit.”

For example, major television networks rank potential guests using a 0 to 10 scale, says Johnson. If a guest does not have a media kit, they automatically rank at 0 and have no realistic chance for an interview.

“Media kits are a factual snapshot of who you are as a singular entity and what your offerings or products are,” explains Peter Kelly, communications specialist and co-owner of Framework Media Strategies. Unlike promotional materials, media kits are meant to act as “the holy grail” of information for you and your business.

Although media kits often become dynamic documents, Kelly continues, they usually all have some elements in common (biographical or background information, photos and/or video content, etc.), but differ depending on what type of audience is being targeted.

Johnson’s press kit includes information on the company or product, bios of key company personnel, photos of the personnel and products, previous press releases from the company, FAQs and a sampling of previous media coverage.

Shel Horowitz — copywriter, marketing consultant and author of “Guerilla Marketing Goes Green: Winning Strategies to Improve Your Profits and Your Planet” — also recommends including photos, book covers, sample interview questions (great for TV or radio journalists), prior media mentions and other credibility builders, and maybe even some free content that can be used on a non-exclusive basis.

Check out Horowitz’s press kit (which includes a photo of PR Newswire’s billboard in Times Square).

“I tell my clients that they need to write and submit thought leadership articles to top websites, blogs and ezines, and then put those article placements into a media kit on their websites, as well as the ones used for print,” adds Eric Gruber, article and content marketing expert at ArticleMarketingExperts.com. Media kits need to prove to the press that the expert is respected. “Start writing and submitting articles,” he suggests to experts looking for press.

Michael Laderman, assistant vice president for communications and marketing at Barry University in Florida, says that in the university’s press kit, he includes the university magazine, view book, campus life brochure and general facts.

For an event, conference or trade show, John Brooks, director of media relations and news at North Park University in Chicago, suggests including background information on the event, schedules, downloadable photographs of the speakers or company logos, biographical information on the presenters, news releases, social media connections and event registration information.

Maximizing Chances: Less is More

Everyone in PR wants to get their message out there in as many ways as possible, says Laderman. But PR professionals need to create media kits that will maximize the chance of the press viewing it — otherwise, it’s a waste of time and effort.

“Journalists have both praised and cursed press kits since the dawn of professional public relations,” says Kelly. Journalists might get annoyed with a press kit if it includes nonsensical business jargon, “exciting” filler content or information that is too broad to use.

Journalists simply don’t have the time to leaf through countless pieces of information, explains Laderman. “Today’s journalists find themselves at the mercy of instant deadlines and being on call 24/7,” he says. The Internet’s “post first, edit later” mentality does not give reporters time to sift through tedious press kits.

Press kits should include as little as possible, agrees Winston Barclay, assistant director of arts center relations, and writer and editor of news services at the University of Iowa. “From a reporter’s standpoint, I can attest that reporters are not impressed by the bulk of a press kit — they are annoyed,” he says. Including a lot of information in a press kit means you’re asking a journalist to devote a lot of time to slogging though the material. “I used to just toss most of them,” Barclay admits.

But a press kit with factual information (like press releases, organization background, FAQs, etc.), is a valuable tool that can leverage press, and create a positive connection between the PR team and publication, says Kelly.

Melissa Simas Tyler, former news anchor and broadcast journalist, and current director of communications for O’Neill and Associates in Boston, says she relied heavily on well-crafted press kits during her 11 years as a journalist. “The press kit answered the questions I didn’t have time to ask an interview subject, or felt as if he or she just wouldn’t know the answers to off-hand,” she says. “The best press kits contain impressive facts that bolster any story.”

A comprehensive press kit might only include a press release, a fact sheet with bullet points and maybe a CD, continues Tyler. Suggested questions and a sheet with the interview subjects’ names and titles can also be very useful, she adds.

“After designing your piece, test it out with some journalists with whom you’ve established a relationship,” advises Brandi Palmer, manager of media relations in the Office of Communications at Florida’s Stetson University College of Law. “Ask them if the format works for them. If it doesn’t work, rethink and rework the piece.”

Palmer also suggests asking these journalists what the best time of day, or day of the week, is to send them information. “Late on a Friday or very early on a Monday may be an overwhelming time to add another email to a journalist’s inbox,” she says. “Show the journalist that you respect their time and input.”

Digital vs. Hard Copy

The purpose of a press kit is to provide important details and a little background in a multimedia format that appeals to journalists working in a variety of media, says Palmer. It can be delivered in as many media as journalists use, from video to still photography to audio to text.

Nowadays, media kits are usually available as downloadable documents on company websites, or as attachments that can be sent via email, explains Kelly. In this age of going green, kits might also be available on CDs or USB flash drives.

Most journalists prefer an electronic media kit as a link they can open, says Johnson.

Most reporters want to be able to download logos and photos to their own computer, or send them to photographers and artists working on page layouts, says Brooks. It’s also a good idea to make press kit materials appropriately formatted for smartphones, he adds, because that means the information will be widely available and accessible to reporters from almost anywhere.

“Set up a website that lets people click to the pieces they need,” advises Horowitz.

“Digital or online press kits are preferable, but only if they provide just the kernel of the story or event,” adds Barclay. Put in all the links you want, but make sure they are clearly identified, so the reporter can easily access or ignore them. “But the basic content should be as brief as possible,” he says.

And despite all of our technological advances, there are still those that desire a hard-copy version (perhaps due to the fact that our population consists of varying age groups), says Kelly.

However, hard-copy press kits are typically only used if they need to be mailed or hand delivered at events or trade shows, says Kelly.

If kits are going to be on-hand at an event, add a press release and facts pertaining to that respective event, suggests Laderman.

But remember: “If you can, do both a print and electronic version of your piece,” suggests Barclay. That way, journalists can use whichever way is easier for them.

For example, Brooks created a press kit for a national news conference a few years ago, with 28 reporters in attendance. Hard-copy background materials were provided in advance, but were also easily accessible after the conference via the Web.

“What really worked is that the photographs we posted of the principal speakers appeared in newspapers all over the country the next day, and so did portions of the support materials we posted,” says Brooks. “Had we provided these resources only in print, much of that material would not have appeared.”

Written by Grace Lavigne, senior editor of ProfNet, a service that helps journalists connect with expert sources. Dear Gracie is published weekly on ProfNet Connect, a free social networking site for communicators. To read more from Grace, check out her blog on ProfNet Connect.

Want to see some great examples of online press kits?  Check out Virtual Press Office.  This PR Newswire company pioneered the digitial press kit, and today hosts thousands of press kits for trade show exhibitors and online press offices for hundreds of trade shows and conferences worldwide.

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