How to use a press release to get great coverage when you don’t have any news

Press releases don’t have to line journalists’ litter boxes. They can be timely, relevant and interesting. Here’s how two companies did it.

“Get me some coverage,” the CEO says.

So the communicator conjures up a press release even though the company doesn’t really have anything to announce. The press release hits the inbox of reporters and bloggers, who glance at it in disgust and drag it to the trash folder.

This dance is repeated thousands of times weekly. But it doesn’t have to be like that. There are smart, clever and creative ways to drum up coverage even if you don’t have something momentous to announce.

One gimmick I particularly like is leveraging something else making news. I’m not talking about Kenneth Cole trying to link a fashion sale to the uprising in Egypt. You have to be more clever than that.

Several months ago, for example, a YouTube video featured two babies babbling back and forth to each other. Children’s Hospital of Boston blogger Tripp Underwood saw all the attention the video was getting and then realized the hospital had a speech language pathologist on staff.

Underwood interviewed Hope Dickinson and wrote a blog post that explained the science behind the video. There was great material in that post. There was no reason it couldn’t have served double duty as a press release.

This week, a great example comes out of the National Zoo, the Washington, D.C.-based zoo maintained by the Smithsonian Institution. A press release detailed how various animals at the zoo reacted to last week’s magnitude 5.8 earthquake.

If you think press releases are dead, you should give this one a read. Once you do, you won’t be able to tell me you weren’t fascinated by the fact that “about five to 10 seconds before the quake, many of the apes, including Kyle (an orangutan) and Kojo (a Western lowland gorilla pictured at left), abandoned their food and climbed to the top of the tree-like structure in the exhibit.”

You have to admit that it’s compelling reading to learn that “about three seconds before the quake, Mandara (a gorilla) let out a shriek and collected her baby, Kibibi, and moved to the top of the tree structure as well” and that “Iris (an orangutan) began ‘belch vocalizing’—an unhappy/upset noise normally reserved for extreme irritation—before the quake and continued this vocalization following the quake.”

You’ll also learn how beavers behaved, what small mammals and invertebrates did, and how the great cats reacted. You’ll probably be as amused as I was that the giant pandas just didn’t seem to give a damn.

This is great PR and great media relations in action. Numerous outlets—social and traditional media alike—picked this up. Mainly what it has going for it is that it’s timely, relevant, and interesting.

It takes a shift in mindset to be aware of current events and be able to make a connection the way Underwood at Boston Children’s Hospital and the folks at the National Zoo did. But it’s a far better approach than those mundane no-news news releases that so quickly find their way into the trash.

Shel Holtz is principal of Holtz Communication + Technology. He blogs at a shel of my former self, where a version of this story originally appeared.

Topics: PR

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