Not getting positive press coverage for your business? Seven quick steps to turn that around.

By John Vita, former Director of Global Public Relations at Arthur Andersen, and now Managing Partner of John Steven Vita Communications.

We surveyed more than 100 journalists around the world at major newspapers, radio and TV stations, magazines and news wire services. While there were slight variations based on region on some issues, there was one unanimous finding: they don’t think the press releases and pitch materials that PR people send them are very good. In fact, 90% said that what they receive is deleted after only reading the email subject line – never opening the email.

Which makes this all the more troubling as the value of positive press coverage in outlets like The Wall Street Journal, Financial Times, Economist, CNBC and Harvard Business Review is enormous, especially when you then take that press coverage and amplify it further through social media. Those two present the greatest ROI in raising brand awareness.

I am not saying abandon the press, but let’s be smarter in working with them. Here are eight tips to consider in writing a press release for the purpose of getting a journalist to use it:

  1. Brevity is key. Do not write it like a white paper – never more than two pages.
  1. Don’t write it like a lawyer: “Cloud International (“Cloud” or the “Company”),” because it makes it harder for the journalist to work with and no one I know talks like this (other than a lawyer).
  1. Make sure the subject has not been recently covered. If the subject has been covered, you’ll need a first contrarian point of view. “Me-to” stories don’t get off the ground very well.
  1. Avoid headlines and sub-heads that are philosophical and not fact based, positioning yourself as an expert with Bill Gates, Warren Buffett or Richard Branson. Make sure to answer the questions: so what, who cares, what’s in it for me?
  1. Don’t bury key facts in the back of the press release. The most important data points need to be in the headline and sub-head, and included in your email subject line. You aren’t writing a screenplay in which in the end, you solve the problem. Get the facts out first, then write the short narrative afterwards.
  1. The press release will most likely need a local angle (who will be impacted) and a time peg (why they should run the story now). For instance, Detroit press will most likely not be interested in something happening in Phoenix that does not impact people in Detroit.
  1. Avoid lots of long quotes from a number of senior level executives in your company. This is good for making everyone happy and not in getting a journalist to use it. One quote, 2-3 sentences in the second of third paragraph is all you need.
And if you are considering hiring a PR firm, make sure that your account person knows what is newsworthy (and can demonstrate past success in the area), and is creative enough to make something newsworthy when it isn’t.