Getting positive media coverage isn’t something that usually happens by accident. When something good takes place in your practice, you have to let the media know about it so they’ll want to write about it or broadcast it to their readers, who are your clients, both current and potential. A press release incorporating the “5 Ws” of article writing (who, what, when, where and why) is an easy way to do this.
Press releases are something you might have learned about in that really boring business communications class you were forced to take during undergrad. What you learned then still applies: A well-written, thoughtfully sent press release can have an even greater reach now than it did pre-24/7 Internet availability.
Follow these guidelines to boost your practice’s PR success.
What Is a Press Release? A press release is simply a written statement to the media about something taking place in your practice. It includes any instructions to the media for using the information, a means for editors and readers to contact you, the “5 Ws” of your announcement, and a hook—why the reader should care about this news item.
“There is a fairly standard format for creating press releases. Your credibility is contingent on your presentation; therefore, pitching your story in the standard format is critical,” said Jed Schaible, VMD, MBA, CVPM, founder of The Vet Marketing Firm (vetmarketing.guru).
The article “Press Release Basics” on his website decodes the standard format of a press release—from the first line, “FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE” (which signals to an editor that this is a press release), to the “###” marking at the bottom of the page (which signifies that the press release text has ended).
“The press release should be approximately 300 to 400 words,” Schaible said. Too long and you’ll lose the editor’s and the reader’s interest. Any shorter than that, and you might not be including enough details to communicate your news well.
Why Bother with Press Releases?
Depending upon your practice’s location, you could be one of many equine veterinarians offering similar services. Your job as a practice owner or manager is to make sure your practice stands out. This comes by providing the best service possible, of course, and also by doing a good job of promoting this service.
Press releases are a free form of media attention. Unlike paid advertising, there is no guarantee that a press release will be placed in a newspaper or magazine or on a website. Taking the time to write and distribute a press release can be a gamble, but when the editor likes what he reads, it’s a bet that can pay big. The media outlet might publish your press release word-for-word; your press release might get edited for space constraints and to match the voice of the publication; or the editor could be intrigued by your news and contact you for more information to create a larger feature or interview you as a source for an upcoming story.
Any coverage that you receive can be publicized through your practice’s social media networks, such as Facebook and Twitter.
Press releases also give you fodder for your practice’s website, allowing you to update your “news” section often and making your website more searchable by Internet search engines.
If you produce a client newsletter, press releases are easy to convert into newsletter content.
When Should You Send a Press Release?
The more you are able to keep your name in front of editors in a newsworthy and relevant manner, the more they will come to recognize you as an expert in your field. At the same time, if you’re sending press releases for no reason at all, they might come to recognize you as a bit of a media pest. Here are seven good times to send a press release:
New hires. From interns to surgeons, growth or change in a practice is newsworthy and also shows the new hire that you are proud to add him/her to your team.
New specialties, technology or accreditations. Clients and potential clients will benefit from knowing you are offering something additional and perhaps something that wasn’t previously available in your area.
Expanded mobile coverage. If you’re now traveling farther or servicing a new area, horse owners there need to know.
A high-profile case, success using a new technique or other medically noteworthy achievement. Feel-good stories often do well in the media because everyone needs more positive things to read about.
Clinic events. Everything from open houses to educational events is worth promoting. Awards received. Don’t let a hard-earned award go to waste by not publicizing it.
Timely animal-care tips. Provide free, well-written tips that the media can print with credit to your practice. This provides them with free content and you with free publicity.
Who Is Your Audience?
Depending upon your topic, the audience that you want to reach with your press release message will change. The horse community that you serve is an obvious target audience for just about every press release-worthy topic there is.
When your press release deals with business-related news, let your local business community know about your successes. If the topic is medical in nature, other veterinarians could benefit from hearing about it. In dealing with news of your own success, your alma mater loves touting graduates’ good work. With these guidelines in mind, create your mailing lists.
Where Do You Send It?
“You will need to create a list of media contacts in your local area and reach out to them,” Schaible said. These include your town or county newspaper; local news websites, radio stations and television stations; your chamber of commerce and other membership-organization newsletters; and regional and discipline-specific horse magazines, websites and podcasts—plus media outlets related to the target audiences you identified above.
Editors and writers change jobs often, so keeping up with who to contact at which media outlet can be tricky. Keep a spreadsheet of your media contacts and make notes of the interactions that you have with them.
“Contact the editors (their email addresses are published on their websites) and express your interest in writing a weekly online or print column, or discuss with them the process of submitting a press release. PR has a lot to do with building relationships,” Schaible said.
Speaking of relationships, Schaible suggested checking with your clients and industry reps for media contacts. “You probably have accountants, lawyers, plumbers, teachers, truck drivers, etc., as clients. You also likely have publishers and editors as clients. Have a cameraman at the local Fox affiliate as a client? Network with that client to get an introduction to local editors. After all, with today’s 24/7 news cycle, local media publishers are starved for content.”
Email is the most common means of sending a press release. Think about the volume of email you receive in a day. Now think about the volume of email an editor or writer must receive. Putting the press release in the body of the email, rather than as an attachment, is very important, according to Schaible. “Publishers get so many press releases that they usually don’t take the time to download an attachment; so make it easy on them, and hopefully you can evade the publisher’s ‘delete’ button,” he advised.
As an alternative to sending press releases to individual media outlets, you can contract with a press release distribution website to do it for you. You pay for distribution based on the number of outlets you target. These could include newspapers with a certain radius of your practice, animal-specific publications, business-related magazines, etc.
While your press release should be written to maximize search engine optimization (SEO)—the use of keywords that you want Internet search engines to recognize, such as “veterinarian,” “equine,” “equestrian” or “horse”—it’s especially important when using a distribution website. “If you are publishing the press release to a PR distribution site, such as PRweb.com, it is vital that the first 100 words of the press release body include the top keywords that you are interested in promoting. Search engines weigh this text more heavily, and it is also read more by readers,” Schaible said.
Asking for Help
If writing press releases and doing PR work is simply beyond the scope of your practice manager’s abilities and experience, there are marketing agencies that can help—both agencies local to you and agencies with a concentration in veterinary marketing.
In addition to putting the press release writing into the hands of a professional, Schaible pointed out that agencies “have contacts and often work with other agencies in partnerships to augment distribution to key contacts.”
The amount you pay will vary based on your target audience: “Micro-local versus local versus regional versus national versus international,” Schaible said. “If a practice is looking to target a niche audience, such as veterinarians potentially referring to a specialty practice, that takes more work and will cost more.”
Search engine optimization of press releases that will be published online can cost an additional fee, too.
Check under the Resources>Downloads tab on EquiManagement.com for a press release template that you can use in your practice.
When looking at your marketing goals, keep press releases in mind. As “old school” as they might be—harkening back to well before your business communication class days—there is still a place for timely, well-written press releases in the new world of nonstop media.