I’m Ann Byle, a CAN member from way back. I’m a freelance writer for The Grand Rapids Press in Grand Rapids, Mich., as well as other publications including Kyria.com and Publishers Weekly. Before turning freelance 13 years ago, I was the book review editor at The Press. I received many press releases then; as a freelancer I have often done stories based on hard copy or email press releases.
There is a fine line between sending a press release too early and sending it too late. Too early and the assigning editor loses it in the pile on her desk or in his back emails. Too late and the editor can’t get someone to do the story to make the section deadline.
There are a number of sections in the newspaper printed early (for example, our local Your Life section for Sunday is printed the Wednesday before, which means stories must be done the Friday before that) so press releases must arrive early enough to accommodate those deadlines. Our Saturday Religion section must have stories turned in by Tuesday night at the very latest, which means stories must be assigned the week before.
So, first, figure out which section of the newspaper you’re targeting and find out when the section is printed. For the sections printed daily, such as Region/Metro, the A section, Sports, and Business, early press releases are nice but not mandatory. These editors and reporters are used to working on a quick deadline. Still, give them a few days before the event you’d like covered.
I suggest sending a press release two weeks before an event you want in the daily, and three weeks ahead for sections printed early. If it’s an especially big event, send it four weeks early and follow up with another release a week later, then another. Follow up on all press releases if you don’t hear anything. It’s best to do this via email, which means you’ll need to find out which editor or reporter to email. Most stories and mastheads now contain email addresses for reporters and/or editors.
The assigning editor must have time to assign the story and the reporter must have time to write it, which means contacting you for an interview, doing the interview, arranging art, and actually writing the story.
Website may be a different story, seeing as a website can post whatever you send. But websites also have regular reporters who write stories, some based on press releases.
Magazines? They work 2-3 months out most of the time so you’ll have to send way early. Local magazines and newspapers often have an events calendar that you can use, usually for free. Send your even notice to the most appropriate calendar (Religion, Book, Cultural Arts, etc.), making sure to put “Calendar Item” in the message field or on the envelope and address it to the appropriate person.
Email or hard copy press releases? Both work, but you have to get them to the correct person at the newspaper or magazine. I tell people they can do things one of two ways:
1. Send a press release to the newspaper and hope it catches the eye of the right editor, or the editor you send it to has time to consider and assign the story. The benefit of this is that you go right to the newspaper and the editor you want. The downside is that press releases get lost amid the chaos.
2. Contact a freelancer you know, who can then ask the publication about a story. The newspaper (hopefully) trusts the freelance to give them good story ideas, which the editor can then assign with a few keystrokes. (Something like, “Good idea, Ann. Please write the story and get it to me by . . .”) The benefit is that there is a known writer offering a story that she’s willing to write for that editor. The downside is that you’re not going right to the newspaper itself.
While I haven’t specifically addressed radio stations and other forms of media, the same principles apply: send early but not too early, search out the appropriate person to send it to, and follow up.