An editor explains how media releases get attention

What would you ask an editor if you could pin them down?

Alan DeanAlan Dean is Editor of Selling Down Under, an award-winning online publication and blogsite targeting the international tourism industry. I put the questions to him that all small businesses want answered when they are seeking publicity:

Jane: Alan, as a magazine and blog editor, what persuades you to read a press release or article submitted for publication?

Alan: Selling Down Under receives an average of 40 press releases a day, and as editor I read them all. Several get deleted straight away because they have nothing to do with tourism in Australia, and that’s what Selling Down Under is all about. So make sure you understand the purpose of the publication you’re sending your release to.

Others get deleted because they don’t have an engaging message for our international audience: a basic hotel refurbishment or the appointment of a new assistant housekeeper is hardly likely to interest our travel industry readers in Europe or the United States. Understanding the readership segment of the publication is important.

I also tend to ignore stories about the opening of a fantastic new hotel – in five years’ time. The news needs to be of immediate or timely interest. We receive a lot of press releases that are strong on superlatives and short on useful information too: you can guess what happens to these!

Jane: And what persuades you to publish?

Alan: Well if your release survives the weeding process I’ve just described, you already have a good chance of getting coverage. What I look for in a release is a message that could call an international tour operator or travel agent to action – or at least persuade them to file the information for future consideration. Include this and you have a fair chance of being published.

Jane: What elements of a message make the difference between a short news story and a longer feature?

Alan: It’s a matter of copy-tasting. There are times when you look at a press release and you know there’s a good angle that deserves more space. In fact, it helps if you supply as many angles as possible in your release, without over-complicating it.

If I can give you a recent example, we received a press release about Bookabee Tours, an Aboriginal tour operator in South Australia that partners with upmarket accommodation and hotels that ‘foodies’ would enjoy. Great idea, great product – so we turned it into a double-page spread with pop-up PDF information on the accommodation options.

Another important point is to have good hi-resolution images, preferably taken by a professional, to back up the story you are telling. This helps an editor turn a story into a longer feature.

Jane: How do you choose content for your blogs?

Alan: We run various blogs at www.sellingdownunder.com. Our Product Update is a quick take that updates a reader’s product knowledge: new tour details, new properties opening – so this is where snippets of news are likely to be placed. Our Events Diary highlights happenings around Australia that could enhance a travel itinerary. By the way, anyone promoting an event should bear in mind that a publication targeting an international audience, like ours, needs the information at least three months before it takes place.

Then there’s my friend (or alter ego) Sir Lunchalot, who looks at the Good Life: this is basically a fun piece on restaurants, bars and so forth that I or my colleagues visit (and pay the bill!) from time to time. Having journalists experience your service or product is another way to get editorial attention.

Jane: What is your view of advertorial?

Alan: When I was a young journalist (and that was way back), advertorial was treated in the same way as sex before marriage or wearing brown boots to a funeral – a definite no-no. Times have changed, especially in an on-line environment where the old form of advertising doesn’t work as well (although we have come up with some interesting concepts).

Selling Down Under policy is to accept advertorial on the condition that we have a final say in editing, and that the material doesn’t ‘knock’ other product. On the other hand, you don’t have to advertise to get editorial exposure, and advertising doesn’t guarantee editorial exposure either.

Jane: What research would you advise tourism operators to undertake before submitting a press release?

Alan: Know what type of publication you are trying to reach by reading it and checking out the website. In our case, take the time to go to www.sellingdownunder.com and click on the magazine to get a feel for our approach. If you have something that you think slots in with our editorial style – go for it.

Jane: How much difference do photos make?

Alan: Good images make a one helluva difference. Always make sure you have some striking images available in hi-res (300 dpi minimum) – and use a professional photographer to get a set of about a dozen different shots that promote the product. There’s no need to send them with the article or release, but let the recipient know they are available – and respond to requests by return e-mail, not in a couple of weeks’ time.

Jane: What frustrates you most when dealing with operators who are chasing editorial coverage?

Alan: I am never frustrated by operators who try to get editorial coverage – as long as they have a story to tell (remember, no refurbishments or multi-million dollar logo makeovers).

Actually one thing that did annoy me was when a certain hotel chain charged me for incoming faxes when I stayed with them as a paying guest, and then bombarded me with PR faxes about their properties: they couldn’t understand why I invoiced them for the faxes. No they didn’t pay, but I think they got the message. A good journalist won’t expect to be treated like royalty, but basic hospitality is essential if you want to make a good impression.

Jane: What impresses you most?

Alan: Passion. It’s something that can come across or be totally missing in press releases. Don’t go over the top and smother a good story with glowing adjectives, but be genuine and show that you know and love your product. If you can do that, you can win over this old cynic. Add to that quick follow-up when asked for more details.

Jane: How do you measure your readership figures and demographics? In other words, how can a business be sure that editorial about them is reaching their target audience?

Alan: Big brother is on our side. We have software in place that tells all we need to know. When we email details of the latest edition (currently to more than 15,000 registered key travel industry readers around the world), we can tell within 48 hours who read what, when and for how long. So we know that the stories are seen and read by our target audience and tailor our content according to what interests them most.

Jane: Finally, if you could give one piece of advice to a small business wanting international publicity, what would it be?

Alan: I’m going to give three pieces of advice:
First, ask yourself: am I ready for the international market? For example, tourism businesses need to fully understand the commission structure. You need to be able to deliver once you get attention.
Second, if your state has an accreditation system for your industry, make sure you go through the paces. Tourism operators targeting an international market should also join the Australian Tourism Export Council (ATEC). With accreditation and ATEC membership you have much more credibility, and there will be similar organisations for other industries.
Lastly, use the services of a reliable PR company that has an appropriate industry background, understands your target market and will help you through the trenches.