After my last article (“Telling Your Store Story,” D&WC, January 2003, page 58), a friendly and successful small retailer called: “Why,” he asked, “do you go on so about the values of PR, or personal releases, as you call them? Your motives are good, but you fail to counter the real reasons why we independent ‘smalls’ hesitate to make use of our local media, as you suggest.” He went on:
1. “We have trouble with writing, except to raise prices, as
you have inferred in past articles. (Laughter.)
2. “We can’t afford to hire some overpaid hack writer like
you to do our releases. (More laughter.)
3. “We have little time, money or inclination for other PR stuff,
such as fact sheets, press parties and follow-up calls, as you suggest.”
4. “Our local newspaper and radio station are now owned by a
big conglomerate with offices way off somewhere in Timbuktu. It’s
not easy or worthwhile to become acquainted with their editors and
reporters, who seem to come and go on a merry-go-round. These revolving-door
staff people seldom get active in our community, except to push for
more ad revenue. It’s easier for them to use standard PR handout
reports from government groups or big agencies and businesses.
5. “You’ve listed the ‘who, what, why and where’
of press releases. Isn’t it time for you to show and tell us
about the ‘how-to’ of planning and writing such releases?
6. “Besides, some of us small retailers have stayed in business
for many years with discounters hacking away at us from every side.
We’ve survived on ‘word-of-mouth’ customer reports
about our service and know-how, even against mighty Wal-Mart, the
scourge of small-town businesses. We’ve managed mostly without
all your PR releases and big ad budgets.”
I thanked him for his pointed and appropriate comments, although I
disagreed with his joking comment about “overpaid” editors.
I said that maybe his survival struggle against discounters might
have been somewhat easier and effective had he made use of PR to supplement
the word-of-mouth referrals he relied on so much.
I suggested that maybe he and his peers among window coverings retailers
everywhere really needed to utilize the power and potential of Word-of-Mouth
Plus (WOMP). Press releases are not all that difficult or impossible
to plan and use, either in cost or time. It does involve some thought
and planning, though. Here are some samples along with a few basics.
DON’T SWEAT THE DETAILS
Most would-be writers are too concerned about the processes of writing.
They have a writer’s block problem before they even get started.
They fear the details of grammar, punctuation and choice of words.
(Trying to please former English teachers stops many writers, even
from writing e-mail.)
News is the important essential in any news release. Start with the
Five Ws of reporting: who, what, when, where and why. Those vital
facts should be included in the first paragraphs of your report.
Then, explain the details in following paragraphs. Organize them in
order of importance to the article. Put any “editorial”
or selling comments near the end. When editors cut and condense stories,
they chop at the end and work up—usually. Sometimes they must
rewrite entirely to condense facts, eliminate comments and erase sales
Be honest; do not stretch the truth, fabricate facts or try to make
a pitch in your releases. Editors will catch “puffery” in
a hurry and may ignore it and future releases for that reason. Keep
your news as short and direct as possible. (How many times have you
heard that suggestion to “keep it simple”?)
Once you have finished, double-check your spelling. I know I told
you above not to sweat details, but editors have a thing about misspelled
words. They don’t have time to check your spelling like a teacher.
They may take time to correct a gross grammatical error (assuming
the release is worthy of selection), but should a misspelled word
slip past, it reflects on them. If they get a complaint from a boss
or reader, they may react by tossing out your next effort.
So, use your computer or dictionary to check questionable words. And,
if your grammar is really gross, maybe you should ask a friend or
family member to read your release and correct any grammatical errors.
It’s no big deal, and it might help your chance of usage.
A NEWSWORTHY EVENT
Here is an example of how one window coverings retailer took advantage
of a local newsworthy event. The imaginary retailer is Jane Doe, a
decorator/designer with her own window coverings studio in a small
town anywhere in the USA.
Her studio/store has been asked by a well-known local charitable group
to design and install custom window treatments in a model home for
a new “mid-priced and up” home development in her marketing
area. The charity is a decorating guild for the local “memorial”
hospital. Members of the guild will conduct tours of the model during
a local “Home Show” as a fundraiser for its room-decorating
project at the hospital, a respected and worthy cause.
Doe’s name and studio will be featured in newspaper/radio ads,
mailings and in-the-home signage by both the guild and developer.
They suggest that she will want to take advantage of her selection
by running tie-in ads and publicity of her own. She checks out details
of the event and its potential for attracting new prospects for her
business. She decides that the event is a “natural” for
1. The story will involve other local businesses and a respected local
service/charity group with some prominent members and active or potential
2. The story will be of interest to numerous other people in the community
and local marketing area. The newspaper will promote the event with
extra desirable publicity to encourage project suppliers to advertise
their participation in the worthwhile community project. After all,
the newspaper is in business to make a profit, too.
3. Jane Doe and her studio/store will gain added awareness among her
ideal prospects, a mid- to upper-income audience of homeowners and
others interested in home décor. She can expect increased potential
for in-home leads, in-store appointments and increased business.
She agrees to participate with an enthusiastic “yes” and
prepares her first press release on her own letterhead, as follows:
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
May 1, 2003
Contact: Jane Doe
(street address & phone number)
Doe To Do Windows For Guild Model Home
Ms. Jane Doe of Doe’s Decorating announces that her studio has
been selected to design and install the window treatments for a model
home in the new “Majestic Villas” development now under
construction at (address) by Hail Builders of (address). When completed,
the model will be featured in a May Home Tour and fundraising event
sponsored by the Memorial Hospital Decorating Guild to be held (dates).
The Guild will use the proceeds for decorating and furnishing hospital
Ms. Doe is a certified window decorating specialist and has created
unique custom designs for many fine homes in our area. Her arrangements
will be coordinated with colors and furniture in rooms throughout
the model. She will choose from her name-brand fabric selections to
add the elegance of luxurious draperies with classic valances in the
more formal rooms. For functional rooms and casual areas, she will
use contemporary pleated fabric shades, wood shutters and horizontal
Treatments will be fabricated by Doe’s workroom from her ideas
and collections of luxurious fabrics; also from the studio’s
assortment of alternate window coverings and interior fashion accessories.
Jane Doe offers complete in-store and in-home consultations service.
Call (phone no.) for an appointment and free price estimates.
# # #
(End of release)
That’s it, a standard one-page release with necessary information
and a minimum of added puffery about business and products. The editor,
who receives many such releases, likely will pick it to run in a local
news, business or home fashion section of the newspaper for one or
more of the following reasons.
1. The article involves reputable local firms and a worthy charitable
group with prominent local citizen members.
2. The news will be of interest to home-oriented readers and potential
3. Jane Doe and her studio/store will gain added awareness along with
in-home leads, appointments and in-store sales. It may encourage her
to do more advertising, which might influence the editor’s pick-up
of future PR releases to some small degree.
PHOTO ALWAYS GOOD
The above reasons may be incentive enough for an editor to single
out and run your release. But, don’t expect it to be printed
word for word. Just hope that an editor is interested enough to use
it, and that the final printed version will contain the gist of your
story. Editors will condense or enlarge PR copy to fit in page space
Jane Doe could enhance the odds for awareness of her release by including
a black and white photograph print of herself. A personal photo should
be at least five by seven inches in size and of professional studio
quality. Suggestion: Keep a few such prints on hand for releases and
other possibilities, such as special sections or other fund-raising
events by some local civic or charitable group. (Reminder: Small candid
snapshots in black & white or color will seldom, if ever, be used.)
Always include a caption for your photo. Don’t staple it to the
photo; use Scotch tape instead. Your caption should be as short and
to the point as possible, too. Here’s an example:
(Caption for DOE release)
DOE PICKED BY GUILD. Jane Doe of Doe’s Decorating Studio will
design, coordinate and install window settings for the Memorial Hospital
Decorating Guild’s model home, to be featured in local home show
event, May 20-25.
# # #
FOLLOW UP RELEASES
I’ve noted above some reasons why your release will probably
be picked and run. The show event should be an ideal item for a feature
article in a “Home” or similar section of the paper. If
the local editor is on the ball, she might do a feature article on
the model home, along with information (or releases) about the various
participants, and how the funds received will be used in the hospital.
To add interest, the editor will want several photos of Guild officers
admiring some setting in the home. If Jane Doe is on the ball she
will arrange to have the group pose in front of one of her beautiful
window settings. That might prove difficult and time-consuming to
arrange. So Jane could plan for her own similar photos (people and
setting) by a professional or good amateur photographer.
Then she could prepare another PR release, including the above photo
and her designs for the model, which would read something like this:
Press Release—please run on same date as Home Show Report,
(Jane Doe would prefer to have her release used on the same date as
the Model Home feature, which the editor might be able to do.)
Model’s Window Settings a Mix of Nostalgia and Function
(The headline may not be used as above. The editor will probably change
Jane Doe of Doe’s Decorating studio has combined romance and
function in her window treatment designs for the Memorial Hospital
Decorating Guild’s model home tour to be used as the Guild’s
yearly fund raiser during a May 20-25 Home Show at (location of the
In the living room, dining room and master bedroom, Doe has chosen
new designer fabric panels hung from reproductions of fanciful, early
20th-century, wrought-iron drapery rods with matching ring slides.
Elegant swags, in coordinated colorful fabric panels, are draped over
the rods to accent the overall romantic effects.
In the large family room, the builder has included areas for home
theater, audio and computer usage. For those areas, bedrooms, bath
and kitchen windows, she has opted for more functional, 21st-century
window decorating products, from sophisticated yet warm pleated fabric
shades, select hardwood blinds and new-style horizontal shades.
Doe explained her decorating objectives for the various rooms: “The
house will appeal to today’s buyers who want a larger home with
all of today’s modern facilities and electronic services, yet
with the desired look and feel of a traditional family home. I’ve
tried to combine these desires for romance and function in planning
the window settings. I think the window designs enhance the special
ambience and functional needs of each room.”
Doe plans to be present, as much as possible, during show times to
answer any questions about the planning and installation of the window
treatments. She also will be glad to answer such questions at her
studio. Just call Jane Doe at Jane Doe Decorators (address and phone
number) where photos of each setting are displayed.
# # #
(End of release)
Jane Doe will want to find other usages for these photos and show
stories. She will expand the word-of-mouth potential of her personal
time and limited funds she has invested in the project. She will use
prints of window settings in her showroom for in-store consultations
and sales. For a small extra cost, she can have some or all of the
treatments enlarged and framed for display in her showroom. She will
use the larger prints for both sales and image building. The very
fact that she was picked to do the model home will have a carry-over
image building impact that she can take advantage of for months and
years to come.
She will prepare portfolios of the prints for herself and other staff
designer/decorators to utilize for their in-home consultations. The
added prestige may help close sales calls.
She will want to inform her regular and prospective customers about
her part in the home and show with a personal letter or a small, well-designed
direct mail folder. A postcard could be used also, but a simple and
classy letter or folder would bring added prestige.
She could arrange to schedule her own personal and private tours for
some of her better prospects during off-hours at the home show. The
tour could even be part of a short seminar or a window decorating
class. It might be difficult to set up and conduct such an unusual
event, but it could bring added word-of-mouth power. It’s something
to think about anyway.
If Jane Doe has a Web Site, she can promote her release article and
exploit its importance on the Internet and in e-mail messages to her
customer data bank. Other marketing tools, such as personal letters,
newsletters and mailers might be used. There may be other communication
possibilities that Jane Doe might make use of, but the extra effort
needed may not be worth Jane’s precious time.
At one time, local radio personalities might have been interested
in such local publicity, but now most “local” radio is a
conglomerate mishmash of pop music and broad-area talk shows. Your
community may still have a local disc jockey and newscaster, in which
case it might be worth a phone call to find out. But, even so, the
listening audience may not be the audience you want to reach. Local
cable TV is a possibility, at least for bulletins about the May home
show event. Like radio, the viewers may not include potential prospects
for your window treatments.
The point is to utilize every possibility to spread the impact and
power of your word-of-mouth advertising. The sales and long-range
potential may be well worth your investment of time and funds.
Next article: How to follow up on your releases along with samples,
and how to plan your own newsworthy events.
John J. Lichty is a consultant and senior editor for Draperies
& Window Coverings magazine. He has more than 30 years experience
in the planning and administration of various consumer, trade and
retail advertising programs.