How to use a press release to get great coverage when you don’t have any news

Posted on August 24, 2011 2:53 pm by | Media | PR

Kojo, a lowland gorilla from the National Zoo“Get me some coverage,” the CEO says, so the communicator conjures up a press release even though the company doesn’t really have anything to announce. The press release hits the inbox of reporters and bloggers, who glance at it in disgust and drag it to the trash folder.

This dance is repeated thousands of times weekly. But it doesn’t have to be like that. There are smart, clever and creative ways to drum up coverage even if you don’t have something momentous to announce.

One gimmick I particularly like is leveraging something else making news. I’m not talking about Kenneth Cole trying to link a fashion sale to the uprising in Egypt. You have to be more clever than that.

Several months ago, for example, a YouTube video featured two babies babbling back and forth to each other. Children’s Hospital of Boston blogger Tripp Underwood saw all the attention the video was getting and then realized the hospital had a speech language pathologist on staff. So he interviewed Hope Dickinson and wrote a blog post that explained the science behind the video. There was great material in that post. There was no reason it couldn’t have served double duty as a press release.

Today, a great example comes out of the National Zoo, the Washington, D.C.-based zoo maintained by the Smithsonian Institution. A press release detailed how various animals at the zoo reacted to yesterday’s magnitude 5.8 earthquake.

If you think press releases are dead, you should give this one a read. Once you do, you won’t be able to tell me you weren’t fascinated by the fact that “about five to ten seconds before the quake, many of the apes, including Kyle (an orangutan) and Kojo (a Western lowland gorilla pictured at left), abandoned their food and climbed to the top of the tree-like structure in the exhibit.” You have to admit that it’s compelling reading to learn that “about three seconds before the quake, Mandara (a gorilla) let out a shriek and collected her baby, Kibibi, and moved to the top of the tree structure as well” and that “Iris (an orangutan) began ‘belch vocalizing’—an unhappy/upset noise normally reserved for extreme irritation—before the quake and continued this vocalization following the quake.”

You’ll also learn how beavers behaved, what small mammals and invertebrates did and how the great cats reacted. You’ll probably be as amused as I was that the giant pandas just didn’t seem to give a damn.

This is great PR and great media relations in action. I have no doubt several outlets—social and traditional media alike—will pick this up. Mainly what it has going for it is that it’s timely, relevant and interesting.

It takes a shift in mindset to be aware of current events and be able to make a connection the way Underwood at Boston Children’s Hospital and the folks at the National Zoo did. But it’s a far better approach than those mundane no-news news releases that so quickly find their way into the trash.



  • 1.Wow. Fantastic. And this story did in fact get coverage; I saw it on msnbc this afternoon!
    Great examples; these are the things that really require some serious creative juice and soooo much more fun than a press release full of you know what.

    Lisa Gerber | August 2011 | Chicago, IL

  • 2.Great headline, and great story . . .

    The headline was great because it grabbed my attention by suggesting the impossible -- you CAN'T EVER get great coverage if you don't have any news.

    The story was great because of how it actually debunked the headline by proving . . . you can always deliver a solid newsworthy story, if you are creative and resourceful.

    John Ribbler | August 2011 | Metro Atlanta, Georgia, USA

  • 3.This is actually right on the money - too often I've gotten pitches that really are reaching to make a link to a current event. Meanwhile, when there IS an event that has a legitimate link, too many PR professionals don't see it and don't take advantage.

    BTW - I don't know if this is already known - but newsrooms are especially parched on Mondays. Pitch to editors ( not reporters) when you know they're planning for the weekend. They'll snap up almost anything!

    Dionne N. Walker | August 2011 | United States

  • 4.I think I'm going to make "timely, relevant and interesting" my mantra.

    Reid Torrance | August 2011

  • 5.As a good press release, getting your news out hitch hiking on events still needs a creative mind.

    Bummer, I would that I was that creative.

    bram | September 2011 | NL

  • 6.HII Shel Holtz,
    Thanks for the valuable information. I like the fact that you are not supporting the rumors of press release being dead. From the very beginning, i knew the importance of press releases. i would highly recommend to go for a good press release writing,submission and distribution service provider. These kind of service providers understand exactly the formats and content that has to be written in it.

    Williams | August 2014 | UK

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