The freedom of the press release

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Local newspapers are full of photos of local people like Torquay’s mayor meeting a local hotelier, their staff and guests. ALAN PAYLING

Alan Payling considers the opportunities for free publicity that are available to coach operators via press releases for their local newspapers

Iwas speaking to a coach operator’s son the other day, who was wondering why the coach trade press hadn’t publicised the fact that the family firm had recently bought a new coach.

I had always assumed that it was the supplier, who, after taking a photo of a new coach with the purchaser standing proudly next to it when it was being collected, would then submit a print to the editor of CBW. [wlm_nonmember][…]

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I suggested that the next time they bought a new coach that they either take a photo themselves or get a copy of the one the supplier takes and send it in themselves. The editor will then decide whether or not to publish the story.

I also suggested that while they were sending a copy of the story about their new coach to CBW, that there could also be some benefit to be obtained by sending the story and a photo to the local newspapers in the area where they pick up passengers.

The outcome could be some very welcome free publicity. Existing and potential customers would be informed that the coach operator has a brand new coach, with all the latest safety features and modern facilities to make their journey safe and comfortable.

Also, there would be some worthwhile brand recognition going on. Having a ‘good news’ story in the local press can only be seen as attracting positive kudos to the operator, simply by being featured in the paper.

Coverage in the local press 

For a story of an operator’s choosing and over which they have some degree of control to appear in a local newspaper, two things will be required: one, a press release; and two, a photograph or two that illustrates the story the operator wants to tell.

To some, the most daunting part of the process of getting free publicity could be writing a press release. Fear not. This is not hard. Trust me.

The aspect of writing a press release that some might find difficult is not just writing one, but fears about using the right grammar and the Queen’s English correctly.

Fret not. Don’t worry about it. Why? Firstly, operators would be doing their local newspaper a big favour by submitting a story in the first place.

While the paper would prefer it if operators were calling about placing an ad, they are also publishing a newspaper, so without local news about people in their area, they’re going to have a very dull publication.

In other words, they have to fill space with stories.

One such story could well be about the £300,000 a local operator has just spent on a new coach that isn’t going to contribute to the polluted air in places like London, as it complies with up-to-date emissions standards.

So, the reporter who’s sat at their desk at the local paper is just waiting for stories to pop up in their email inbox.

When the reporter reads a press release, they might cringe a bit at the grammar – if they do, then tough – but if they are going to use the story, then they will punctuate it according to their interpretation of what constitutes the Queen’s English these days.

For many people who write for a living, grammar is an art, not a science.

You only have to read a book about grammar to realise that the punctuation of today is not what it was 50 years ago and as such, grammar, like language, changes over time.

Professional writers themselves have differing views about commas, for example, so don’t get bogged down with all that.

If the story is going to be used, the reporter or the sub-editor may well redraft the whole thing anyway and it will end up looking very different to the piece an operator submitted.

As a very simplistic rule of thumb, if an operator is going to submit a press release, they should remember three things about grammar: start a sentence with a capital letter, end it with a full stop, write short sentences and let the spellchecker work out the rest.

Above all else, don’t worry about written English: if a letter has grammatical errors, no newspaper is going to include them. Well, not deliberately anyway.

Get the facts right
What an operator does need to concentrate on in a press release are the facts.

We covered the delivery of Alexcars Coaches’ MOBIpeople Explorer from BASE Coach Sales in CBW1356. SARAH DAY

This shouldn’t be too hard. An operator could apply the old yardstick of the five ws and the h: the who, the what, the where, the when, the why and the how much – if they want to be scientific, that is. But again, don’t worry too much about it.

An operator might not want to disclose how much their new coach cost, so that cuts out the ‘how much’ from the story.

But, as many people I speak to outside the industry don’t realise how much a brand new coach costs and are very surprised indeed when I tell them, then that very fact might help an operator justify the prices of their holidays and private hires when someone calls them up to make a booking.

If anyone wants to tell the story about a new coach – and that’s what an operator is doing, telling a story – as they are the expert here, then they should just remember the facts – and not just the facts about their new coach, but about their business as well.

They could start by reminding the reader how long their firm has been serving the local community; so add a sentence about the company’s history.

What make and model is the new coach? Why have they chosen that make and model? What are the features about the coach that will appeal to the reader of the paper?

There might be some who will be thrilled that a local operator has bought a coach that is fitted with a particular make of tyre – probably the local tyre fitter – but my guess is that the number of seats, the air-conditioning, the on-board toilet, the free WiFi, the forward facing cameras, the servery, the fridge and the extra leg room of a tri-axle will all be of more interest to the readers of the local paper.

When drafting a press release, if push comes to shove, an operator could just say they have bought a new coach, list the coach’s features, add their contact information, sort out a photo and send it in.

Before they do, an operator would do well to call the paper’s newsroom and make contact with a reporter, and then email the press release across.

If an operator hasn’t had much to do with the local paper, chances are that the paper’s reporter will call back anyway to double check the source of the story and to ask a few more questions.

But above all else, just remember, it’s the paper that is going to write the story; all the operator has to do is supply the facts.

CBW’s Deliveries section and news pages cover operators’ new acquisitions each week

Illustrate the press release
Any story is going to be vastly improved if there’s a photo to accompany it. If an operator has a good photo from the supplier of their new coach, then great.

If there is someone in the firm with a half decent camera, then get them to take a photo of the coach and send that in.

Try to find a decent location for the photo and not in a yard fenced off with corrugated iron sheets that is full of old engines, gearboxes and puddles.

Do it on a sunny day as well. Alternatively, you could ask the paper if they could send a staff photographer along.

If anyone is going down that route, then it would be worthwhile thinking about the theme of the story and thereby of the photo.

A story about a new coach on its inaugural journey that is full of local people is a gift to a local newspaper.

In itself, it could serve as a promotional outing in more ways than one.

An operator could send an email to their passengers saying the first 50 people to reply will get a free trip to a local garden centre.

Hey presto, the new coach is in the local paper full to bursting with happy, smiling local people. While we’re on the subject of photos, if an operator has photos available dating back to when his/her parents or grandparents started the firm, send them in.

A bit of fresh news coupled with a bit of local nostalgia is gold dust here.

There are plenty of other stories that would be of interest to the local press.

Coach operators and their staff are always winning awards for something or other.

Again, this is bread and butter for the local rag. Just won coach of the year award? Bang it in. An operator will get some very welcome kudos with that sort of story.

Where an operator already has a relationship with the local newspaper because they regularly place adverts for their holidays with the paper, then getting a better deal should be no problem.

What about a feature about the operator’s new brochure that has just been launched? What about all those new holidays the operator is offering next year? Haggling with a newspaper should not be a problem at all for someone who spends their time buying and selling as part of their working life.

I’ve noticed that lots of operators provide sponsorship in one form or another to local sports people. Again, it’s local news about local people for a paper that wants to fill up the sports pages.

Local love
A couple of things to bear in mind: people just love seeing themselves or people they know in the local paper – when they haven’t broken the law, that is. Have a look at your local paper. It will be full of stories about local people.

There are of course no guarantees that the local paper will run a story, but if they don’t hear from coach operators, then for sure they won’t print anything about the coach trade; they’re far too busy sorting out everybody else’s press releases.

Finally, a few years ago I was writing a story for CBW about a new coach a local hotel had just bought.

In addition to photographing the new coach, the local mayor was invited to pose along with the group that was visiting the hotel that week.

That’s always worth noting: local councillors just love getting their picture in the paper.

When I was talking to the hoteliers, we decided to send the photos I took and a press release to the local paper as well.

Shortly afterwards the paper ran the story and a photograph taking up half a page. How much would it cost to place a half page ad in a local paper?

Well, if operators call their local paper, they’ll soon find out, and they’ll also find out that to get that sort of coverage virtually free of charge is one of life’s absolute bargains.