PRESS KITS: WHAT, WHEN, WHERE AND HOW
by Tom Rankin, APR
What is a press kit? We PR connoisseurs like to think of a press kit as a bottle of fine wine with which we slake the media's insatiable thirst when a single glass of our client's bouquet is insufficient. For the rest of the world, however, a press kit is simply a folder containing information of various types tailored to a specific event. Kits are standard fare for press conferences, tours, briefings, trade shows, and other events where there is the likelihood (providing our prayers are answered) that the press will attend in significant numbers. They are also particularly suitable for providing an individual editor with background information: for example, when working on an exclusive story.
Press kit folders usually have a double-pocket, die-cut for business cards, and are usually printed (often in elaborate color) or labeled to indicate the company and the nature of the event. In general, press kits should contain the following types of information:
• A letter or some sort of introductory piece explaining the purpose of the kit. In the case of a kit for a press conference or event, the letter can thank the editor for attending, explain the purpose of the event, outline the contents of the kit, and provide agenda details or other instructions. In the case of a trade show, the kit will usually contain a Show Overview Release summarizing the main items to be introduced or exhibited at the show. It is also not uncommon to include a table of contents for the kit.
• A fact sheet, or backgrounder on the company and/or the technology being introduced. Company background information can also be provided by means of corporate capability brochures, annual reports, etc. The use of sales literature, however, is not recommended, unless it delivers a high level of objective content. Editors are trained from infancy to filter out and ignore "sales talk" (in fact, you can often tell how experienced an editor is by noting how fast his eyes glaze over at the mention of words like 'unique!' and 'revolutionary!').
• A press release or releases on the product/s being introduced or exhibited. Contrary to popular belief, it is not necessary that every product described in these releases be new, or even that the releases themselves be new. All that is required is that they be honest. It is perfectly appropriate, in the case of a trade show kit, to include a release on last year's product, so long as the release plainly states that it is being "exhibited," not introduced. Nor is it necessary, as is the case with general news releases, to keep really new product or technology releases within the two to two-and-a-half page limit. Brevity is not necessarily a virtue in this situation, and if it takes ten pages to adequately describe a new product, then by all means use ten pages. Do bear in mind, however, that if eight of those pages are blowing smoke, you will pay the price for having wasted the editor's time.
• Short application releases on the use of the product or technology. Sometimes a Lead Sheet can be included which describes a series of applications or story topics that can be developed around the technology or theme of the event. Direct contacts can be provided, or not. Personally, I would rather talk topics with specific editors than allow them to rush blindly off to my client's customers. That way we can provide better control over our message, and help ensure that two editors don't end up dedicating "exclusive" space to the same story. (The downside is, they usually won't make the effort to develop an open lead story without some assurance that it is exclusive. In short, if you toss leads out like chicken feed, you must be content with what the chickens leave in return.)
• Photos of all and sundry. Glossy prints used to be de rigueur, with separately printed captions pasted on and folded over the print to protect it. These days, we print thumbnail sheets in color with captions below, and provide digital photo files on an enclosed CD or in the FTP section of our website for download.
• Speeches, bios and other informational content. Depending on the event, several other types of material may be relevant for inclusion in a press kit. For a press conference, speeches and bios of key individuals should be included. For events, copies of in-house newsletters or other event-related materials may be appropriate. For shows, content-heavy collateral materials may be used. For example, one of our clients makes robotics equipment, and we often include a 32-page, pocket Selection Guide we produced as it provides a lot of in-depth background.
Two keys should serve as guides in kit development. The first is that press kits are simply what their name implies: informational kits that editors use to construct their stories. Thus, everything that goes into them should be considered grist for the editorial mill. The second is that like all communications, you do best when you structure your content to meet the needs of the audience. In the case of kits for trade shows, understand that the editor is going to rifle through your kit, pull out what he or she wants, then throw the rest away. Don't worry about what's tossed, focus on making "keepers."
As for how fancy you should get in producing press kit folders, a good rule of thumb is to make them consistent with the level of your other collateral communications. Editors don't really care. Their interest is in the quality of the information, not the packaging. However, trying to present yourself as an industry giant in a plain manila folder doesn't work so well either. Also, consider additional uses for the folders you do produce. Press kit quantities are seldom sufficient to warrant four-color production, but if kits can double as low-key literature carriers, or quotation folders, a high-quality, long-run job may be in order.
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