Motorsports Press Release Writing and Distribution 101
KBru: With the rapid expansion of social media, traditional forms of communication are slowly becoming the less preferred methods of communication. However, in the era of instant updates and the demand for immediate news, the quality of traditional communication doesn’t become any less important.
Every writer likes to do press release in their own unique style, and in motorsports, normal press release rules are thrown out the window. Some drivers and teams can afford to hire professional Public Relations Representatives involved in the industry, whereas budgets or egos may force a brand to hire someone less experienced or write it themselves.
Looking in from the outside, it’s easy to critique another’s press releases. We’ve all hit ‘Send’ only to catch a typo a minute too late (repeat offender, right here), been pressured by management to direct attention away from a car or driver error, suffered through numerous drafts with several contributors, and of course, we’ve all had to write a press release that hardly qualified as news. In addition to all that, PR representatives have to factor in timing. No media member wants to wait more than 48 hours for a release, nor do they want to see a news alert at 11:30pm, or five minutes before the end of the work day.
The main purpose of a press release is to inform the public about a topic or event: who, what, when, where, why, quotes, photos. It’s simple enough, but politics or simple ignorance usually convolute the task at hand, and recipients of the releases can end up getting annoyed and frustrated.
I teamed up with PR rock star Monica Hilton, owner of 242MPH, to put together a How-To for the basics of writing and distributing a press release, based on what we’ve learned through our own experiences. Finally, I enlisted Journalist Tony DiZinno of Motorsports Talk and SportsCar365 and Justin Bell, driver turned TV host, to shed light on what they, as media members, look for in news distributions.
First up: The Quotes
“Herding cats” is possibly the most used phrase in motorsports public relations. When it’s time to write the press release, the first step is usually to gather quotes from the key players: drivers, and a team owner, manager or strategist. This in itself can be time consuming when everyone lives in different countries, or when at the track, all necessary players are already getting pulled in various directions. Track them down, record the quote, and transcribe.
Remember to use key players only. I once worked for a race team that would insist on including a quote from the sponsor’s director of marketing, much to the annoyance of the TV broadcasting crew and other media members. Corporations: unless you’re announcing a new partnership, nobody wants to hear from your head of marketing. Let your brand ambassadors, such as drivers or team managers, do the talking.
After you’ve transcribed the quotes, then it’s time to review. People speak differently than they write, and it’s the PR Rep’s job to make sure their spoken words read well and can be used by media around the world for their own pieces. Eliminate some of the “You know” “I think” “I guess” remarks. If your sentence is more effective without it, eliminate it. Correct all the brand names. Change “I’m excited to be running in Tudor” to “I’m excited to be running in the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship.”
Insert Catchy Title Here
Your title can be unique, but also needs to briefly and clearly state what your release is about. “Flying Lizard Motorsports Earns Victory at Circuit of the Americas” is a good example, as it provides who, what and where in less than one line. Bad example: “Pirelli World Challenge Team Flying Lizard Motorsports Earns Dominating GT Victory at Circuit of the Americas in Austin Texas in Season Opener.” So many times, we see an entire press release shoved into a title, taking up multiple lines. Remember that in a typical email inbox, 5-6 words are only visible in the subject line, and that’s your main way to captivate the recipient’s attention. Most developmental race series will push that you enter the entire series name into the title. If you can use some kind of shortened version, do it and just add the whole series name into the byline.
Most media members prefer your body is written in APA Style format. If you don’t know what that is, look it up and take note. It provides a universal way of writing professionally, but is not required. Provide the city, state, date, and then a brief opening that quickly tells the readers what your release is about. From there, dive into the who, what, when, where and why.
It’s important in a press release to stick to the facts. As a writer, leave your personal opinion out of it. We hate to see bias news on TV or in journalism, so don’t create it in your press release. Parents: your racer is not the fastest in the world. Spin them as such, and we’ll roll our eyes and go to the next email.
Close out the body of your release by telling your readers what’s coming up next. Finish the release off with the necessary boiler plates. A boiler plate is your “About” section. It gives you the opportunity to tell your readers about the main brands of the press release (driver, team, sponsors, etc) without re-introducing your brand in the main body, convoluting your breaking news.
Monica: What bothers me most about the standard press release is the fact that it’s standard. In racing, we get used to a “Great race for [input team name]… lead [input number] of laps… driver said [input “proud of the team” quote]… strategist quote… next race is [input number] of days…” format. For media that are looking for that info, it fits the bill. For everyone else, they’re receiving the exact same release from every single team, just with different quotes and numbers.
I’m very appreciative of the clients I have that allow me to be innovative with the way we put out information that historically has gone out in a release. There are a number of ways to change it up, and when you allow your PR/marketing company to think outside the box, or better yet, since I hate that saying, as if there is no box! I think creativity is key, and being handcuffed by “what we’ve always done” can end up being very detrimental to a company.
For Your Review
I’m (KBru) excellent at producing typos, no denying it. Whether or not you think you’re an excellent writer, always have someone review your press release. Usually, you have to go through a team owner, driver, marketing suit in a corporate office, or a sponsor representative. This is usually the most time consuming part of a press release. The more people involved, the more revisions requested. You’re going to get that one client that wants to make changes with each revision you send. Eventually, you have to put your foot down and say how many versions you’ll go through, or let them only send one round of edits. I once worked on a new season announcement that went through 24 drafts with six different contributors. Sometimes those contributors will let their egos do the talking and try to change the integrity of the writing by adding persuasion to it. If you are confident something shouldn’t be in a press release, stick to your guns. It’s your job to write and distribute the best piece you can that will be accepted by the media that you’ve built relationships with.
For me personally, a required proofing depends on the client, however I definitely like to have a second set of eyes on it, whenever possible. My mom used to sew clothes so she says, “Measure twice, cut once.” I like that philosophy for releases too: “Review twice, publish once, share a lot.”
Ultimately, if you’re listed as the contact on the release, it’s almost like you’re signing your name to it or owning it, so you want it to be professional and error-free.
You know that feeling of sheer dread and annoyance when you get added to a group text message? Not only is your phone number available to a bunch of strangers, but you’re getting all their replies as well. That’s how most people feel when you BBC, or even worse CC, all your motorsport contacts into one email. First, it shows you won’t spend the few dollars it takes to get a professional distribution service, and second, you just shared everyone’s contact information. Contact information is private and valuable, and most people don’t take kindly with it being shared without their permission. Third, affordable services like Constant Contact or Mail Chimp have pre-existing templates that are clean, professional, and customizable. They look much better than a simple email.
Mass email: No, no, no, no, no, no, NO. Stop it. Not only is it a good way to get your email account shut down, it’s also a terrible way to send a press release. Also, for those of you who are sending the release to one address and then CC’ing (as opposed to BCC’ing) your recipients, call me directly. The Bruery is a family show and I can’t say what I want to about your CC’ing habits.
Seriously though, if you’re a professional organization (or driver) and want to be perceived as such, get yourself a PR distribution platform. Or better yet, hire a professional (like KBru or 242MPH) to do it for you.
As for timing of distribution, there are two things to keep in mind: The time frame in which the news is still relevant, and the time of day when people are most likely to be reading their email. Press releases from a race event should ideally go out within 24 hours of the checker flag—48 hours if your approval process takes longer. Any longer after the event, and you’ve lost all relevancy. For non-event press releases, you want to send your release during a time when the most people are going to see it. Typically Tuesdays and Thursdays between 10:00am and 2:00pm are the optimal windows. Sending a press release at 5:00pm on a Friday or 3:00am on a Saturday guarantees you a low open rate. Sure, racing is different and people work at all hours, but if a race event isn’t going on, be cognizant of what your audience’s work day may be, and when they’re most likely to be reading their email, as well as sharing your release to their networks.
My “PR 101” professor would say Monday or Tuesday morning at 6-7 a.m. because “that’s the way it’s always been done.” (I hate that phrase, BTW… can we just be okay with innovation?!) Just like with social media, each client is different – my racing clients are definitely a different animal than the non-racing ones – and I’m a believer in experimenting to find the time frame that yields the best results.
In regards to the racing industry and race results, the sooner, the better. I’ve seen teams that send out a post-race release on the Tuesday after. Unacceptable. As the primary point of contact for delivering information for a team, and for the race itself, what could possibly warrant a two-day delay? Unless your dog died. Then I’d understand.
After you’ve sent your release out via email, find other ways to distribute it as well. If you’re at a race track, print a few copies and put them on the table by the Media Center entrance. It’s depressing I even have to say it, but post it on your website! We often see teams waiting sometimes over a week to post their own news stories, and that’s unacceptable.
Of course, Social Media
As soon as your release is live, be sure to share it on your brand’s social media outlets. DO NOT copy and paste a whole press release into a Facebook status or Instagram comment. Keep it simple and drive traffic to your website by posting a link to the story. Take the time to post to each medium individually. Don’t spam your twitter followers by having your Facebook automatically post to your twitter feed. Social media is about genuine interaction, not automated posts.
I always incorporate social media and sharing options into my releases because let’s be honest… why not? If you want your story to be seen by as many people as possible, why not make it easy for recipients to share it, comment on it, like it, etc.? *Movie voiceover guy impression* In a world where the open rates for emails (read: press releases) are not as high as we’d like them to be, why not use social media to increase your impressions on platforms that people are visiting specifically to digest information.
The advice I’d offer is this: Don’t be afraid to ask questions about the boundaries in your PR role. If your client wants you to follow the procedures as they’ve always been done, accept that. Know that they’re the client so they get to make the call.
However, if they’re open to suggestions, it’s worth the time and effort to have an honest discussion about their goals, and which strategies and tactics can get them there. Perhaps they assume PR is only about writing press releases, in which case it becomes an opportunity for you to educate them on the many other options you can provide to successfully achieve their objectives.
What Do Media Want?
How would you rate the importance, if any, of press releases to what you do?
Justin Bell: They are important – even if to remind you that team “a” is in the race and you should pay attention to them. We get many of them and they have to stand out!
Tony DiZinno: Press releases are not the single most important portion of my job, but they play an integral role in allowing me to do what I do. Oftentimes, it can be difficult for me to follow every single car, driver, team or manufacturer over the course of a test or race weekend, so the insights gleaned from press releases can help things going forward to allow me to better do my job.
What do you feel is vital to a good press release? What makes it worth reading to you?
Justin: I need to come away learning something that I didn’t know before. Most of the information may be important to the team/driver but is pretty dull in the big scheme of things. So to learn that driver ‘a’ just competed in a marathon is cool, or that he just announced his love for old ABBA albums. Either way, when we are mentally reaching for something to say — that little fact may come to mind!
As an ex driver I know every excuse in the book. Sometimes a little self-deprecation would be nice. Be honest Mr. Driver… you were overwhelmed. You had a bad day. You couldn’t believe the pace of your team mates. As an ‘AM’ driver you were humbled by the expertise of your paid Pro driver. You have many other qualities that are way more admirable than the ability to be two seconds of the pace.
Tony: Simply, information. No amount of information is too much. Say a driver is returning to a track where he or she has won twice previously. When I get the pre-race press release, I want to know what his/her record is, how many wins, top-fives, top-10s, etc., and the team’s background and record as well. Later in the year, I’ll want to know how far out he or she is from the championship lead and what they need to do to catch the leader (if they’re not leading). I will always need to do a healthy amount of pre-race research going into an event, but checking for key nuggets, factoids and stats from a pre-race press release helps aid my coverage plan for the weekend, and also saves me the time of having to look it up myself.
What makes it worth reading? The stats and factoids are the biggest thing for me, but occasionally you’ll get a quote that sticks out, too. Generally speaking it’s hard to get that great of quotes in every release – it usually falls into a trap along the lines of “the car ran well, I’d like to thank sponsor X, Y or Z.” But to get a quote that really provides insight on the track conditions – something to the effect of “this track really changes depending on the ambient temperature, the car is so much easier/harder to drive,” etc. – makes for a better release quote in my estimation.
Pictures are huge, especially if it is a sports car or ladder series. Oftentimes our photo database doesn’t cover all series and having a picture built in or attached as part of the release will almost guarantee I’ll run something off it. No photo, no go usually in other cases.
Humor is good too, where appropriate. While it’s not something you might be able to do in every press release, spicing up a release with satire and/or “inside joke” knowledge can come through nicely. This is a tricky one to nail because you have to have your audience know you’re joking, but if executed properly, it can generate extra media attention for the team or driver.
What are some things that have turned you off to reading a press release? Most common mistakes you’ve seen?
Justin: Driver excuses. Who cares? Too technical in nature. Again …who cares?
Tony: The writing is still paramount. If a release lacks adherence to AP Style, or is just poorly written or poorly worded, I’m less likely to read through it.
I also prefer in-line body copy press releases over Word (.doc/.docx) files or PDFs. If you’re on deadline and you need to copy and paste a quote in for a story, it’s much easier to do so from an email client such as Constant Contact or MailChimp compared to having to download a Word file or PDF, then have to open it up, grab the quote, insert into story. Yeah it might only be 2-3 minute difference but on deadline and if you only have a 15-minute window, that’s huge.
I really don’t like infographics or releases that focus more on style over substance. If you’re spending time creating an image or infographic, you’re not spending time on the text or content that adds to the story. An infographic is generally better for social media purposes than a release, and it shouldn’t supersede the text or content from the release that actually includes the info!
What is commonly included in press releases that you feel is completely irrelevant?
Justin: Lap by lap analysis of a race that they finished 20th in.
Tony: Infographics are annoying, or canned quotes. I get that in most cases you have to include the sponsor quote, but a thorough sponsor/team info debrief at the bottom of the release is often plenty.
Does time of distribution matter to you, whether length of time passed since an event, or time of day/night?
Justin: No, I am not in the news media, so post event I almost never read. Pre event is key for TV people. Tell me WHY your team and drivers should matter to me. I know they are all fast, dedicated, blah blah …but what makes them interesting to our show. If they are boring, let’s make them interesting!
Tony: Timing is huge, and sooner is better. Almost always. I can usually count on releases from some teams 3-4 hours after the race, while in other cases it can run from 3-4 days. If you have a gap in the schedule between races (say 2-3 weeks from one race to the next), I get the urgency of a release isn’t as severe. But if it’s back-to-back weeks on track, I definitely want to see your end of day release by end of race day! That allows me to wrap up the story by the Monday or Tuesday at the latest, instead of waiting for 2-3 days and then you’re already onto the next thing. If I have all the post-race releases emailed to me by Sunday night, I have a week’s worth of content all set to go, and I can build the stories off of those.
Where I can understand where releases can wait a day is after Saturday night races. To use the Sebring 12 Hours as an example, the race wraps at 10:30 p.m., and between all the podium and post-race debrief, plus 12 consecutive hours of racing, you’re tired and exhausted and less likely to churn out a great release. In that case, you finish up what you need to do, get some sleep, knock the release out in the morning and it’s out by lunchtime on Sunday. Releases that come out in the 2-3 am range after Sebring, no one is going to look at until the morning anyway, and it might not be as good as if it waits.
Whether you’re a driver with a limited budget or a PR representative unsure of where to start, this should hopefully provide you with plenty of direction to be more effective in your press release writing and distribution. It’s a process that will evolve, as your audience does, and eventually we all learn what works best for each of us.