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The Press Release – Medium or Message?

At the time he coined the phrase in the 1960s, “The Medium is the Message,” the late Marshall McLuhan was exploring the electronic media’s effect on popular culture. He particularly focused on American advertising’s chilling manipulation of the innocent consumer/voter in our media dominated society. McLuhan left the meaning of his famous quotation to interpretation by others. The most popular translation is the most obvious: medium equals media and content is the message. Well…not quite. That’s for us dummies.

In reaching their own conclusions, followers of McLuhan continue to examine “The Medium is the Message” under an atomic microscope. Of the volumes written by and about the man and his passion, I find strategist Mark Federman’s clarification one of the most readable and thought provoking, if not mind-Googling. The media, as we commonly define them, develop the content of their message with great marketing skill, in order to influence and control, i.e. to put a thought in the mind that was not there before and keep it there. The press release is no exception—with one exception. As author, you control the content of the message. Editors are facilitators who may tighten your text, but the message is yours—short, sweet and to the point. A textbook example of genius at work with catchphrases is politician Karl Rove.

When self-publishing, you’re basically on your own in developing your communication tools. Yet even with the full weight and integrity of a big publishing house behind you, a highly motivated author can do wonders to boost sales. One way to announce your speaking and book signing events to the public is through your local media. As opposed to advertising, the press release costs you nothing.

Sometimes called a news release, there’s no mystery to the press release. But its message can reach enormous numbers of people, and there are some standard rules to writing and formatting. From the who, what, where, when and why, to the inverted pyramid—all are explained ad infinitum with the click of your mouse. Wearing your journalism hat, the most important part of your message comes first. The more succinct the content, the easier it is for a busy editor to read, and the better your chances for release to the public. Since the content of your message is a simple speaking and book-signing event, you will not need more than one page, including a brief bio at the end.

If you’re an unknown author with a debut book, you’ll probably have to depend on your publisher to get you into The Atlanta Journal Constitution, The Boston Globe or St. Louis Post Dispatch. But you can and should contact your small local dailies and weeklies with your press release. In arranging the time and date for talks and book signings, you will have personally contacted your local bookstores, libraries, coffee houses and everywhere in your area where groups of people gather informally. When you’re ready to send out your press release announcement, be sure to call the newspaper and/or radio station for the name of the specific editor or broadcaster that handles your kind of local news. When emailing, send your release as an attachment.

There was an old slogan, “It’s what’s up front that counts.” It worked then. It works now. Your headline should say everything. “New Jersey’s Own Bruce Springsteen Signs Debut Novel at Hoboken Café.” You might not be “The Boss,” but in your hometown you’re a celebrity.


A writer/editor, I work with one client at a time, beginner or pro, for a cost effective solution to your writing and editing needs. Visit me at http://www.susanscharfman.com

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