How to write an effective press release

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On request, from a reader of previous blog, here are some ideas about press releases. First, the title “how to write an effective press release” is a bit misleading. The idea is to create an effective media campaign. One press release rarely gets you where you want to go.

You need to think about publicity as a stream of water over the landscape. In the short term, the water doesn’t do much. In the long term, it can carve a beautiful canyon. That’s because it takes time for the media to recognize your releases, and more time for the public.

With that said, here are some tips:

1. See what the competition and other companies aredoing and start reading press releases to see which releases are effective and which aren’t. Go to http://www.businesswire.com and watch the press releases flow.

2. Set a goal for your publicity campaign. I’m assuming most readers here are not owners of publicly traded companies looking to support/grow the stock price. Therefore, your primary goal is to generate awareness in your target market.

3. Get a list of media and media contacts for your releases. If you’ve read anything by me, you know I am a big advocate for a focused, industry-based target market. If you have followed that advice, then you will have a much easier time finding a small list of targeted publications for your release.

4. Come up with a list of newsworthy events about your company. These include: new capabilities, new customers, new employees, community service, contributions to associations (e.g. upcoming speeches, conferences). Also consider substantive tips to your audience about things that matter to them, and that you know. Publications don’t want advertisements, so ask whether the readers will perceive your release to be interesting and newsworthy.

5. Write a good headline. Examples: XYZ Web Designs Offers Five Tips for a Web Site that will Attract More Legal Clients; ABC Web Development Announces Release of Comprehensive Suite of Back Office Tools for Grocery Chains; DEF Systems Integrators Announces Contract with IBM, Inc.

6. Keep the format simple and sweet. Start at top with: For Immediate Release. Then put your headline. Then start the first paragraph with the date of the release and the place (e.g. Boston, MA). End the release with a paragraph about your company and the phone number and email of a media contact.

7. The structure of your release should follow the pyramid principle, meaning that you start with the most important paragraphs and work your way down to fluff. For instance, if you are announcing a contract with a customer:

7a. First paragraph starts: ABC Web Designs, a Leading Minneapolis-based Web Design Firm, announced today that…..

7b. Second paragraph gets into more details.

7c. Third paragraph should be a quote from you, or the CEO.

7d. Fourth paragraph should be quote from any other party involved (e.g. CEO of customer or partner). Make sure that this party approves the release or you may have to issue a retraction.

7e. Add any other information about why the announcement is significant to the audience.

7f. Provide an “about” paragraph about your company and the customer.

8. How many releases you issue is a function of how much newsworthy content you have and the frequency of the publications in your target market. I handle press releases for a number of publicly traded companies, and they try to release 2 items per week, one about new infrastructure, and one about new customer contracts.

9. Send the release via fax or email to your contacts. If email, put the release in body of your email, as attachements are often deleted due to virus fears. Or, if you want national coverage, check out businesswire.com, which offers excellent coverage (albeit more expensively than, say, prweb).

10. Be careful how you deal with the media. They are under no obligation to print your releases. Don’t hound them or bug them. If they are interested, they will call you (and when they do, respond immediately as they are often under a deadline). And, if your releases are full of good content of interest to their readers, you will eventually see results.

There’s more to the publicity game, but this is a good introduction for those who aren’t using this tactic regularly. But remember — the key is to take a long-term, patient view.

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  • http://www.rswarren.com Robert Warren

    A couple of points that are worthy to elaborate on.

    If you’re going to start kicking out press releases, understand the term “newsworthy”. It differs greatly depending on the audience, whether it’s a trade or consumer publication, etc. Doing generic “we have a new product” press releases may not get you as far as you hope, since everyone else is pretty much doing the same thing. Media people are *flooded* with those things and simply don’t have the time to read them. They get canned.

    Take a good look at your “release” and seriously ask yourself: if you were a reporter or staff writer, reading this, where is the story? Take a step back and get a feeling for the overall theme – what exactly about this announcement is truly relevant to your readers? Are you aiming to inform, educate and entertain, or is it nothing more than a generically formatted plug? Learn to think like a staff writer – you’ll get much farther with your releases if you give the editorial staff what they need instead of what *you* need.

    Also – having done this kind of thing myself (on both ends), Andrew is very, very right about reporters on deadline. Respect it and prepare for it. Make sure that a reporter on a two-hour deadline can reach you for relevant followup. That very often means the difference between publication and not.

  • http://www.frixer.com petertdavis

    Very timely primer on writing press releases Andrew. How about an article on where to submit them next, you only briefly touched on that and mentioned only two places.

  • pdxi

    To quote petertdavis:

    Very timely primer on writing press releases Andrew. How about an article on where to submit them next, you only briefly touched on that and mentioned only two places.

    The decision on where to send press releases is one that the company should make for itself. It is also a decision that should already by alluded to in your business plan or marketing strategy. If your company produces software for accountants, then your press releases should be sent to publications that accountants read. If you want to sell services to zoologists, send your press to release to a magazine that zoologists read.

  • http://www.jamesinteractive.com ecaptus

    I have a question. At what point do you want to start broadcasting press releases? I have thought about doing it, but since my company is pretty small (just me), I didn’t know if it would be noticable.

    TIA,
    Steve

  • http://www.rswarren.com Robert Warren

    Ecaptus: The real question is whether your business is doing or involved in anything that’s actually news. If so, then by all means kick out a release (or any number of other press outreach efforts that may work better). But if you’re just sending out releases blind, without any real story behind them, you’re wasting your time.

    “We have a new website” isn’t news. “Our traffic jumped up 20% over the weekend” isn’t either. But “my client’s life changed, and James Interactive was there” MIGHT be. Or “we’re releasing a new product with significant consumer advantages” could be, if you’re aiming for a trade audience.

    If you were a member of the general reading public, is this a story that would truly interest you?

    The story should always come first, because that’s how an editorial staff is going to see it. When that story is there, send the release.. otherwise, bide your time. If your business is flooding local media with useless releases, they may just ignore the good one when it comes along.

  • aneitlich

    Robert,

    Your points are all right on. Thanks!

    Andrew

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  • Mihai

    Andrew is very, very right about reporters on deadline. Respect it and prepare for it.
    http://www.media-press-release.com

  • Sanjay

    Read more on how to create, write and maintain effective blog at http://sanjaykattimani.blogspot.com/2006/06/how-to-create-write-and-promote-blog.html

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