In SitePoint’s latest book, Online Marketing Inside Out, Brandon Eley and Shayne Tilley show you what makes up a modern online marketing strategy. Email campaigns, advertising, SEO, social media, and more – it’s all in this book!
In this excerpt from the book, Brandon Eley explains what makes up a 21st century press release.
The marketing landscape has changed dramatically in recent years. The reliance on the mainstream media to break stories about companies and products is waning, while the number of press releases grows daily. It’s increasingly difficult for small and medium-sized businesses to gain mainstream coverage from conventional media forms. So, rather than narrow their focus towards journalists in the hope of hitting the publishing jackpot, small and medium-sized companies are now producing press statements that target web site publishers and bloggers relevant to their niche, as well as targeting customers directly.
To understand the new rules of public relations and media, we must first take a look at the days before electronic communication became dominant. When the print media ruled the roost, well before the Internet was even thought of, there were two major ways companies promoted new products and services: by advertising, or through editorial coverage. Public relations used to be something of a secret art, and only the most seasoned and experienced PR people could break their story in the news. It was as much about having a relationship with that key reporter as it was about writing fantastic marketing copy.
What is Public Relations?
Public relations – or PR, for short – is the practice of managing the public image of a company, organization, or person. PR consists of managing the flow of information and news between a person, company, or organization and the public. Until recently, the main conduit for disseminating information about a company or product was the press release. Today, company web sites, blogs, and even social media services serve as viable channels for companies to speak to the public.
A press release or news release is an official statement sent to media outlets providing detailed information about an event the company wants to get into the news, such as a new product launch or investor relations.
Press releases date back to the early 1900s and came about as a way for companies to mitigate bad publicity. Before advances in communications allowed us access to both sides of the story, it was common for newspapers to print stories about an accident or harmful event before having all the facts. Companies began sending statements to the newspapers as a way to set the record straight – a sort of preemptive strike, if you like.
As public relations evolved, companies (or their public relations agencies) crafted carefully worded press releases and sent them to a handful of influential reporters in the hope their story would be published in a newspaper or magazine. If it was published, they’d receive great publicity. And if not … well, that was the bad part. Most press releases failed to gain that prized media coverage.
Press Releases in the 21st Century
With all these exciting new developments in online marketing, you might be thinking, “I can publish news to my web site – why should I send out a press release?” Companies still send press releases because they’re an effective way to spread the word about your company. Press releases, when written and distributed efficiently, can strengthen brand awareness, increase sales, and generate buzz about your company and products.
Today, press releases are used widely. As well as being sent to mainstream media journalists, press releases are now available online for customers to find through a web search, or read on a company’s blog. Many bloggers and online publishers access these to read for story ideas close to their niche.
You can also use press releases to communicate directly to your customers, as well as bloggers, writers, and other key players in your industry. Press releases can be an incredibly effective medium for you to publish news and information about your company, products, or services.
When to Write a Press Release
Start now! You simply cannot write too many press releases. Okay, that might be a bit of a stretch, but that’s the mindset you should have about it. You should write press releases anytime you have news or information to share to your customers, clients, or investors. If you would post it to your web site’s News section, then it probably deserves a press release.
The following are all excellent reasons why you’d send a press release:
- a new product or service to announce
- a case study about how you helped a client or made a client money
- a new employee has been hired with extensive experience in your industry
- your company has won an award or been recognized in your industry as a thought leader
- your company, product, or service was reviewed favorably
- it’s a communication requirement for investor relations (quarterly financial reports for public companies)
Anatomy of a Press Release
In the old days, press releases were specially formatted and provided reporters with only the most pertinent information that the company felt they needed. Because releases were sent mostly to reporters with experience in a specific industry, they often used technical jargon and industry-specific terminology without explanation or background information. Today’s press releases talk to many audiences – your customers, bloggers, reporters, investors – so you need to make sure that your language and terminology is widely accessible, and that you’re not overestimating their level of knowledge in that area. Think back to your sixth grade English class and answer the who, what, when, where, why, and how of your story.
What Should You Include In Your Press Release?
Your press release should engage readers, so be sure to include supporting media whenever appropriate to help your customers understand your content. Think of a popular news source like CNN – as well as text, their articles feature photos, videos, and quotes to keep the reader’s interest and help tell the story. When writing your press release, try to include any information that will help support your message, such as:
- quotes from the president, owner, or other key personnel and industry experts
- customer testimonials
- product reviews
- awards and other examples of industry recognition
- offers or calls to action
Offer supporting evidence when making marketing claims. If you say your product is the best, you need to support the claim with third-party reviews, specifications, or some kind of data. Similarly, if you hire a new employee or win an award, describe how that will positively affect your business. Did you just hire a hotshot away from a competitor? Did you win an award showing your expertise in a certain area? How does that help your clients or customers? How does it impact on them?
Press Releases on Steroids!
Press releases are rarely sent by facsimile these days. When a press release is posted online, it’s immediately available and has all the capabilities of a regular web page. Use the benefits of hypertext to your advantage, and include as much supporting material as possible:
- Hyperlinks: Link key phrases and calls to action to appropriate landing pages on your web site. This will allow your customers to place an order or sign up if interested, and it’s also excellent for search engines. These links to your web site will appear everywhere the press release is published, which, if you use a newswire, could be a lot of places. Those incoming links will help you rank on search engines for the phrases that are hyperlinked.
- Photos: Adding photos can make an ordinary press release stand out from the crowd. If you’re advertising a new product, make sure to include a product photograph. If you hired a new employee, make sure their photograph is included.
- Audio: Consider adding audio clips of interviews, podcast excerpts, or quotes featured in the press release.
- Video: When appropriate, videos can add an extra dimension never before available in press releases. Videos of product reviews, demonstrations, or interviews are excellent additions to a press release.
- Social Media Facilities: Adding buttons to post the item to popular social bookmarking sites like Digg, Delicious, and Technorati can help publicize the press release. As people use social media to bookmark or share your release, it will be exposed to their friends, helping the news spread even further.
How Long Should My Press Release Be?
Before you concern yourself with length, you should focus on content. Your press release should adequately cover the topic you’re writing about. You should only be concerned with whether your press release is long enough after you’ve covered all the details. Once you’ve done that, it’s time to review the length of your press release.
Your press release should be relatively short at 400â€“500 words. If it’s much longer, you risk losing your audience’s attention. Any shorter, and your story might be too short to cover all the important details. Also, remember that journalists and bloggers searching for information to write about want enough information to decide whether to cover the story, without being required to read a novel.
Once you’ve written your release, if you find that it’s less than 400 words, consider adding a quote or more supporting information. Did you answer the important facts: the who, what, when, where, why, and how? If your release is longer than 600 words, review the release to see if you can make your message more concise. Remove any fluff and technical jargon that’s unnecessary. As William Strunk, Jr. explains in The Elements of Style:
Omit needless words. Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all his sentences short, or that he avoid all detail and treat his subjects only in outline, but that every word tell.
Stand Out from the Crowd
With so many press releases sent out every day, you need to stand out to be noticed. The first step is to follow the advice above in creating a compelling, well-formatted press release and submitting it where it can gain the widest exposure. But that’s still a bit limited. How can you almost guarantee your press release will be written about in a blog, web site, or newspaper?
Make It Easy
Make it easy for publishers, bloggers, and journalists to publish your story by doing some of their work for them. Provide them with a media kit – a package of information about your company or organization. Media kits often contain:
- high-resolution logo in multiple formats
- a company profile and history
- executive biographies with head shots
- product or service information with product photos
Be sure to include multiple formats for all graphics. Include print-quality and web-quality graphics for use in multiple media formats. Providing a vector version of your logo, such as the Encapsulated PostScript Format (EPS), will ensure that the publisher can display your logo correctly regardless of what size it’s rendered.
Even with a well-crafted press release, a journalist may need to ask you a question, or may want to interview you or key staff at your company for their story. Be sure to include a media contact, and include multiple ways to reach them. At a minimum, you should include your:
- office phone number
- mobile phone number
- email address
Distribute Press Releases
Do you still use a fax machine? In the old days, you would fax your press release to journalists. You might send a release to five or ten journalists that specialized in your niche, hoping one would pick up the story. The press release would go out on the wire, meaning it was sent by telegraph, or later by fax. They still call it a newswire, but sending press releases in the 21st century requires far fewer trees.
There are several ways to send your press release, but the most popular are email (directly to journalists), online newswire, and company web site uploads. We’ll discuss each in a little more detail.
Emailing Journalists Directly
Email can be very effective at targeting your press release to specific bloggers or journalists. By emailing them individually, you increase the chance they’ll actually read your release.
Your email’s subject line should be short and informative. Condense your press release headline into five to ten words and engage the reader with the most important information from your press release.
When emailing a blogger or journalist, address them and their publication by name in the body or title of the email. For instance, your introduction might read “Press Release for Michael Arrington, TechCrunch.” Personally addressing the recipient will show them that you didn’t just spray your press release at a few hundred (or thousand) email addresses.
Want to go the extra mile? Include a short, personal introduction and explanation of why the story is a good fit for their publication. Was there a similar product or service covered by the publication in the past? A short introduction can lend a personal touch to your email, but keep it short. And avoid presuming to know what they’ll like or want to publish.
With the volume of computer viruses these days, unwanted email attachments are rarely opened. Instead, paste the text of your press release directly into the email. If they are interested in your story, they will respond asking for supporting documents, such as photos and videos. Make sure to list any supporting information available, such as quotes, photos, videos, or a PDF release. Also, if you’ve uploaded the entire press release to your web site, be sure to include a link at the bottom of your email.
Using an Online Newswire
Online newswires are the newest and most effective way to have your press release read by interested journalists, publishers, bloggers, and customers. Newswires have been around for ages, but their press releases were only available to journalists or companies that subscribed to them. Today, newswires publish press releases on their web sites, and submit them to services such as Google News and Yahoo, making them instantly available to your customers who are searching the Internet.
Newswires also offer direct distribution to journalists and publications looking for your news. By offering RSS – Really Simple Syndication – feeds for specific searches and industries, publishers can subscribe to receive new press releases automatically as they become available. RSS feeds are a standardized format for received updates from a web site or news source. To view updates, you can use an RSS reader, such as Google Reader, or your email client.
Posting to Your Web Site
In addition to emailing your press release or using online newswires, you should post your press releases to your company web site. It adds relevant content to your web site and will often help your site appear higher in search engines before other sources, cutting out the middleman.
Press releases are often posted to a media or press section of a company’s web site. Make sure that your press releases are easy to find, especially from your homepage.
Use Blogs to Spread the Word
In January, 2009, US Airways Flight 1549 experienced an engine failure after flying through a flock of geese. Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger had to think quickly – unable to make it back to the airport, the pilot made the tough decision to attempt an emergency landing in the Hudson River. Several years ago, the news would have been broken by reporters from helicopters or news vans – but that day, a pedestrian in the area snapped a photo on his iPhone and posted it to the microblogging service, Twitter. Within just a few minutes, news had spread through the blogosphere to make its way to the mainstream media. So many reporters mentioned or linked to the picture that the TwitPic service, where the image was stored, went down temporarily.
Traditional media still exists, but your greatest coverage might come from a 16-year-old kid in a garage. In the interconnected world we live in, anyone can break a story. You don’t have to witness a crash-landing in the Hudson to attract traffic to your web site. There are private blogs with a readership as large as some major metropolitan newspapers. TechCrunch, a private blog network founded by Michael Arrington, claims on its advertising page to reach over 5,000,000 readers per month.
There are major blogs like TechCrunch in almost every industry and niche. Let’s look at how to find them and use them to your advantage.
Find Influential Blogs and Web Sites
Knowing the influential blogs and web sites in your niche is the first step in spreading the word. Using search engines and directories, you can find web sites and blogs related to your company, product, or service.
Blog-specific search engines, like Technorati and Google Blog Search, and directories like AllTop, are great for finding blogs related to your niche. Also utilize regular search engines for other web sites, as well as online publications and communities that may use an alternative label to “blogs.” Try search queries that include the name of your niche, industry, or products, as well as words like community, news, or blog.
When you find popular web sites covering your niche, it’s a great idea to subscribe to their RSS feeds where available and keep up with the topics they write about.
Comment on Influential Blogs
Commenting on influential blogs is a marketing strategy in itself. If you can provide value to the blog by commenting, you’ll be seen as an asset to the community and can establish yourself as an expert in your field. In the future, if the blogger should come across a story about you or your company, they’ll already be familiar with you and be more likely to cover the story.
When to Comment
Before commenting on blogs or online communities, ask yourself this simple question: “Can I answer a question or add value here?” If the answer is yes, consider leaving a comment. It’s a poor idea to post a comment just to place your name or web address on a blog. Make sure you’re adding value, otherwise you’re just wasting time instead of building your online reputation or helping the web site’s readers.
How to Comment
Post advice in a friendly, personal style. Address the post’s author or other commenters directly, offering your feedback or advice. Posting criticisms or negative feedback is acceptable, but be professional and articulate your point using references.
Cite third-party references and examples at least as much as linking to your own web site. It’s important that you make your point, rather than advertise your company or products.
Send Your Press Releases Directly to Influential Bloggers
Sending press releases to blogs is a great way to spread your message even further. Refer to the list of influential blogs you compiled earlier from the section called “Find Influential Blogs and Web Sites” for suitable leads.
Make It Personal
When contacting individual bloggers, start with a personalized email (see the previous section on sending press releases by email).
Look on their web site for information on how to pitch to them. Many blogs have instructions on how they wish to be pitched, and may have a dedicated email address for pitches.
Doing your research here can really pay off. Influential bloggers and journalists are often inundated with email pitches. Sending to the wrong email address or in the wrong format could mean being deleted immediately. As blogger Josh Catone says in his SitePoint article, How To Pitch a Blogger: “Bloggers are a busy bunch and we generally like to put as much of our time and effort as possible into actual research or writing. If the phone is ringing non-stop all day, it cuts into our writing time.”
If you’re unable to find a dedicated email address or contact information on the web site, consider sending an email to the general contact email address. Ask for the correct information for sending pitches and press releases.
Build a List
You’ll likely be sending press releases to the same bloggers and journalists again and again. Start building a list of media contacts, with notes about the types of press releases they’re interested in.
As you write more and more press releases, you’ll find that sending them will become easier as your list grows and requires less and less research up front.
Smaller Blogs Copy Bigger Blogs
You might think that once the big sites cover a news story, it simply fades away. You might be surprised to know that smaller blogs follow large, influential blogs and often write about interesting stories in their own blogs, creating a link back to your site. Some blogging tools use a special kind of link called a ping or trackback – an automated notification to a site to inform the owner that you linked to one of their blog entries.
With pings or trackbacks enabled on your blog, when another blogger links to a blog entry on your web site, a comment will be placed in the entry on your blog, linking back to their blog. These can provide an additional traffic source to smaller blogs.
Non-traditional marketing, sometimes called guerilla marketing, is a blanket term that covers all kinds of unconventional marketing strategies that usually spread through word of mouth – or simply, people talking to their friends.
Non-traditional marketing existed before the Internet was around, but the interconnected Web allows for faster, almost instant, spreading of a message to thousands or millions of people.
Viral marketing refers to the exponential spreading of a marketing message, like a virus. It’s the effect word of mouth can have on an ad, campaign, or even just a video. Non-traditional marketing is all about using unconventional tactics to spread the word about a company or product, often on a small budget (or smaller than with a traditional advertising campaign).
Tell a Story
Non-traditional marketing is about telling a story or delivering a message. It might be funny, shocking, or amazing. It might be a video, a blog post, or a Twitter message (a tweet). The key is to create an idea that is consistent with your brand and who you are as a company.
First, think of the message you want to convey. What is unique or unusual about your product or service? Is there a quirky aspect of your company that people can identify with?
Everyone Loves to Laugh
Using humor is a great way to attract attention to your brand.
Will it Blend? is one of the most successful non-traditional marketing campaigns in recent years. Tom Dickson, founder of Blendtec – makers of high-end blenders – posted a video series. The videos feature Tom blending items such as an iPhone, “diamonds” (really cubic zirconias), a rake handle, and a Chuck Norris figurine. The iPhone video has been watched over six million times. The videos increased brand awareness, and sales for Blendtec blenders shot up 40% in 2006, the year they launched the campaign.
The Will it Blend? videos’ success was relatively unplanned. In an article for the Wall Street Journal, George Wright, Blendtec’s marketing director, said, “I knew … we wanted to do YouTube. Initially, we were thinking this might be a tool our sales force could use to show how robust our equipment is as part of their training. Quite frankly, if that’s all we achieved from that campaign, I would have considered it successful.” The initial video series cost the company $US50 to produce.
Will it Blend? is a great example of how you can be light-hearted and yet create an amazing marketing tool for your business. Blendtec sells high-end blenders – top of the line consumer and professional models. Yet they were able to build brand awareness by creating hilarious videos that showed them blending wacky items, as well as proving the durability of their products. If it could blend an iPhone, then a smoothie would be a piece of cake!
Can You Plan to Go Viral?
The Will it Blend? videos were a viral phenomenon inadvertently. They were only created to show how durable their products were, and hopefully make people smile. One of the most common misconceptions about non-traditional marketing is that you can plan for a campaign to “go viral.”
While you can plan the campaign, it’s purely up to chance whether it will go viral. The best advice is to create unique and interesting content and put it out there. It may or may not go viral, but it can be a great representation of your brand, nonetheless.
There are advertising agencies that specialize in creating viral marketing campaigns. Does it work? Sometimes. Agencies specializing in guerilla marketing can be effective at projecting the word about your business, but there are some caveats.
Words of Wisdom
If you’re planning a guerilla marketing campaign, there are some things you should consider.
First, and most importantly, be genuine. It’s a poor idea to present yourself or your company as different to what you really are, or to try and trick the public into believing an untruth. The Web is full of amateur investigative reporters who would love to break a story, leading to bad publicity.
Second, be sure to obey any applicable laws and, naturally, stay away from dangerous activities. This should go without saying, but think through the potential outcomes of your campaign. There are lots of interesting ways to draw attention to your company, so legal trouble should be avoided.
Be smart with your campaigns and have fun with them, but be careful of going overboard just to garner some free publicity. Find ways to involve your customers, such as creating contests where users submit homemade videos or produce a creative idea.
Public relations has moved on from what it used to be. It’s grown and evolved and can be a powerful marketing tool for your business. We’ve shown how press releases have changed and how they can be used to spread the word about your company and products. We’ve discussed ways to spread the word through blogs and web sites, and how to use non-traditional advertising. But making your message known is only one part of the puzzle.
Be sure to check out the rest of Online Marketing Inside Out for ways to further spread your brand and increase your online reputation.
Liked what you read? Then you’ll love the rest of Online Marketing Inside Out. Your free sample contains two complete chapters as well as a brief overview of everything else that’s packed inside – find out more!
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