Press Release Basics Tips

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Keep It Factual

A press release needs to be factual. While it's acceptable, and even preferable, to present your company and its products and services in the best possible light, do not include claims that cannot be substantiated. In general, superlatives like 'best,' 'most popular,' 'market leader,' and so on, are best left to advertising. If your product is the best selling one of its kind, you can say so, but you'd better be able to prove it. Better yet, include substantiating detail in your release (e.g., 'Highest in customer satisfaction according to J.D. Power and Associates).

   

Magazine Article

Magazine articles differ somewhat from newspaper articles, in that they don't have to follow the standard format. They don't have to include the six basic facts (who, what,where, when, why and how) in the first paragraph, and they don't have to provide increasingly detailed information as the article goes on. They can tell more of a story, and may have an attention-grabbing headline or first paragraph, and a twist in the last paragraph. A press release should follow the standard newspaper format, but a bylined article written for a magazine can be more like a story. Be sure to carefully review the magazine you're submitting to in order to learn their style.

   

Think Like A Journalist

Since the first 'audience' for your release is made up of journalists, it helps to know what makes them tick. They need to quickly determine what a news release is about and how it relates to their readers. A press release is no place for cute headlines, plays on words or puns. Keep it straightforward. The press release needs to be factual, to the point and easy to read. And it has to be obvious to the editor that this information is valuable to their readers. Sometimes that means crafting a slightly different release for each publication. Fortunately, in this electronic age, that's not very difficult. Just make sure to proofread each release to make sure you haven't left out anything (or left in anything that should have come out!)

   

Downfalls of a Template

Beware of using a press release template for every release. While it may help you include all the relevant information, it can stifle creativity if you try too hard to cram all the information you have into a formulaic outline. Some announcements simply don't conform to the standard format, and that's okay. The other danger of a template is that you will leave in information from a previous release, or will inadvertently include dated or incorrect information about the company.

   

The Basis for a Story

Journalists use press releases as the basis for stories. A well-written release will prompt a phone call or email from the journalists for more information or clarification. Still others will prompt the use of information about the company or product in a more general article about a trend or the industry as a whole.

   

The Headline

A press release headline can make the difference between getting in print and not. Make sure your headline is clear and compelling. Stay away from puns, plays on words, and 'guess what happens next' types of headlines. If the publication is prone to those types of headlines, let them write it. Your headline should be clear and succinct, and it should make the reader want to read the body of the release.

   

Related Article

Since we can't capitalize on every opportunity out there, there will come a time when an article appears in print that is relevant to your company or product, but excludes any mention of you. Even if your product or service wasn't included, there's still a PR opportunity here. Write a letter to the editor, praising the article and presenting your point of view as politely as possible. Then explain why your product or service is relevant to the article. Don't complain that you weren't included. This is also a good way to get some publicity on the coattails of a competitor.

   

Submitting Original Content

With journalists as busy as they are, and deadlines always looming, any journalist would welcome a submission of original content, right? It's like having your job done for you, right? Some publications accept original content from outside contributors and others don't. Many pieces of original work are printed on the editorial or op-ed pages. Check the publication's Web site for deadlines and publishing dates. It's always a good idea to send an email suggesting the article you want to write, with a synopsis or opening paragraph if possible. If one publication rejects your query, you can send it to another, but don't blast the same query to multiple publications.

   

Respecting Deadlines

Reporters are under tight deadlines, especially those who cover the daily news. And the larger the publication, the more press releases a reporter sees. To ensure that your press release is read and considered, include as much relevant information as possible, and be ure that the journalist can quickly and easily get more information if needed. Be sure there is someone at your company who can answer questions, and make sure they are always available.

   

Press Release Distribution

Whether you distribute the release yourself or use a service, make sure it's easy for editors to get in touch with you for more information. In addition to accurate contact information (the name and phone number of someone who's willing and able to answer questions on the spot) include a live link to your Web site and a live email address in any release that's distributed electronically. Nothing kills a story faster for an editor on deadline that not being able to get the answers they need in a timely fashion.

   

Writing Effective Press Releases

There are many reasons to issue a press release. The introduction of a new product or service is an obvious reason. If you hire a new key executive, especially one with extensive previous experience in the industry, issue a press release to industry publications. You can also issue a press release if your company wins a large contract or an award. You can issue a press release if you are moving or expanding your offices. A steady stream of newsworthy press releases will ensure that your company's name stays in the media.

   

Understanding the Audience

Make sure you understand your audience when writing a press release. Keep in mind that your audience is both the reporter to whom you'll send your release, and their readers. Avoid industry jargon and acronyms that the average person won't understand. If you have to use an abbreviation, define it the first time you use it (e.g., "Customer Relationship Management (CRM) is critical to both internet businesses and brick and mortar shops.") Leave it up to the reporter to determine if readers are savvy enough to do without the explanation.

   

Write Like A Journalist

When writing a press release, keep in mind the guidelines that journalists use when writing stories. The basic six questions (who, what, where, when, why and how) should be answered in the first paragraph. More detail should be provided with each subsequent paragraph, in such a way that little is lost if the last paragraph or two needs to be edited out.

   

Timing your press release

Knowing the editorial calendar of your target publications will help ensure that the news you're sending out is timely. Many publications have an editorial calendar on their Web site. Consult that calendar to determine which upcoming issues of a publication are running stories that pertain to your industry or product. Be sure to get information to the appropriate editor well in advance of the deadline so that the journalist will include mention of your product. If it's a new product announcement that's top secret, tell the journalist as much as you can to determine if there's interest. A journalist's reputation is based on integrity, and they're used to seeing products well before they reach the market.

   

What To Include in a Template

A press release template includes the elements found in every release. It will have contact information (the name, phone number and email address of someone in the company who can answer journalists' questions), the line, 'For Immediate Release', followed by space for a headline and a subhead. The first line begins with the dateline, which includes the date of release and location of the release (typically the city and state where the company's headquarters are located). The first paragraph includes the basic facts about the announcement, and should answer the questions who, what, when, where, why and how. The second paragraph typically includes a quote from the CEO or other high ranking executive in the company. The third, fourth and subsequent paragraphs provide more detail on the announcement. The end of the body of the release is signified by three pound signs (###) centered on the next line. After that line, a paragraph titled 'About ABC Company' provides basic information about the company, including when and where it was founded, what business the company is in, and any awards, recognition or success the company has had. At the end of this paragraph, the contact information, including the company's Web site, is included.

   

Press Release Distribution

Don't bother with cutesy ways of getting your press release in front of journalists. They don't have time for singing telegrams, and fruit baskets usually stay in the mailroom. Stick to email or fax, and be sure the send your release using the method the journalist prefers. These days, that's usually email. Also follow any guidelines on the Web site regarding follow up. Some publications will give you a timetable, others have a 'don't call us, we'll call you' philosophy.

   

Using RSS

Use RSS to include pertinent information on your Web site, in the form of headlines and stories from other web sites. You can also make your company's headlines and stories, along with a link to your site, available to other companies for use on their site. Think about those sites that your customers might visit, and seek out their RSS feeds.

   

Benefiting From Blogging

A blog (short for 'Web log') can be a great way to get publicity for your company. The safest way to take advantage of the blogging trend is to start a blog of your own. Be careful to be above board as to who you are and your ties to the company. In other words, don't pretend to be an impartial user of your product who just happens to think it's the greatest thing since sliced bread. If your company make ceramic figurines of frogs, for example, start a blog about amphibians. You can put in a plug for your product every so often, but don't make your blog a big advertisement or you'll lose readers. Provide some information of value and the blog will add value to your business.

   

Getting Free Content

You can probably get free content to enrich your Web site, but beware. You need to make sure that the content you're posting is accurate, and that the source is legitimate. Only accept content from sites that are targeting the same customer base you are. Take a good look at your customers, and try to figure out what other products or services they are likely to be interested in. The companies that make these products or provide these services are a good place to start when looking for content.

   

Media and News

The media make the news. If your event is considered important enough by journalists, it will get 'ink'. If it isn't considered important enough, it won't. Make your event or announcement important enough and get it to the right person, and, eventually, you'll get coverage.

   

Public Relations Opportunities

There are other public relations opportunities besides press releases and bylined articles. With a few connections and a little ingenuity, your PR efforts can help secure speaking engagements for your executives, and position your company as a leader or expert in the industry. Cultivating relationships with journalists will speed you on this path. Also, be on the lookout for upcoming conferences, trade shows and other events. Contact the producer of the event as early as possible in the process. Offer to speak or give a presentation that relates to the conference or event. This will provide added exposure to your company.

   

Public Relations Practitioner

Whoever said, "There's no such thing as bad publicity" miseed the news on Enron or Tyco. Even the most reputable companies can sometimes find themselves in the midst of a public relations disaster. If you find yourself in such a situation, it's often prudent to hire a PR specialist or crisis control counselor for your company. Some companies specialize in 'crisis management' - helping companies to make the best of a bad situation. In these circumstances, the important thing is to act quickly. Find the help you need and get the word out right away.

   

Public Relations

Public relations includes any exposure the public has to your company, excluding advertising, direct mail and direct sales. Public relations can include speeches made by company executives at industry gatherings, articles written by company experts that appear in trade magazines, or even sponsoring a charitable event or Little League team. A cohesive public relations plan will include all of these elements, not just press releases.

   

Submission Services

There are online services that will submit your press release for you, for a fee. When choosing a company to submit your release, look for one that has a subscription or opt-in database of journalists. If the service just blasts your release to everyone in their database, it stands very little chance of getting read. After all, you're paying to get the release in front of journalists you couldn't otherwise reach.

   

Press Releases

Your press release needs to include certain standard elements: contact information, the date and place the event occurred, and the six basic facts (who, what, where, when, why and how). The release should also include a quote from a key executive. If the release is about a joint venture or a contract with another company, try to include a quote from an executive at the other company as well. At the end of the release, include an information paragraph on your company.

   

Media Alert

A media alert is a brief document, like a memo, that gives the media information on an upcoming event they may want to cover. It can have the six basic facts (who, what, where, when, how and why) listed in bullet form. Be sure to include a contact name so journalists can get more information, and issue the alert with enough time for reporter to add it to the agenda.

   

Headlines and Subheads

If you can't fit everything you want into your headline, use a subhead. Beneath the headline, in italic type, you can write more information that expands on the headline and provides more detail. As with the headline, the purpose of the subhead is to get the reader to continue reading, so it should draw the reader in. Stay away from word play - keep it factual but compelling.

   

Relevant Information to Include

Writing press releases is pretty straightforward. Make sure you provide the basic facts in the first paragraph, followed by a quote from an executive in the company. The remaining paragraphs should provide more detail on the announcement. The press release should conclude with a 'boilerplate' paragraph about the company and its accomplishments. Be sure to include contact information so an editor or reporter can get more information.

   

Finding Material

Many companies like to be on a certain schedule for press releases, to ensure that their name is always in front of the public. There is some merit in this strategy, although you don't want to issue a release if you don't have anything to say. That said, most companies can find something newsworthy to write about on a regular basis. In addition to the obvious subjects of new products or services, or a research breakthrough, you can issue a press release if you hire a new key executive, move your offices, speak at a conference, sponsor a sports team, win a contract or award or are featured in the news.

   

Target the Journalist

A press release gets information from your company, to the media, and, hopefully, to the public. The function of the press release is to get the information to the journalist so that he or she can determine that it is worthy of inclusion in the publication. Be sure to include the appropriate contact information so that the journalist can get in touch with you to get more information or answers to questions.

   

Educational Article

If your product or service warrants it, writing an educational article for a magazine or other publication can be a great way to get publicity for your company and position yourself as an industry expert. Write an informative piece that will teach people something new. Remember to keep it factual. The benefit to your company will be somewhat tangential, but it will keep your name in the news.

   
What is the purpose of a press release?

About Press Releases

A press release, striclty speaking, is an announcement that a company or organization sends out to the media. Its purpose is to let journalists know about an important event, product, or service in the hope that journalists will write a story on the subject. The goal may be to boost attendance at an event, build name recognition for a product, or drive customers to seek a service or product from the company distributing the release.

   

Using A Related Article

If a publicatino writes about a study or research project that favors your product or service, you'll want to use information for your own publicity. Be sure the get permission from the publication, and properly atttibute the information (ask the publication how they want this done). This is good publicity for you and for the original publisher of the article, and can boost your contact base of journalists.

   

Journal Article

Trade journals frequently publish articles written by industry executives on topics relevant to their businesses. If you have an idea for an article that discusses an industry trend, call or email the editor at an appropriate publication. If you're emailing, include a summary or abstract of the article and the approximate word count. Remember that these articles need to be factual and cannot be construed as an advertisement for your company or product. Make sure the subject is relevant to your industry as a whole. At the end of the article you can include a short biography of the author.

   

Submitting Original Content

The cardinal rule of submitting an article is: know your audience. Familiarize yourself with the work of the journalist you're approaching, and know the readership of the publication. Always read the magazine/trade publication you're trying to get coverage in. Know what kinds of articles they publish, and know what was written in their last issue. Don't pitch a story idea that's similar to one they printed in the previous issue.

   

Journalists Are Writers Too

Remember that journalists are writers first. Make sure your release is well-written, and that spelling and grammar are impeccable. Errors are distracting and unprofessional. Be sure to have a disinterested party (or, preferably, more than one) scour your release for errors and inconsistencies.

   

Pitching Journalists

Sending story ideas to journalists should be a significant part of your public relations campaign. Carefully read the publication and craft a story idea that shows that you know what kind of articles the magazine or newspaper publishes, and who their audience is. Then send a synopsis or abstract of the story to the editor or the appropriate writer. If you prove that you're a valuable asset to their readership, it will better your chances of getting into print.

   

Identifying Journalists

Finding and contacting the right reporters for your industry niche can be a time-consuming process, but it can be very rewarding as well. It pays to put the time in to research who is writing what about your industry. The first place to start is by looking at magazines and newspapers your customers read. Visit the Web site of each publication for a list of writers and editors, and their email addresses. Check the Web site for information on how to send press releases and story ideas to the publication, and follow their instructions to the letter. It will take you a few tries, but persevere and you'll eventually find someone to cover your story.

   

Really Simple Syndication

Really Simple Syndication (RSS) is a way to make news accessible on any Web site. It's an XML (eXtensible Markup Language) application that anyone can use. If you want a news story about your company to be available as and RSS feed, create a description of the story and its address on your site, and register that information with a directory of RSS publishers. Any user with a Web browser can then read your news, or put a link to it on his or her site.

   

Website content

With a little legwork, you can probably find some content or tools that will enhance your Web site. Consider your product and the customer you are trying to reach. Then consider what other things would interest them, and do some online research to find companies that provide these other products or services. See if they offer anything free that you can put on your site, or you can include a link to their site from yours. Try to get them to include a link to your site as well. Just beware - if you link to another site, you make it easier for your customers to click off of your site. Make sure it's equally easy for them to get back.

   

Media Relations

Consider the media to be a special type of customer. Don't forget them when sending holiday cards or announcements of special promotions. If you're participating in a trade show or other industry event, consider attending or even hosting a media event to attract the attention of reporters and editors. 'Court' the media as you court your customers.

   

Media Relations Consultant

Many larger companies have media relations consultants, while still larger firms may have a full time media relations person or department. For smaller companies, it can sometimes be helpful to hire a media relations consultant on an as-needed basis. Look for someone with experience in your industry, because what you're buying, after all, is the person's contacts with the media that cover companies like yours. Sometimes companies hire media relations consultants for crisis management, if the company has a large layoff or is involved in a high profile lawsuit.

   

Public Relations Industry

The public relations industry is large and varied, and there are many opportunities, ranging from multi-national PR firms to one-person shops, and everything in between. By doing your homework, you can find a PR organization to help you with your publicity, or a firm that you want to work for if you're looking for a career in PR. Do your research and go after the firm that meets your needs.

   

Public Relations Strategy

As your company grows, you may want to expand your public relations efforts beyond issuing a press release every few months. A comprehensive public relations strategy will address new product launches, an ongoing schedule of releases, public speaking opportunities and bylined articles. A PR firm can help you identify a public relations strategy to suit your business. Once you have the strategy, you can decide whether you want the PR firm to implement it, or if you can implement it yourself.

   

Send Press Release

Sending the press release itself is a fairly simple matter. You can get most journalists' email addresses from the Web site of the publication they work for. Some will indicate that they don't accept attachments. Be sure to honor this guideline, as attachments won't get opened at these publications. Keep the email subject line succinct and to the point - and don't try to get cute, unless you want your release to end up in a bulk mail folder amongst the pitches for low-cost prescription drugs and work-at-home opportunities.

   

Press Release Distribution Services

There are many companies that will distribute your press release, either ostensibly for free, or for a fee. Compare carefully to determine what services you want (general release over the wire services, targeted distribution to selected industries or segments, or full blown media relations services) and what price you want to pay. Don't be afraid to spend a little money to get service from professionals. If you've got a blockbuster announcement that can transform your business, it's probably worth paying to get some expert help in getting the word out. It's still the cheapest of the marketing disciplines.

   

Free Press Release Submission Services

There are online companies who offer to submit your press release for free. Carefully research any company who offers to do this. Many will simply blast email your release to anyone and everyone in their database. While it's possible that the blast email includes reproters who cover the industry you're in, it's a good idea to always follow-up with specific publications after your release is sent.

   

Keeping It Simple and Factual

For a press release to be effective, it needs to be clear, factual and to the point. If an reporter wants to write a more in-depth article on your product or service, they'll call you for more information. State the facts (in the best possible light, of course) clearly and consisely, providing greater detail in the lower paragraphs of the release. A press release typically includes a quote from a senior executive, in which you can toot your horn a little, but make sure it actually says something meaningful. Cut the fluff, and stick with the facts.

   

It's not advertising

A press release is intended to be the basis for a news story. Overblown claims and advertising slogans have no place in a news press release. Present your product or service in a factual way, avoiding comparisons to your competition unless they are germaine to the subject and indisputable. Be sure that your release includes the basic facts (who, what, where, when, why, and how) in the first paragraph if possible.

   

Getting It Read

When a journalist receives a press release, he or she will usually scan it briefly, perhaps reading the headline and first paragraph or two, in order to determine if it merits further investigation. While a compelling introduction doesn't guarantee publicity, a poorly written or inconsequential beginning pretty much ensures a trip to the circular file.

   

Contacting Journalists

Journalists are very busy, and work under tight deadlines. Don't be concerned if you don't get a response from an editor or writer to an initial inquiry. Continue to email the appropriate people when you have an announcement to make. Eventually, you'll hit the right person at the right time, and a journalist will call or email you to do a story. Once you've broken the ice, if you maintain a good relationship with the journalist, you may get last-minute calls for quotes for a story or interview.

   

Sample Press Release

Sample press releases are available online and in many books on public relations. They can guide you in creating your press release by providing an outline or template for you to follow. Since there is a standard format for a press release, a sample may help ensure that you include all the relevant information in the right format. Just be sure to proofread your release carefully to make sure that it flows well and makes sense. Creating a release one section at a time by following a sample can sometimes make the end result choppy and disjointed.

   
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Tammi Reynolds