As a public relations professional I have composed and reviewed hundreds of press releases. A press release is an announcement of news that you are releasing to members of the press, but it is also a promotional tool for sculpting your company’s image, generating sales leads and piquing the interest of your target consumers.
An effective press release tells a story with a news angle and should also have the components of: who, what, when, where, why and how. A press release should also have a title that includes the main facts and message of the release, with the main keywords that you would like people to type into a search engine to find you. The title and summary are your “elevator pitch.” They capture a consumer or journalist’s initial attention. Your title and summary provide your best chance of having it read.
The first paragraph of a press release should always begin with the city and state in which the news is coming from, as well as the date of the news to be released. Another mandatory element is your company or organization’s contact information which some people put as a header bar across the top of the press release, but is mostly placed at the bottom just under what is called a “boiler.” A boiler is a set paragraph about your company or organization; sort of a background/bio/accomplishments combination that is edited into about five or six sentences. For your contact information, the more information you provide the better. At minimum you should have a contact name, company/organization name, telephone number and email address.
As a publicist I find that editors, reporters and producers often treat email the way they used to use the telephone. Members of the media are often on deadline to complete their articles and are too busy and harried to spend time on the phone to hear a pitch or to follow up on one. Unless there is a pre-existing relationship, the phone should be used solely at their disposal. Some exceptions include crucial, time sensitive breaking news that must be relayed in the moment. For this I recommend writing out a short script or outline so that you can get your news to them and get your point across in two minutes or less. If it is breaking news that fits their beat and piques their interest they will gather more information from you on the phone.
When writing your press release for distribution ask yourself the following:
1. How does this news affect my industry?
2. What do I bring to the table that makes us unique and fills a gap in the market?
3. Who is our target audience for this news?
4. Who is our wide or more peripheral audience for this news?
5. Where does our company’s primary revenue come from?
6. Which publications, news programs, Internet sites, radio or TV talk shows reach our target market?
Members of the media say that one of the biggest mistakes people make when writing a press release are leaving out the following:
1. Who the news is about
2. What the news is that you are announcing
3. When it will go into effect or take place
4. Where people can find your goods, service, event, product, etc.
5. Why your product/service/event/new development is relevant at this time
6. How you are doing it or how it is being executed
Another common mistake that media professionals cite is a release that is too lengthy and flowery. A press release is not a book report. It is also not a sales pitch or an advertisement. You do not need fillers. Don’t be superfluous.
Another good idea is to make sure that your press release is not set for just one news angle, but that it has some movement and versatility. What I mean by that is, keep your basic written template the same, but adjust the press release slightly depending on your audience. As you distribute your press release, you can add, subtract or stress certain points that you think that particular recipient would be responsive to. This also goes back to determining your target market versus your wide market.
Finally, keywords or search engine optimization are main points to consider when composing a press release. The Internet has completely changed the way people search for news. The right keywords can triple or quadruple estimated traffic to your news. Press release wire and distribution sites, like PR.com or PR Web in addition to traditional wire distribution services (PR Newswire), feed their news content to news search engine websites. On these news search websites media outlets, journalists, editors and consumers use keyword searches to find news topics that interest them. People type phrases, subjects and sometimes just single keywords into search boxes to find news that interests them. Being shrewd about what keywords people are most likely to type in to a news site is crucial in reaching the right people (try researching on Google.com/trends).
After writing the initial draft of your press release, set down your work and pick up a blank piece of paper. Write down every important word and phrase that you feel captures the topic and subject of your news. Now go back and re-read your press release. See if you have included these key words and phrases or if your language was too vague or abstract. Plug in the important search keyword terms as appropriate. Do Not spam the search engines by adding in more keywords than are appropriate or by repeating the same word or words too many times. That can work against you and red flag your press release in sites like Google News, specifically.
Following these basic public relations guidelines will give you an advantage in reaching the right audience for your press release.