Published on April 29th, 2013 | by Connie Sung Moyle5
An Insider’s Guide to Writing & Sharing Press Releases
The earliest known example of a press release is a clay tablet that dates back to 1800 BC. Suffice it to say, public relations has been around the block, and though it may seem “ancient,” it’s still a thriving and vital form of communication, promotion and marketing for your small biz. This guide gives you the keys to writing a successful, succinct, attention-grabbing press release, plus how to get it seen by lots of eyeballs. The more press your business gets, the more likely you’ll snag potential customers – nothing archaic about that!
Writing Press Releases: 8 Dos & Don’ts:
Drafting a well-written press release doesn’t require a degree in public relations, but you do need news that’s worth bragging about. A press release without concrete news is just as bad as a poorly written one. After that, it’s a matter of writing and formatting it in a way that makes you credible and gets the attention of a busy journalist.
Follow these essential dos and don’ts when you write a press release:
- Put the point of your press release in the very beginning. You only have a few precious seconds to tell the media who you are and why they should continue reading. Cover who, what, when and where by the end of the first paragraph.
- Follow proper spelling, punctuation and grammar. Reporters and their copy editors religiously follow guides like the Associated Press Stylebook and/or the Chicago Manual of Style; check out the AP Stylebook Twitter feed (they often tweet tips and host chats) and the Chicago Q&A section. Or follow one of our favorites, Grammar Girl – she’s got tons of free quick and dirty tips!
- Have a boilerplate. This is the “About [Your Company Name]” section you see at the end of press releases. It’s basically a short, one-paragraph description of your company, where it’s located and where readers should go for more information (like your website, social media networks and phone number). If a reporter isn’t familiar with your company, he or she will expect to find that information at the end of a press release.
- Get a second set of eyeballs. After you’ve been focused for a while on something you’ve written, you need a fresh pair of eyes to catch any mistakes you might’ve missed.
- Exaggerate. Unless you’re only sending the press release to one person, it’s not “exclusive.” Unless lives are in danger or The President is speaking, it’s not “breaking news.” Same goes for “breakthrough,” “pioneering,” “revolutionary” and all those other fluffy adjectives that reporters would never use in their news writing anyway. Instead, demonstrate how you’re innovative with an example or customer testimonial.
- Use exclamation marks. A press release is a formal company announcement. You won’t find an exclamation point in a news article in the Wall Street Journal or Bloomberg Businessweek, so keep the dramatic proclamations to your marketing materials and more informal communications.
- Write an essay. Who has time to read 10 paragraphs? Not a busy journalist, that’s for sure. Keep your press release to no more than one-and-a-half pages, single-spaced. (And no, you can’t use 10-point font.) Break your text into short paragraphs. Use bullet points and subheads. This way, readers can skim the release and get the gist of your news quickly.
- Use “you,” “we” or “I” – except in the quote. Just like a news story, a press release should be written in the third person. Use words like “customers,” “consumers,” “users” and/or plain old “people.” The only place where a first, or second person narrative is OK is in a quote from a company representative.
For more press release advice, here’s a handy template that shows how press releases are generally structured.
How to Make Press Releases Social Media-Friendly
Interesting, shareable content is at the heart of social media, and press releases are an excellent content source. There’s no rule that says only journalists are privy to press releases, or that you have to squirrel them away in some tiny corner of your website. After all, it’s timely and (hopefully) newsworthy – your customers may be interested in them, too.
The challenge, though, is that a standard press release can be a bit of a snore for non-media folks, especially when you consider the typical online surfer who’s used to consuming quick bites of information with lots of “oh look, shiny!” distractions. You can help maintain interest by adding more interactive, social media-friendly elements to your published press announcements. Here are three ways to “socialize” a press release:
1. Show, Don’t Tell. A study by PR Newswire found that multimedia releases – press releases that included photos, videos, infographics, logos, etc. – were shared 3.5 times more often than text-only releases. Additionally, they found that multimedia content had a longer “shelf life,” holding readers’ interest for more than twice as long as their text-only counterparts. And, if someone wants to cover your news, he or she instantly has creative assets for the article, too.
Don’t have a video or slideshow for every announcement? Don’t worry, many of us don’t. But even something as simple as your company logo or a couple of product photos can be a cool visual to break up copy.
2. Sharing is Caring. One of the easiest things to implement is a “Share This” bar to each release. This has become so ubiquitous with written content that readers almost expect it, and your press announcements are no exception. Plus, you get analytics to see what news gets the most interest. Use a free tool like AddThis on your blog, website and/or press page.
3. Links are Your Friends. If you’re directing press and non-press people to your posted release, they might not immediately know how to navigate around your site if they want more information.
An easy way to solve this problem is to add a “For more information” section at the end of your press release with links to relevant product pages and/or previous announcements. Say you’re a winery and just posted a press release about your newest release of Chardonnay. You might want to link to previous press releases about your older Chard vintages, as well as your Chardonnay-or white wine-specific product page on your website. The idea is to create a pleasant user experience for your readers, wherever they happen to come from.
There’s no doubt that social media is changing the PR industry, and the biggest players are taking note. Press release distribution services like PR Newswire and are placing more emphasis on online visibility and social media, putting more resources and technology toward online news distribution, multimedia libraries and search engine optimization. But it’s not just the big guys who are able to leverage the power of social; you can, too!
Get Your Press Releases Found Online
Back in the day, press releases were sent to journalists who would (hopefully!) read them and then decide whether or not to tell the rest of the world. But today – thanks to the Internet – reporters are no longer the gatekeepers. Instead, you can distribute a press release through an online newswire service and it can be re-posted on lots of news websites.
So the challenge is how to increase the chances of your releases appearing in search engine results. Here are a few search engine optimization tips for press releases:
1. Identify Keywords: Identify two or three of your top keyword phrases. What words might customers type into search engines to look for your product or service? Also, think about your competition. If you’re a coffee shop in Portland, Oregon, the term “coffee” might not be your best keyword because you’ll be competing with not just Starbucks (good luck with that!), but the gazillion other pieces of coffee-related content. Instead, the phrase “Portland Oregon coffee shop” is a lot more specific and relevant to what you are.
2. Consider Company Name: Include your company name and most important keyword phrase in the press release headline. Your headline also is usually your title tag – title tags are the text that appears in your browser’s title bar and search engines deem them very important.
Tip: Keywords in the beginning of a title tag tend to have more weight and ranking power than those near the end.
3. Think About Your Headline: Keep your headline between 60 to 80 characters, including spaces. Google only displays about 65 characters in a headline, so you want to fit it all in there if you can. We know, it’s not a lot of space. And, it’s OK if you go over, just make sure the most important stuff is in the first 65 characters or so. A subhead is a great place to go into more details.
4. Key in on Keywords: Include your top keyword phrases in the first paragraph of the press release. Search engines place more weight on text that appears in the beginning of a piece of content. This makes sense; the first few paragraphs are usually the most relevant anyway, right?
5. Link Keywords: Hyperlink those keyword phrases to relevant pages on your website. For example, if one of your keyword phrases is “fair trade coffee,” you want to hyperlink that term and have it go to a page on your website that describes how your coffee is fair trade. This tells the search engines that your keyword is highly relevant to other content on your site, and search engines value relevance above all else.
6. Share Real News: Make sure your press release communicates something that’s actually newsworthy. OK, this might not be directly rated to search engine optimization, but it’s super important to PR success. Just because you’re not going through traditional media to get your information out there doesn’t mean that readers don’t expect real news and professional writing. They do. If your press release sounds like advertising or has errors, you compromise your brand. And once it’s out there, there’s no taking it back.
And one more thing to remember: Search engine optimization takes time, so don’t expect your press release to get on Page 1 of Google for your keywords overnight. Also, search engines tweak the way they rank stuff all the time. (They like to keep us online marketers on our toes.) Be patient, consistent and in time your press releases should start moving up the list!
How to Get the Media’s Attention with a Pitch:
To get the media’s attention, all you have to do is cut-and-paste a release into an email, send it off to a bunch of reporters, and they’ll be knocking on your door, right? If that’s your PR strategy, 99 percent of those reporters will never get past the first few sentences. Journalists get hundreds of unsolicited emails and press releases every day, and they’re constantly on deadline; reading an eight-paragraph cut-and-paste job is definitely not a priority.
Sometimes, a more effective approach is to “tease” journalists with a brief, personalized email pitch.
What’s the difference between a press release and a pitch? A press release pretty much tells the entire story in a longer, more formal document that follows a specific format. A pitch is a much shorter, more informal email that you send individually to reporters with the goal of just catching their interest. With a pitch, you want to break through the inbox clutter with content that’s relevant and to the point. And, you want to provide them with compelling news that’ll get them to reply back to learn more.
Here are five ways to make sure your email is pitch-perfect:
1. Create a Catchy News Headline. You want to entice journalists with something irresistible. What’s irresistible to journalists? A great news headline. Instead of “XYZ Maternity Co. Releases New Report” (snore!), try “XYZ Maternity Co. Finds 85% of Moms-to-be Post Ultrasounds on Facebook.”
2. Get Personal. Your PR pitch needs to be personal. Address the journalist by name and include the name of the media outlet. If you can, briefly mention why you’re sending this email to him/her specifically – maybe the reporter has covered your company before or a topic similar to what you’re pitching.
3. Keep it to 2 or 3 Paragraphs. Reporters hate reading fluff, so state your most newsworthy points upfront and quickly. Keep most pitches to two or three short paragraphs, and use bullets whenever possible because it’s easier to scan. A pitch isn’t meant to tell the whole story; it’s supposed to pique their interest so that they inquire for more details.
4. Answer the Question: “Why Should I Care?” Your news may be exciting for your company, but to a reporter, it’s one of hundreds of “exciting” announcements they receive daily. What makes your pitch more compelling than all the others? Pinning an angle to your pitch, like an interesting statistic, a connection to a trending story, or a local slant, will increase your chances of catching a journalist’s interest. Keep in mind that your angle may need to change depending on the media outlet you’re pitching – the interests and needs of a local TV news station may be completely different from an industry blogger.
5. Link to Your Press Release. A press release is still a preferred way for journalists to get more formal details. (Not to mention, it’s great content for your website and good for search engine optimization.) Post it on your site and include a link to it at the end of your email pitch. If you have other creative assets that can help further tell your story, like a video, include a link to that too, or link to it from the press release. Don’t use URL shorteners; reporters may not want to click on them if they don’t know you.
Tip: Keep your PR media lists updated and organize them so that your pitches are as relevant as possible. Your chances of success are much greater if your PR efforts and pitches are targeted to specific interests of reporters.
Public relations success rarely happens overnight. It takes creativity, persistence and a hard shell. (Don’t take it personally if someone’s not interested in your press release or pitch; just keep on carrying on!) Continue to craft compelling stories and be helpful to those journalists you’re trying to attract, and chances are those headlines will come.
© 2013 – 2015, Connie Sung Moyle. All rights reserved.