Are Press Releases Dead? How to Write a Great Press Release with Confidence
January 4, 2016 –
Over the past two weeks, I’ve writing an annual report for one of my clients.
That means I’ve spent hours – maybe days – sifting through their press releases from the past year, tagging interesting content, and writing it all into the report.
Spending so much time around press releases has got me thinking of their importance for businesses – especially when used in the right situations.
A strong, well-written press release can garner media attention and gain publicity.
If a journalist picks up your press release, you may end being featured in an article in a trade publication, newspaper, magazine, blog post, or podcast that covers your industry.
This can open the door to increased visibility among customers and investors. It also positions you are a credible, established business and an industry expert.
And, they’re not all that expensive to produce and distribute.
Of course, news has changed dramatically in the last several years with the rise of internet media and social media. But, that doesn’t mean that press releases are dead (as some have claimed). It just means that it’s more important than ever to be crystal-clear and certain on when and how to issue a press release.
If you’re thinking about writing a press release for your business, here’s the secret: do it for the right reasons and do it systematically following these six steps.
How to Write a Press Release: A Step-by-Step Guide To Writing Great Press Releases
1. Determine if a press release is right for you
A few years ago, you may have heard the buzz around press releases and search engine optimization (SEO). For a short time, it was possible to distribute a press release that contained a link to your website, have the press released picked up and published by a third party site, and gain a backlink to your website. This, of course, would boost your SEO. However, the tactic wasn’t all that ethical. When Google realized what was happening, they began to penalize for it. Press release distribution companies followed suit by using no-follow links in press releases. Together, these two things quickly brought an end to practice. So, that means that if you were hoping to gain direct SEO primarily by sending out press releases, think again!
That aside, there are still many important reasons to issue a press release.
PR Newswire put together a great article on this a few years ago, which I’ve summarized (and slightly modified) in the bullets below. They list 10 reasons why companies might want to issue a press release:
- To gain pick-up with journalists;
- To gain authority and credibility among journalists, investors, and consumers;
- To become discovered online through searches and gain indirect SEO through editorial coverage;
- To gain placement in publications or on news sites;
- To target journalists or publications that focus on your industry – even those that are very niche;
- To distribute multimedia assets, such as videos;
- To create content that can be shared and reposted across social media networks;
- To make your story accessible across platforms, including mobile;
- To establish yourself as an industry expert; and
- To keep an official record of your company’s history.
Do any of these reasons resonate with you? I’d be surprised if at least a few didn’t.
Another thing to keep in mind is that it’s relatively inexpensive to produce and distribute a press release, especially compared to running an advertising campaign.
Still not sure? Check out this great article from HubSpot on the pros and cons of press releases.
2. Define your content
The next thing to do is to narrow down the content that you’d like to include in your press release. For maximum impact, a press release should have a specific focus, and only cover one story at a time.
If you’re not sure what to write about, or if you’re wondering whether your story is newsworthy, don’t worry – you’re not alone. It’s a common concern. To get your PR juices flowing, I’ve summarized below some great ideas that were presented in a popular article, written by Al Lautenslager, for “Entrepreneur”. Even though the article dates back more than a decade, it’s still one of my go-to reference tools.
Popular topics for press releases:
- Starting your new business;
- Introducing a new product or unique approach;
- Passing a milestone or anniversary;
- Announcing a restructuring, or opening a new branch office;
- Receiving an award or appointment;
- Participating in a charity event;
- Introducing a partnership;
- Changing your company name or a product name;
- Earning recognition in a publication;
- Announcing speaking opportunities or events;
- Stating your position on a local, regional, or national issue;
- Launching your new website;
- Obtaining a significant new customer, or a unique vendor agreement;
- Expanding your business;
- Meeting an unusual challenge or rising above adversity;
- Announcing the results of your research or survey;
- Sponsoring an event; or
- Making a public statement on future business trends or current conditions.
If you feel like you don’t have any new news, don’t be be scared of getting creative with your press releases.
This is one of my favourite case studies from Bob Bly’s “The Copywriter’s Handbook”. It illustrates that press release can be fun and creative while also gaining major publicity:
Often copywriters are faced with a client who wants publicity and asks us to write a press release, but has nothing new to report. In such instances, a creative publicist or copywriter can manufacture a hook or angle strong enough to gain the media’s attention. For instance, when Jericho Communications, a New York City PR firm, was looking for a way to gain publicity for their client Domino’s Pizza, someone said, “When we work at night, we order pizza. Maybe the White House does the same thing. Can we see whether pizza deliveries to the White House increase when there is a national emergency?” Sure enough, they did. And Jericho created the “Pizza Meter,” publicizing the fact that you could judge the state of the nation by the volume of pizza delivery to the White House. The tactic was successful, garnering major media coverage for the pizza maker. (p. 211)
Thinking outside the box, like this, can produce amazing results.
Once you’ve nailed down the scope of your press release, it’s time to get writing. (My favourite part!)
3. Craft your press release using compelling language and a rock-solid structure
What’s going to first attract the attention of journalist, investors, and customers?
That means the headline of your press release should be magnetic. It should cut straight to the point, demonstrate the significance of the story, and promise only what the press release delivers. In other words, the headline should sum up your story. As a general rule of thumb, the headline should be no more than 2-3 lines. Keep it succinct!
After your headline, comes your lead.
A lead (or lede) is the first sentence or two of the body of your press release where you sum up the “5Ws” – “who”, “what”, “when”, “where”, “why” – and the “how”. It’s important to write a strong lead. Not only does it immediately tell the reader what your story is about, it also conveys your key message in a short snippet, should a publication chop off the rest of your story.
Next comes the body of your press release.
This is where your story unravels, and you draw the reader down the page. It’s a good idea to include a powerful quote or two, either from the CEO of your company or another person relevant to the story. Using a quote allows you to show your company’s position on the story, and develop your company’s unique voice.
Other than in the quote, try to avoid the use of “I” or “we” in the press release.
Finally, when writing a press release, it’s important to remember that your story should be positioned as a news story – not as advertising. Readers are incredibly savvy and will pick out language that sounds sales-y in nature. If your press release is all sales and no news, it will be discredited – wasting your time and money.
4. Format your press release to fit
This is a simple – but important – step. Format a press release wrong, and you’ll come off looking like a novice.
Here’s a checklist to make sure you’ve covered your bases:
- Use a standard font, like Calibri or Times New Roman.
- Bold your headline, using a larger font.
- Include a release date, or the words “For Immediate Release”. You may also want to include the name of the city your press release is originating from.
- Keep the press release to one page (ideally) or two pages (maximum). In other words, aim for 400-500 words.
- Include a caption for any photos or videos.
- Indicate the end of the press release with “—END–”, “—30–”, or “###”
None of this is absolutely necessary. But a common, recognizable format will help your readers understand your message.
5. Edit your press release – more than once!
It’s very important to use correct spelling and grammar in a press release. Edit it several times to make sure you’ve eliminated all errors. When I edit a document, I like to edit it the first time on my computer screen, the second time on a printed hard copy, and the third time by reading it aloud.
Once a press release is distributed, it can always be retracted. Or you can issue a correction. But neither are ideal. Once your press release is out, it’s out! It’s best to avoid mistakes altogether by ensuring your editing process is solid.
While you’re editing, also look for any adjectives that you can eliminate. This includes words like “best”, “great”, “special,” “important,” and so on. This sort of language – while it may be suited to marketing – is a turn-off to readers who are looking for news.
6. Distribute your press release
When you’re happy with your press release and ready to send it out, the final thing to take care of is distribution.
While there are many options for this, choosing a large, well-known distribution service is your best bet. They will offer you news wire services, online posting, and targeted list distribution. They will also help determine a distribution plan that makes sense for your business, and ensure your content is formatted and approved properly for the wire.
Once your press release has been distributed, it’s a good idea to email the press release yourself to any media contacts you have, and promote it on your business blog and social media channels. This will help you get the best bang for your buck.
Now it’s over to you: Do you have any secret tips on creating great press releases? Or, how about examples of creative press releases that got stellar results?