Press releases are like that first line of Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities, “It was the best of times. I was the worst of times.” Some of them can be wonderful reads – replete with all the right information set out like a compelling story. Then there are those that are not.
The question for you is whether, as an owner of a small or medium-sized business, you should even bother going to the trouble of preparing one.
Yes. Yes, you should.
Stories are some of the most valuable parts of our cultures, communities, and who we are as people. Our stories connect us to each other. They make us more interesting and give our lives meaning. The most important aspect of stories is that they can come from anywhere. Relationships. Events. Beliefs. Any interaction we experience is a story.
So, as a business owner, you can probably identify a million story sources. From what inspired you to start your business to your daily interactions with customers and staff.
The challenge is to identify those that will have the most impact with your audience. It’s that connection that makes press releases so valuable as another marketing tool for small and medium-sized businesses. A press release identifies one compelling story about your business that appeals to readers (which, by the way, includes members of the media). Distributing that story through your website, social media channels, and direct mail puts your business in front of more potential customers. There’s no guarantee, of course. The hope, however, is that the press release will accomplish three jobs:
- It will be picked up and amplified by media.
- It will bring in more customers.
- It will position you as an expert and leader in your industry.
The press release is not dead. Far from it. Done well, it remains an effective method of communicating important information.
If you want to promote an upcoming event, product launch, award recognition, or other type of milestone or happening, then you need a press release.
Th good and the bad of a press release:
- pro It is brief and compelling.
- con It is brief and compelling.
Brief and compelling are what wins the reader’s attention, but they’re not always easy to do. Not feeling particularly writerly today? No problem. If your budget allows, you can hire a content writer or public relations expert to create one for you. The cost will vary according to the writer’s skill and whether you want to farm it out to media yourself or give that job to the PR agency.
Regardless of who writes it, you should know what goes into it.
Anyone looking for advice on what a press release should be used to promote is typically told to think about this question, “Is it newsworthy?” before setting pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard, as it were. So, maybe I’m in the minority. But, I think that advice, though well-meaning and not inaccurate, isn’t all that helpful.
How do you begin to answer a question like that? How do you define “newsworthy”? Is it based on your own perspective or your customers’ perspectives or the media whose attention you’re trying to attract?
And no, contrary to appearances, I don’t believe I’m overthinking this.
Instead, let’s look at how to create a press release from a chunked approach. Take your “may-or-may-not-be newsworthy” idea and measure it against the following considerations.
Who will the news impact most? If it’s a once yearly blow-out sale, your customers will be most affected by the news. If the news relates to a community award your business received, then a wider audience might be interested.
The point of a press release is to report on something that is fresh now. Maybe you want to highlight a new product or a new employee. Maybe you are opening a new location, and you want to remind everyone what inspired you to launch your business in the first place. Maybe you can relate your business to a new and popular trend in society (like greening your product line). All good reasons. The key is to judge your news according to how timely it is.
Essentially, you’re asking yourself whether your news item grabs the reader’s attention like a good story would. How do you convince a reporter to read your press release? Hook them! It’s not that reporters don’t care about press releases. They do. They’re always on the look-out for the next great idea, and a well-composed press release makes that job a whole lot easier. But, they’re just really busy. Don’t leave constructing the story idea entirely up to them. Instead, give them something to build on.
Now, the hard part. How do you turn a news alert about a sale or award into a riveting story that attracts that I’ve-seen-and-read-it-all reporter? Find an angle that the reporter can use. Do you donate some of the proceeds from that once yearly sale to the neediest in your community? Is that award a result of a democratic and inclusive leadership style? Is your new product line the first green initiative in your community?
See? Find that unique, interesting aspect of your news and build a press release around it.
By now, you know what news item you’d like to share, who it impacts, and how you’re going to hook the reader. Next, you have to add in all the other necessary bits.
Headline This should reveal what’s new. It can be long or short, but it must be printed in bold, capital letters. If you decide to include a subheading, it should be italicized.
Body This is where you’re going to lay out that compelling story you built around your newsworthy item. Begin with a dateline (as per the example: LONDON, March 4, 2020/). Keep the body fairly short and to the point. A press release shouldn’t be longer than one page.
One word of note. As you turn your news item into an engaging story idea, remember that the information laid out in a press release must answer the 5 Ws: who, what, where, when, and why. Keep those facts front and centre while you craft your story.
Quotes – Including quotes from a spokesperson from your business is important because it gives reporters another line of inquiry to follow and lends a certain degree of authority to the story.
Boilerplate – This short paragraph lays out a kind of About Us. It sits underneath the quotes and provides a little background information about your business. There’s really no right or wrong way to do this part. The idea is to put across information about your business that you feel is most important.
Contact At the bottom of the page, provide your complete business address, website link, and email. Most importantly, include the full names, titles, and direct phone numbers of contacts. You definitely won’t win coverage if the reporter isn’t able to connect with anyone at your company.
So, you have your complete press release in hand. Now what? You have a few options. You can hire a public relations agency to farm it out to the people on its media lists. Depending on the agency, that can be an expensive process.
If you’re not put off by the time investment, there’s no reason why you can’t use the internet to your advantage. Use it to search out contact information for media that would most likely be interested in your news. Start by sending your press release to your local media, then expand that to include a wider audience that includes newspapers, magazines, television, radio, and online news sources. Don’t forget to include it in your customized press kit, too.
What at first seems daunting, may end up being wonderfully rewarding.
Over to you How have press releases worked for you?