How do I make journalists pay attention to my press release? Every company asks this question. Most find the answer in tight, informative copy. An unhappy few attempt to find the answer in colored paper or gimmicks.
When looking for the answer to journalistic attention, ask yourself a few questions.
Before Writing the Release
Is this newsworthy?
- This is the first and major question. The information has to interest the press and the rest of your targeted audience or else your efforts will be wasted.
- Different items will appeal to different segments of the press and public, so choose the media outlet carefully and make sure the release matches their needs.
- Are you sending a segment-specific story to general consumer media? Find a special angle for your story. Does it have local appeal? Is there a unique aspect? Can you combine two items (e.g. a product announcement with a human interest story) to expand its appeal?
- Using an angle may mean you have to write multiple specialized releases instead of one generic piece, but if you get more coverage, isn't it worth it?
What is the purpose of the release?
- This question above sounds obvious, but at times people issue releases without a clear goal in mind. Knowing your objective gives your writing focus and helps in the selection of distribution channels.
- Setting goals also aids in tracking and measuring the overall effectiveness of your strategies. Below is a mixture of short- and long-term goals.
- Increase or maintain awareness
- Establish credibility or authority; build image
- Get interviews on television, radio, Internet
- Become an expert source
- Promote sales
- Drive traffic to a special event or Web site
- Change buyer/industry behavior
- Expand market share
Writing and Editing the Release
News or Feature?
- The news style follows the conventional newspaper approach, summarizing the story's who, what, why, when, where (and often how) in the first paragraph.
- A feature story press release resembles a magazine article and is written in a more entertaining manner. The feature often sets the tone and background before introducing the main topic.
Is the formatting and style appropriate?
There are several ways to format a release, and as long as you follow a few general rules, you should be fine.
- Margins of at least an inch should be on all sides.
- Copy should be double-spaced (though one of my clients uses 1.5 line spacing successfully).
- Include release date or "For Immediate Release."
- Put contact information at the beginning or the end of the release.
- If there is more than one page put "more" at the bottom to point to the following page.
- Add a boilerplate "About the organization/product/individual" section at the end of the story.
- End the release with "30" or "###."
Does it answer the relevant questions?
- Some PR specialists advocate that releases be written as a complete article, citing the tendency of editors to use stories verbatim. Others state that the release should only outline the story since reputable publications will contact the company.
- An ideal approach is to include enough information to allow a busy editor to use it without calling, and write the story in pyramid news style so less essential information is toward the end.
Is it concise?
- News writers and editors take about five seconds to decide whether or not to use your release.
- Go long on facts and short on adjectives. Use short paragraphs for easy scanning. Also use subheads on long or complex copy so readers can grasp your meaning at a glance.
- If your release is three pages or more, consider transferring some of the information to an accompanying fact sheet.
Is there adequate attribution?
- Anything that can be considered subjective, such as opinions, should be credited to an executive in a quote.
Does it need a sample/photo?
- Including visual aids gives your release greater impact.
- A growing number of media outlets prefer high-resolution images to accompany the e-mailed press release
- The photo caption should also explain the who, where, when, why and what of the picture.
After Writing the Release
- Two and even three sets of eyes are better than one.
- Ideally the number of reviewers should not be too long (in order to maintain timeliness), and a process that indicates who has already reviewed the copy (such as dated initials) should be established.
- If you're a small business owner, it is a good idea to have someone else proofread your copy. Since they're not as close to it, they might catch errors that you missed.
Where and how should I distribute it?
- Media outlets have a high turnover rate so an updated media contact list is essential.
- You can send your release to a distribution service such as PR Web Direct or a directory like Cision, which offers an online database of print and broadcast media outlets and their staff members.
- In addition to conventional media outlets, don't forget to send information to Internet newsgroups, electronic newsletters and Web-based mailing lists that accept this type of news.
- Set up a newsroom on your own Web site so reporters can access your entire library of releases.
To whom do I make follow up calls?
- With the proliferation of media outlets, it is impossible to contact each one about your release.
- Make an A-list of outlets that you think would be highly interested in your story and could give you optimum exposure.