A public relations professional is a critical component of a marketing team. They are the mediators between the customers, the investors, and the company.
Press releases are their weapon of choice.
Essentially, a press release is a document written for the press with details and news about the company in hopes that a media outlet will publish a story about the content in the press release.
PR professionals seek to give their company positive exposure. Press releases are not the only way to engage with members of the media, but it is often a stepping-stone to a larger conversation — an icebreaker.
A well-written press release conveys important information in a small package, and it needs to be interesting. Press releases are still relevant in the age of social media, even though there are plenty of bad ones.
The tips below are do’s and don’ts on writing press releases that I learned from working both sides of the media equation, along with other general advice related to the topic.
Just remember: Get to the point, and make sure it’s newsworthy.
What Do Journalists Want? A Newsworthy Press Release
When a journalist checks their email in the morning, there are many press releases waiting alongside yours, and most will contain almost nothing newsworthy.
These are tossed after the first paragraph.
Journalists have a short attention span when it comes to press releases, so it’s best to be concise. Provide just enough information to interest the reader, and get the important details up front.
If, for example, your press release is about a new product, don’t list the specs. Instead, write a brief synopsis about the product and include things like:
- How much it costs
- Where it’s available
- What the different versions are
- What features it comes with
- How it’s different from competitors
- Where it’s sold
If your press release is newsworthy, a reporter will reach out and contact you for more information. Having your company written about in a publication will increase your exposure to new customers, which could lead to an increase in sales.
So, before you send out your press release in a mass email to media outlets and reporters, ask yourself if your press release is newsworthy.
The answer to that question is subjective, and each reporter has their own opinions as to what information is newsworthy.
For starters, ask yourself a simple question:
Would I want to read about this if I wasn’t directly involved?
Just because something happened at your company doesn’t mean it’s news. If you hire someone new, it’s not newsworthy unless it’s a high-level hire like a CEO. A new product could be newsworthy, but it’s necessary to explain why that is.
Possible Newsworthy Topics
- New products
- New hires, if it’s someone important
- Mergers and acquisitions
- New website/store
- Charity work/large donations
- Recalls/product defects
Simply stating some of the topics above won’t be enough. For example, don’t just say you have a new website, but explain why the website is different from the old one and why it matters.
If you’re opening a new branch or office, reach out to a local paper and tell them about the jobs it will bring and why that particular city was chosen.
Newsworthiness is one of those things that you know when you see it, and you know when you don’t.
Top-Quality Press Releases Are Concise
A good press release shouldn’t be more than a page long. Remember, space at a publication may be limited, especially at traditional print publications, which rules out a long press release.
More to the point, most business-related press releases just aren’t interesting enough, even when they’re very interesting, to get much coverage period.
Get to the point, and get to it fast. If your company’s news is truly newsworthy, journalists will ask you for more info, or even interviews, after reading the piece.
When journalists write news, they place the most important information in the first paragraph — this is called a lede, which is intentionally misspelled. Another journalism practice to use is the inverted pyramid, which is when you write the most important information at the top and go from there.
You should follow these concepts because those first few sentences are where you capture your audience. Entice them with the juiciest morsels of news, and they’ll read the whole thing.
Cut out the things that aren’t as important and condense your press release to its most basic information.
Don’t Be Secretive
You won’t always be able to disclose what your company is working on (that’s just part of business), but remember that if you can’t talk about it, don’t bring it up.
Fortunately, there’s a solution to this problem — sending a press release with an embargo. You can tell reporters everything they might need to know, but they’ll have to wait until the embargo lifts to write about it. Just make sure they agree to the embargo before you send the press release.
Here’s a handy graph to help you decide if you need to embargo your press release or not:
To reiterate: Don’t write about the thing you can’t talk about until you can talk about that thing.
Keep the Info on Your Website Up to Date
When a journalist reads your press release, they might want to look at your company to see what you do and to learn more about your operations. A good journalist will do their research, but you should make general information readily available on your website.
A great about page makes it easy for journalists to acquire general information about your company, and it narrows down their questioning if they conduct an interview.
You’ll also want to make sure other pages with basic-yet-critical details, like your location and contact pages, are up to date.
Info You Might Want on Your About Page
- Mission statement (why the company exists)
- Vision statement (where the company is heading)
- Founding date and brand story
- Headshots of top executives and employees
- Social media links
- Major clients
Alternatively, you might consider creating a press page, and even a media kit. That might include concise versions of the info above, as well as some other key items that make journalists’ lives easier, such as:
- A downloadable PNG version of your logo
- Previous press releases
- Links to articles about your company
- Contact info for PR employees
- Concise company overview
- Details about flagship product(s)/service(s) (including downloadable images of an appropriate size and format)
Let all these pages work together to answer the most obvious questions about your company that any journalist (or customer!) might ask.
Delivering and Pitching your Press Releases
Sending out your press release requires equal parts research and luck.
Before you start typing, it’s a good idea to identify the media outlets and journalists who might cover your press release.
The luck part is in the hands of the Marketing Gods.
Though you can send press releases directly to journalists, it’s more common practice today to use an industry website where you can upload your press release. This is a common modern method used by PR professionals.
It’s common because it’s fast, and not every PR professional has time to reach out to journalists individually. However, it’s not the best way to do it because your press release may be lost among the thousands of others.
If you want to avoid getting lost in the shuffle, instead identify the publications and reporters who would be most likely to find your press release newsworthy, and then reach out to them.
Time consuming, but much more effective.
Keep a Running List of Journalists, Publications, and What They Specialize in
To make your life easier in the long run, keep a running list of potential publishers, such as your local newspapers, industry publications, reporters covering your industry, and reporters who have covered your competitors, and add to it regularly.
Look through contact pages on Twitter, Facebook, or online to find these reporters and add them to your list. If you have a press release that you think is newsworthy send a message to a reporter, and concisely explain its newsworthiness.
These methods are not guaranteed to work, but it will increase your chances. Just keep trying until you find a reporter willing to write about your company.
Be Available for Follow Up
Editors usually don’t want quotes from PR people.
That’s because PR people aren’t experts on their company’s products or decisions.
Editors want quotes from the people who actually worked on the product or who were in the boardroom for the decision, and if an editor wants something then a journalist does too.
If you wrote a press release about the new technology inside your product, a journalist will likely want to speak to an engineer, designer, or other experts about that topic.
PR’s role is to put those interested parties together.
As you’re writing your press release, start thinking about the people in your company that a journalist might want to speak to. Let those people know ahead of time that they might be asked for comment.
PR professionals are the gateway between the press and their companies, but you can make it easier on yourself.
A journalist that can’t get ahold of anyone in your company for a quote might just give up on the story and move on.
Don’t let that happen.
As the mouthpiece for your company, your duty is to provide news and information to external entities, which requires trust on both sides.
For this job, you’ll probably need to like people — sorry fellow introverts.
You’ll need to develop relationships with journalists and other media types if you want to succeed at this. Doing so will increase your chances of having your company published in the news.
How do you cozy up to journalists?
If you’re looking for some kind of strategy or formula, then you’re approaching this wrong.
After you do all your research on the journalists who might potentially cover your press release, now it’s time to make friends. Invite them out to lunch to discuss what your company is up to, or give them something exclusive — that always builds trust. Eventually, as you work with this person on several occasions, you will develop a professional relationship that can be mutually beneficial.
Public relations professionals need journalists, and it’s the same the other way around. These relationships do take time to build, but be patient and open to working with others.
It also never hurts to have these people in your corner in the event of a public relations disaster.
Spread the News
Press releases continue to be a crucial tool for marketers and public relations professionals. Follow these tips and strategies to increase your the chance for publication.
And if you need a little help getting those website pages we mentioned earlier up to snuff, check out the Website Content Template.