How To Write A Press Release

16 Oct 2016
Alan Martin

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In this article you’ll learn how to write press releases and get them published.

You might be thinking that Press is a bit ‘old school’, but it is still an important and cost-effective way to get the word out about your business.

Although this is not an area of business that I usually write about, in a former life when I was Marketing Manager at Dundee Science Centre, I used to write all the press releases and had a really good track record (even if I do say so myself) of getting them published, so I feel I am qualified to talk about this topic.

What is a Press Release?

Before I share my ninja tips on how to write a press release, I thought that I’d briefly explain what a press release is and why you should be writing one.

In a nut-shell a press release is an article that you have written about something topical that’s going on in your business, that you would like to see featured in the media (newspapers, magazines, radio, TV etc), presented in a certain format to make it easy for media channels to use without too much re-writing on their part.

I’ve seen some terrible examples of press releases which simply describe what the business is promoting, without trying to make it into a story. The media is not particularly interested in writing about your new widget, they want stories that are going to be of interest to their readers. More on this later!

So why should you bother writing a press release? Well, it’s free promotion for one thing, if your press release gets covered in the media, but one of the main benefits of writing a press release is the borrowed 3rd party credibility that you get from someone else talking about what you do in a positive light.

Be Prepared

The best time to start thinking about writing a press release is WAY before you ever need to. Your first job (unless you are already doing this) is to compile a list of email addresses of journalists that you are going to send your press releases to.

If you want to be featured in the local newspaper or on local radio, you need to start contacting these outlets to ask what the best email address is to use to send in your press releases. It would also be worth checking with your local Chamber of Commerce (assuming you are a member) or Enterprise Company to see if they have a list of press contacts that they could supply you with, before you spend time on the phone contacting these outlets individually.

If you are looking for national coverage, you could again contact each individual publication that you would like to be featured in and ask them the same question, or buy a copy of the newspaper or magazine, as many of the journalists publish their Twitter names next to the articles, which can be another good way of getting their attention. Magazines often print a list contact phone numbers or email addresses for the different departments, within the publication.

The aim is to build up a list of media sources that you can contact at any time, when you have a newsworthy story. When I was doing this regularly, I’d have a database of journalists, along with contact phone numbers, email addresses and which media outlets they represented. It’s worth taking the time now, to set up your system and then start adding your media contacts.

Another thing that would be worth doing at this stage is to create an account with ‘Help a Reporter Out‘. HARO is an online matching site that matches reporters looking for stories or sources to quote in their articles, with businesses looking to promote themselves in the media. It is mainly US based but some UK publications use the service, so it’s still worth doing.

Lead-In Time

The next thing you need to bear in mind is lead-in time! Lead-in time is the length of time you need to supply your press release to the media outlet, prior to it being used. A local newspaper can take stories the day before publication, provided it reaches them before their deadline, which will be some time during the day. It is essential that you know what deadlines they are working to, so you can submit your content in plenty of time.

Contrast the relatively short lead-in time of a daily newspaper with magazines, which typically need content three months ahead of time. This means that if you want your content to be featured in a magazine, you need to plan sufficiently far in advance to have any chance of being covered.

Before You Start Writing

Now you have your list of media contacts, it’s time to think about writing your first press release. As I mentioned in the introduction, a big mistake I see businesses make is that they simple describe what it is they want to promote and think that’s a press release! Well, I suppose technically it is if they follow the format I’m about to share with you, but is is not likely to be used by the media. Instead you are likely to be politely referred to the advertising department.

No, you need to first of all ask yourself what makes this story newsworthy! Sometimes I had to get creative with this and come up with a stunt or a unique angle, in order to make a story I was trying to get published newsworthy; but these are the lengths that you sometimes need to go to in order to get your story published.

If what you are trying to promote is not newsworthy at all and you have racked your brains on how to get creative to make it newsworthy, a ninja tip is to send your press release to the local newspaper on a Sunday (this is sometimes referred to as a ‘Sunday for Monday’ story). Why? Well have you ever noticed how many local newspapers are thinner on a Monday? The reason for this is because many businesses are closed over the weekend, so the newspapers are short of stories to fill their pages.

By sending your press release on a Sunday, you have a better chance of being featured if your story is maybe a bit less newsworthy than you would like.

Writing Your Press Release

Ideally, your press release should follow a set format and be written in such a way that it could be copied straight from the release and used in the publication. Remember, the easier you make it for journalists to use, the more likely they will be to use it. Quite often when I was writing press releases for the Science Centre, the only thing the journalists would change would be the heading.

Remember to write your press releases in the third person, as it would appear in a publication!

At the top of the page you need to have:

  • Your company name (you can include your logo)
  • Company address, phone number, web address
  • The words “PRESS RELEASE” (Usually in caps)
  • The date issued and when the press release should be used e.g.  “17th October – For Immediate Use”
  • The heading (as it would appear if printed)

The body of the story:

People often skim read newspapers, so it is important that the most important information is at the top. I tend to state what I want people to know in the first paragraph, then elaborate on the story in the rest of article. Another reason for writing in this way is because journalists sometimes ‘cut’ your story and only print a small portion of what you have written. If that happens you want to make sure that the most important information is not cut from the story.

Always include a quotation somewhere in the body of your article. Journalists prefer articles that include quotes, so don’t miss that out. Even if the quote is from yourself, that is better than not having a quote.

End the last paragraph with any calls to action. What do you want people to do as a result of having read your article? Do you want them to visit your website or phone you up?

At the bottom of the page:

Once you have finished writing your article, leave a space and write the word ‘ENDS’

Leave a suitable gap then another heading called “Notes for Editors”. Directly underneath this you should write “For further information please contact..” include your name, job title, phone number, email address and anything else that would help a journalist get in touch with you.

Underneath this you should provide bullet points of any other relevant or supplementary information relating to your article or your business.

Issuing Your Press Release

Now you have written your press release it is time to send it out into the world. This is where all your carefully done research will start to pay dividends. I would typically send out an email to all the media outlets, but make sure you are using the BCC field in your emails. Journalists like to think that they are getting a scoop, and although they will realise the press release has gone out to more than just them, there is no point in making it obvious that you’ve sent it to everyone.

I would quite often split the media types up when sending it out, so newspapers would get one version, and other broadcasters would get a slightly different one. I would also change the name, so it would be a ‘Press Release’ to the newspapers and a ‘News Release’ when I sent it out to other media outlets. I’m not sure if this actually made any difference, but as I said I had a really good record for publication, so I kept up the practice with every press release I sent out.

There are also online services you can use such as PR Newswire that will distribute your content to national, regional and trade media, including newspapers, magazines, online, radio and TV station.

The Fortune is in The Follow Up

Just like with many things in business, it’s what you do after you’ve done all the basics that can make a big difference to the end result.

Although you will have sent your press release out to dozens and potentially hundreds of media outlets, there will likely be two or three places that you really want to see your story covered. If you are a local business, that might be in the local newspaper! What I used to do once I had emailed the press release in and left it a suitable length of time, was call up my short-list “just to check that they had received it”.

This is a great way to find out if they are intending to run with the story, and you can answer any questions they might have then and there. If for whatever reason they tell you that they are not going to cover it, it gives you a chance to explain why they should publish it.

This technique can also help you build relationships with individual reporters, who will likely give you their email address for future press releases, rather than just relying on sending your press release to a general email.

Conclusion

Utilising PR in all its shapes and sizes is an essential part of marketing that many business owners struggle with. They feel a bit uncomfortable blowing their own horn or talking about their achievements. They may even down-play their successes, either deliberately or subconsciously. If that is you, or you simply don’t have the time for this important activity, I would highly recommend that you seek out the services of a PR agency.

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