Writing and Distributing a Press Release

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Digital Library > Defining and Serving a Market > Press releases"Writing and Distributing a Press Release"

Press releases are an important part of your company's overall public relations strategy. A concise, targeted press release can lead to media attention, increased sales and an enhanced public presence for your company.

OVERVIEW [top]

A well-written press release can help boost sales, give your business greater public exposure, and enhance your company or product image.

Press releases can generate media coverage that tells millions of potential customers what's new, different and exciting about your business or product. A product review or feature story on your product or company often acts as an implied endorsement or editorial recommendation from an independent third party. And, unlike advertising, this kind of publicity is free. Your main investment is time — plus a little money for stamps, stationery and photocopies — and the exposure you get may be worth hundreds or thousands of dollars in business.

Press releases can take various forms, including:

  • In-depth feature articles on your product or business.
  • Announcements of personnel changes, new hires, and any other news about your business that might interest the public.
  • Radio or television interviews, either with you or someone else connected with your organization.
  • New product reviews aimed for newspapers, magazines and industry journals.

In this Quick-Read you will find:

  • Key facts about press releases.

  • Tips for writing releases.

You may also be interested in Quick-Reads "Dealing with the Media," "After the Story Runs: How to Get the Most From Your Ink" and "Launching a PR Campaign."

SOLUTION [top]

Keep these points in mind when preparing press releases:

  1. The purpose of releases is to entice the media into reporting, in their own words, on your company or product. Unless it's a simple announcement, the material in your release will likely be rewritten to suit media needs.
  2. Media people might call and ask for clarification or additional information. Provide whatever they request, and do it quickly, to accommodate deadlines.
  3. Inaccuracies, poor grammar and "muddy" writing guarantee that your release will be tossed. The media have no time to decode unprofessional submissions. Write clearly and concisely with minimal jargon so that your message is easily understood.
  4. Press releases can be as long as three pages, providing your information is newsworthy and clearly written. One-page releases are best for announcing new employees and straightforward business news. (Keep in mind your audience — local newspapers may care about new employee hires or promotions, but a larger city paper won't — and be discriminating in sending out announcements of this kind.)
  5. Releases are valuable marketing tools. Make sure they reach as many potential customers as possible. Distribute releases at trade shows, mail them to associations, or hand them out at speaking engagements. Display recent press releases on your Web site so they're always available to potential customers as well as the media.

Creating press releases

Start by answering the following questions:

  • What are you trying to accomplish with your press release? Do you have a new product to introduce, or have you improved on an existing one? Do you want to increase your visibility in a new market? Having a clear understanding of your goals will help you focus the text of the release.
  • Are your expectations realistic? Chances are your release won't result in tripled sales overnight. A press release should be just one part of an overall public relations campaign, and often you won't see immediate results. Yes, there are amazing media success stories, but few companies report this experience. Ten phone calls from journalists would be terrific, but one or two responses will mean success.
  • What is your marketing message, and is it newsworthy? Your "hook" or angle should make the release newsworthy to the media by describing what's special about your company or product. Identify your hook by answering these three questions:

    1. How is your product or service special, unusual or different from competitors'?
    2. What innovations can be attributed to your company? Example: "ABC Company pioneered the use of double-sided widgets to reduce equipment failure rates by at least 50%."
    3. What would make people want to read or hear about you? An unusual feature or benefit will pique their interest. Example: A discount travel service, Campus Travelers, can claim a unique service — helping students enrolled in prep schools, colleges, or universities find exclusive student discount fares. That's newsworthy.

What to say in a press release

  • Don't make false claims or create expectations that can't be met. The media will discover the truth (it's their job!), and you run the risk of exposing yourself to unfavorable coverage.
  • Tailor your press release carefully. For food editors, highlight the taste and nutrition of your fat-burning Yogurt Dream product. Lifestyle editors will want to hear about its potential as a weight-loss aid, while science editors will be more interested in the product's special chemical composition. If you can include a glossy photo that tells a related story, it will make your release stand out from the dozens of others the editor receives. Suggest a caption for the photo, just as you suggest text for an article with your news release.
  • Avoid jargon and highly technical language. Don't assume anyone receiving your release has technical or industry knowledge or expertise.
  • Do your homework. Read back issues of the newspapers and magazines you want to target. Emulate the content and style they favor. Examine PR Newswire press releases for more style and content ideas.
  • Include the right details. Press releases are written and presented to the media in a standard format.

    • Release statement. Include the words "FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE or FOR RELEASE AFTER (date)" in the upper-left margin, just under your letterhead. Always boldface and capitalize every letter, and use a slightly larger font size.
    • Contact information. Skip a line or two after the release statement. Then list the name, title, telephone, and fax numbers of your company spokesperson. Supply home numbers because reporters work on deadlines and may not be available until after hours.
    • Headline. Skip two lines after contact information and list your main headline in boldface type.
    • Dateline. Your city and the date you are mailing your release should begin your first sentence.
    • Lead paragraph. The first paragraph needs to grab the reader's attention and quickly impart key information relevant to your message.
    • Text. The main body of your press release should thoroughly develop your angle.
    • Concluding recap. At the bottom-left corner of your last page, restate your product's specifications, highlight a product release date, and indicate if a free sample or review copy is available to the media. Don't forget to list your booth number if you'll be attending a trade show.
  • Make your headline strong. The media are more likely to read your press release — at least through the first paragraph. Stick to one-sentence headlines. You'll find good examples in newspapers and magazines. Avoid cuteness or cleverness, such as "Yummy Yogurt Will Make Your Waistline Yippee." Focus instead on your marketing hook — that is, your product's greatest strength:

    Breakthrough Yogurt Product
    Burns Fat While You Eat
    or
    Yogurt Product Actually
    Helps People Burn Calories

  • Use your lead paragraph to convey, in two or three sentences, the purpose of your release.

REAL-LIFE EXAMPLE [top] Here's how the company Yogurt Dream pitched its unique product in the lead paragraph of a press release:

"Officials at the FDA confirmed that Yogurt Dream, a dairy product with a new chemical compound, actually burns fat tissue while it's being eaten. The startling news was announced yesterday by Mary Dream, founder and president of Yogurt Dream, at the company's headquarters in Radnor, Pennsylvania."

If your angle is more human interest, your lead should still grab the reader's attention and encompass as many of the 5 Ws — who, what, why, where and when — as possible:

"The rising cost of a college education means many families won't get to spend Christmas with their children. But thanks to Campus Travelers, a discount travel service aimed at students, many college students can cut the cost of air travel in half."

DO IT [top]

  1. The main body of your text should clearly explain:

    • Your product name and brief description.

    • How your product or company is different from the competition's.

    • How the media's readers, listeners or viewers will benefit from hearing about your product.

    • Where and how your product is available.

    • Your company's positioning statement. Try to weave it into the lead: Yogurt Dream, a family-owned company specializing in delicious yogurt products that incorporate new weight loss chemicals, announced today….

  2. Use compelling quotes whenever possible. Quotes lend credibility, especially when they're supplied by an expert or a direct user of the product or service. Example: "If it wasn't for Campus Travelers, I would have missed Christmas with my family," said Brenda Smith, a sophomore at the University of Texas. "I wouldn't have been able to afford to fly home."

  3. Use bullets to highlight relevant information. This is useful when you're listing specific product attributes or explaining how something works. It will quicken the pace of your press release and spotlight important information.

  4. Format your release correctly. Use 8-1/2 x 11 inch company letterhead of 20-pound bond white or off-white, and 1-1/2 or double spacing. Print on one side of the paper only.

  5. Draw up a smart mailing list. A carefully planned and targeted mailing of 200 press releases can be more effective than a mass mailing of 2,000. Compile your list through careful research. Check your local library for media directories, some of which are online.

    There are numerous print and electronic media directories. Along with contact information, many of the directories include editorial descriptions of the outlet and its information requirements, such as new product literature or press releases. You can also ask the local chapter of the Public Relations Society of America for names of companies selling directories and software. Keep your list current and even add to it in preparation for your next mailing.

  6. Mail rather than fax your release — or e-mail it. Faxing can be more expensive and time-consuming. And many editors and producers hate to see their fax machines tied up with anything other than late breaking, really important news. Consider e-mailing your press release if you know the e-mail address of the editor.

  7. Have realistic expectations. For every 50 releases you mail, at least two media people should contact you for additional information. But just because you were contacted doesn't guarantee that a journalist will actually write a story about you or your business. Your chances are better, though, if your release is thoroughly professional and you cooperate fully with the editor or reporter who calls in response.

RESOURCES [top]

Books

Publicity Handbook: The Inside Scoop from More than 100 Journalists and PR Pros on How to Get Great Publicity Coverage: In Print, Online, and on the Air by David R. Yale and Andrew J. Carothers (NTC Business, 2001).

Guide to Preparing Cost-Effective Press Releases by Robert H. Loeffler (Haworth, 1996).


Internet Sites

"How to Write and Execute a Press Release" (Edward Lowe Foundation Business Builder, 1996)

"How to Write a Killer Press Release." PRWizard.

"How to Write and Format a Press Release for E-mail Distribution" (Xpress Press, 1999)

"How to Write a Press Release" by Christopher Simmons (Mindset Netwire, 2003)

PR Newswire. The current year's PR Newswire press releases, searchable by topic.


Media Lists/Directories

These directories of media outlets that accept press releases are expensive. You may want to visit a large public or college library to use them.

Bacon's directories of Newspapers/Magazines and Radio/TV/Cable outlets (Bacon's Information, annual).

Editor and Publisher International Yearbook: The Encyclopedia of the Newspaper Industry, (Editor & Publisher, annual).

National PR Pitch Book (InfoCom Group, annual), (800) 959-1059.

Working Press of the Nation: V. 1 "Newspaper," V. 2 "Magazine & Internal Publication," V. 3 "TV & Radio" (Bowker, quadrennial).

Burrelle's Media Directory: V. 1 "Newspapers and Related Media: Daily," V. 2 "Newspapers and Related Media: Non-daily," V. 3 "Magazines and Newsletters," V. 4 "Broadcast Media: Radio," V. 5 "Broadcast Media: Television and Cable" (Burrelle's Information, annual).

Oxbridge Directory of Newsletters and National Directory of Magazines, (MediaFinder, annuals).


Online Media Lists/Directories

Press Access

MediaMap (requires registration)

MDS Connect (Media Distribution Services)

Medialink Worldwide (Agency that produces and distributes news releases to order)


Article Contributors

Writers: Kathleen Conroy and Kimberly Stans

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