How to write a press release that works for you

http://www.dreamstime.com/stock-image-news-wall-day-metal-sign-image30686451Follow these basic tips and you’ll have a release that works:

  • Plan your objectives. Know WHY you are putting out a release. Exactly what do you want? A story? A mention? An interview? A spot on your website? (should be there anyway) A mention in a blog?
  • People often say “I want to do a release,” when what they really want is free advertising. This leads your release to a short trip to the electronic round file in a newsroom, and hurts your credibility for the next time.  Reporters are busy people and resent being on the receiving end of self-serving promotional pitches.
  • Make sure it’s got potential. Legs. Energy. Interest. Timeliness. ( Last week’s news is fish wrap.) Check your budget. If you are planning on putting your release out on a newswire such as CNW http://www.newswire.ca, realize that it costs money. Call for an estimate, identify your targets, geography, and timing. Nice people there will help you.
  • Check your availability, or that of your spokesperson. Don’t put out a release and then disappear to the cottage for the weekend, or turn off your cell phone. Be available, give all your contact information, and have a back-up person ready to take the media calls if you are unavailable. If one of your objectives is an interview of a noteable person, make sure that person is available and not about to step onto a plane.
  • Make it newsworthy and timely. Make sure you have something to say that interests your target audience. Does it have a solid news angle? (Make the angle on the story entertaining, interesting or newsworthy or don’t bother sending out a release.)
  • Answer these questions as you plan your release: Are prominent people involved? Does your story have a human side to it? Local or industry/cause angle? Can it be tied to a larger issue? 
  • Target your releases. Find the bloggers in your industry or field. Have a media list ready and make sure you’ve got the name of the reporter who covers that beat (area of interest). If you don’t know, call up and find out. Reporters often rotate through different beats. Don’t send a health story to the business section – unless you have a revolutionary new device that will save lives and the company’s stock is publicly traded.
  • Target the webzines and FB pages that carry news and features in your area/industry.
  • Use the proper press release format. Write it properly. Use the inverted pyramid format, with the most important information at the top and your boilerplate at the bottom.
  • Read it out loud. Does it flow? Is it jerky? Are your sentences too long? Watch out for repetition.
  • Have someone else check it for grammar and spelling. Spelling and grammar mistakes can ensure a quick trip to the round file. The reasoning goes like this: if you can’t be bothered to spell it correctly, why on earth should a reporter trust a single thing you have to say?
  • Keep the press release concise and clear. Get to the point in the first paragraph. If you have two key points, the second point goes in the second paragraph.
  • Always cover Who, When, Where, What and Why and Why should anyone care, right up front. 
  • Write an excellent headline. The headline is 90 per cent of the release. If the headline can’t stand on its own, go back to the beginning and ask yourself if you really have something newsworthy to say.
  • SEO keywords – usually a string of words, actually. If you have a good headline, keywords will already be there naturally.  If not, first para should contain them. More is made of this than needs to be made of this. A good release will get picked up all over the place, because it’s a good release.
  • Always have a boilerplate paragraph. Boilerplate means who you or your organization are, what you do/produce,  where you are based and how long you’ve been in business.
  • Make sure it’s “tweetable.” When the coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs was fired, he issued three tweets in a row. Each tweet looked like a separate chunk of a news release. I don’t know this for a fact, but as I sat there watching the CBC tweetfeed, it sure looked that way to me. He also laced his remarks with class and grace – a perfect combination of new technology and old-fashioned principles.

Those are the basics, but rigid adherence to a template can  produce a snorefest. Avoid boring useless quotes that don’t advance your story and won’t get used. A killer usually starts with “I am delighted…”

…which brings me to the “don’ts”:

  • Avoid buzzwords, hyperbole, adjectives, and exaggeration. Do NOT use exclamation marks!!!!
  • Avoid trendy words and phrases like “leading edge” or “continuous improvement”, or one that I have heard recently, “lens.” Another irritant: words that are nouns used as verbs. “Access” is a perfect example, along with “legitimize.” That stuff belongs in mission statements or corporate discussions, not in press releases. Avoid industry jargon or academic language unless you are aiming at an academic journal.
  • All Upper Case Characters – Never submit a press release in all upper case characters. The headline and body of your press release should be in proper case.
  • Grammatical Errors – Even the best writers do make them. Proof read, edit and reproof your release. Obvious errors are easier to catch when composing your release off-line. Never write it during the submission process. Print it off and have a good look at it. If you need editorial assistance, call a professional, like me.
  • Spelling mistakes – quick trip to the round file for your release.
  • Lack of content – Newspapers reject about 10 to 20 per cent of all press release submissions because they lack content. Answer all the “W” questions – who, what, where, when, why and how, (and why should anyone care?)to ensure a complete press release.
  • Press releases that scream BUY ME! Or, AREN’T WE GREAT! – Round file. Do not write your press release like an ad.  Journalists don’t care about  your product/innovation. Your job is to show them why they should. Their job is to relay the news, not to sell anything on your behalf.

Okay, so you’ve now got the idea, but how to get your release to the media? Attachments? FAXES? Bicycle delivery? (only kidding)

Paste the press release into the body of the email. Do not send attachments. Media don’t like it and often won’t open them.

Have a good email subject line. This is not the same thing as your headline. Make sure core message is at the front so it doesn’t get cut off by mobile devices. First 40 or 50 characters are critical. Blogger Brian Clark of Copy blogger www.copyblogger.com  uses this checklist:

·         Useful

·         Ultra-specific

·         Unique

·         Urgent  (caveat: if every message from you is urgent, none is).

·        (One study actually says long subject lines work well, short subject lines work well, but medium ones don’t.)

Watch the “from” line. Use your company or org name, not your own (unless you are famous, and/or highly trusted.) I’ll dump an email from Susan Smith right into the round file unless I know Susan Smith and what she represents.

 Once you’ve earned trust, then this all reverses. Your target audience will open the email because it’s from you, and they have learned that your information always has value.

About Jane Carthew Davidson

As a former senior public relations specialist with a large publicly traded multi-national chemical company, Jane Carthew Davidson produced the company’s award winning annual report for several years. Later, she was media relations specialist for Ontario’s Municipal Property Assessment Corporation (MPAC), where she wrote speeches for the executive team, trained spokespersons across the province, and developed talking points and strategies designed to clarify the role played by property assessment within the municipal taxation system. Jane is a former business reporter for the Globe and Mail Report on Business, and the Toronto Star’s Business Today. Her articles have appeared in the Toronto Star, the Medical Post, the Anglican Journal, the Financial Post and most recently, the Globe and Mail’s special supplements on subjects as wide ranging as organic farming and new investment regulations. On several occasions, Jane’s media savvy and quick research skills enabled her to win broad media attention and investment queries from Canada, the Unites States and Europe, for a unique medical device start-up venture. Following Peterborough’s Flood of the Century in 2004, Jane handled media relations for the City of Peterborough, developing and implementing the communications plan for the city’s media outreach to afflicted citizens, concerned insurance companies, city staff and other government stakeholders.
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