As a recent article on OPEN Forum suggests, online news is among the cheapest and most effective ways to generate leads and drive sales. But online news is also one of the most competitive fields in marketing, with tens of thousands of news releases being issued daily. To write news releases that stand out and get read by the right people, follow these five tricks of the trade.
1. Make sure your news is "newsworthy." Sounds obvious, but is your announcement really news? Do a quick sanity check to see if your story qualifies. Consider these examples to jumpstart your thinking:
- Good news topics might include a company debut, product launch, big new contract, expansion of a deal with an existing customer, acquisition and merger, big market promotion, major partnership, new office, employment expansion, promotions and new hires.
- Great news topics are any “first of its kind” development. Obvious examples include items like the first smartphone, first tablet PC or first hybrid car. Not quite in that league? No worries. Think about what you do and what makes your company unique. You might have a newsworthy “first” that’s crying out for a press release, especially if it’s within a specific industry or geography.
- Non-news topics include your blog, your opinion or a re-hash of the announcement you made last week, month or year.
2. Think actively and use pithy language. You have ten seconds to get the reader’s attention, so don’t waste their time. To engage quickly, stick to short, pithy sentences that state the news in clear, simple language and grab the reader’s attention. Use action verbs for punch and zip, particularly in your headline and lead sentence. Consider these examples:
- Great headline: “Acme Stove Slashes Prices 50%—Today Only”
- Bad headline: “Company to Initiate Changes in Rate Schedule for Home Heating Devices”
For the body of the press release, write in simple, declarative prose with few or no adjectives and superlatives. And remember to keep the announcement short, preferably one-half page and no more than one page. Here’s an example from our company’s site.
3. Don't sound like a machine. Most press releases read like they were composed by zombies. They cling to a rigid, outdated template and as a result, one announcement seems like all the rest. To stand out, avoid these common bad habits:
- Over-used descriptive phrase such as: “XYZ Company, the leading provider of. . .” Far too many press releases claim to come from “the leader.” It can’t possibly be true that every company issuing news is the market leader. If you really are, fine, but don’t start the release with something because you are trying to sound more important than you really are.
- Unnecessary formal verbiage: Cut the fluff. A lead sentence like, “ABC Company today announced that. . .” isn’t saying anything. Yes, we know you’re announcing something, by virtue of the fact that you’re issuing a press release. Just say “ABC Co. today launched its new product” or “opened a new office” or whatever the announcement is, and then get on with it.
- Superfluous executive quotes: “I am very pleased by…” said CEO John Smith. If the occasion merits a press release, one hopes the person in charge is happy about it, but you can skip the quote telling us so. Customers tend to ignore such self-serving statements, and creditable journalists rarely print a canned press release quote.
- Meaningless business clichés: Phrases like “paradigm shift.” and “out of the box” are very inside the box. If your announcement is truly new and exciting, find a unique way to say so.
4. Make it easy to find you. Remember: the whole point of this is to gain exposure. So make it easy for media to find and write about you, and for prospects to learn more about your company and convert to paying customers.
- For press: Include your contact information at the top of the announcement (or that of your press representative): business telephone, e-mail address and Twitter handle. Don’t include your mobile number or home phone.
- For customers: Close the announcement with a simple one sentence description of the company and website link both as a text link and spelled out: “For more info, visit our website at www.crawfordPR.com” in case someone prints out your release. You can also include a link that takes them to a specific landing page for tracking purposes. Make sure your contact info is prominently displayed on whatever page you send them to.
5. Push and pull. Now it’s time to “go to market” with your press release. You can use a combination of classic “push” techniques borrowed from outbound marketing and current “pull” tactics from search engine marketing:
- Push: Post your announcement to free or low-cost press release “wire services” such as Pitch Engine and PR Log. Using a wire service gets your announcement distributed to key business news sites and search engines like Yahoo that push the story out to media and customers.
- Pull: Lace the announcement with your company’s SEO keywords and phrases. Best places are up top in the headline or lead sentence. Be selective; don’t dump all of your top search engine phrases into the first paragraph of your announcement. As with the search engines, readers can be turned off by this practice as well.
I’ll be on the lookout, as I look forward to reading about your company’s news soon.
OPEN Cardmember Jim Crawford is president of Crawford PR (www.crawfordpr.com), advising large and small businesses alike on PR, social media and content marketing. Catch his weekly Twitter chat for start-ups #askthePRpro.