It’s true that every business is a publisher. In other words, every company has the opportunity to produce content, such as blogs and webinars and podcasts and so on, to attract attention and prospects and increase its profile. In essence, every business these days is, increasingly, the media.
But nonetheless, there's a certain cachet to getting a major news outlet to tell your story for you. And there are other benefits, too, of course: like broader reach, and instant legitimacy, and the fact that your Mom can brag about it. Every day, for example, I get dozens of emailed press releases and idea pitches from business owners and the public relations people who work for them.
Like a lot of editors, I ignore many of them. Some of them are tossed immediately because they suffer from what my friend Matthew Stibbe calls “Frankenquotes,” or bloated, monstrous quotes stuffed to the seams with spare jargon parts, all patched together to create something hideous. The quote is usually attributed to a Big Cheese with a Fat Title. (But, ironically, no human would ever utter the words.) Here’s an example of what I mean:
"ZZZ company has re-affirmed its belief that ZZZ consumers want a voice in and want to help shape the future of the ZZZ franchise," said Abby Simon, senior vice president, chief consumer engagement officer, ZZZ Company. “By maintaining an open dialogue with our consumers through an intense, year-long collaborative and strategic project, we’ve offered them an opportunity to leave their imprint on a legacy brand they truly love, have solidified an even stronger relationship with fans, and are delivering a more efficient dialogue.”
Amazingly, I’ve received much worse. But do people really talk that way? Do you?
Here are nine steps to crafting a better press release and get the media to sit up and take notice.
1. Create relationships with reporters and editors. This almost goes without saying, but the press releases I pay the most attention to are those sent from companies and public relations practioners I know and interact with. Meeting in person is optimal, of course. But social platforms like Twitter or LinkedIn and Facebook give you the ability to get to know reporter and editors on a whole nuther level.
Press tip: Work on building those relationships before you need them. It’ll pay dividends with my second point here, too.
2. Know the publication you are targeting. In my job, I get a lot of new product press releases requesting inclusion in our “new product release section.” The problem is, we don’t have a section of our publication dedicated to new products, and we don’t run press releases.
Press tip: Be sure you know the kind of articles or stories the publication you are targeting is likely to run, or make sure the story is similar to other stories the writers there have covered.
3. Have something worth sharing. This is another seemingly obvious point, but it’s amazing to me how often I get stuff that’s worthless. The purpose of a press release is to inform people about something newsworthy. It should be new and interesting and, ultimately, something that a media outlet will want to share with its readers.
Press tip: Your news should be of interest to those outside your company, not just within it.
4. Provide a news hook. Sometimes, news events can spark a great opportunity for your company or your expertise. Journalists and editors are often overworked and sometimes just plain lazy; it helps if you make the link for them and don’t wait for them to figure it out on their own.
Press tip: Link your press release to specific news events and tell the editor how and why it matters for their readers.
5. Write a descriptive subject line. I feel a profound sense of lost opportunity when I see a subject line in my inbox like, “News release from Baden Corporation” or “MEDIA RELEASE: Baden Corporation Announcement.”
Press tip: Tell editors what the story is and why it's interesting—not simply that you have a story.
6. Get to the point. Keep press releases short... and embedded in your email, not attached as a file. Editors scan. Make your first sentence your best. Keep it short, with all the relevant information right in the first line or two. Don’t make us dig for the news, and don’t make us open attachments.
Press tip: Keep emails to fewer than three short, tight paragraphs. Include a link to a website or more complete press release for more information.
7. Avoid bloat. Present the facts. Remember the foundation of a good story. Tell editors the Who, What, When, Where, and Why without a lot of bloat or miscellaneous information.
Press tip: Stick to the truth and facts. Avoid exaggeration or hype or bloated language like “world’s first” or “first time ever!”
8. Be human. Reveal the personality of your company through the tone of voice and language you use, and write as if you are speaking to real humans. (Because you are.) Be lively. Doing so will enhance your credibility and give a sense of the color of the story.
Press tip: Write from the “I” or “we.” It helps to ground the story as being fundamentally about people, for people.
9. Speak to your audience, not your client. Often, I get press releases that feel like they were crafted by committee, or come with the above-mentioned Frankquotes. As a result, they feel as if they were written more to please the client-company than serve the media and their audiences. Remember that your “audience” here is really the publication itself, and its readers—not you or the company itself.
Press tip: Sell the story, not the company.
Your turn: What else would you add?
Photo credit: KC Toh