When you’re a small business owner looking to get your company’s message out, perhaps the last thing you’re thinking about is the actual writing of a press release.
If your business is not ready to hire a publicist, much less a strategic PR team, then the person who will be writing that press release is probably going to be you.
To help you out with your first or next press release, I spoke with several media experts in New York and Los Angeles, and gathered 10 tips from them on how to write a superb press release.
1. Learn the format!
There should be a strong headline and a captivating opening sentence that sums up the most important details of the message you are conveying. “I start my first paragraph with the most important info and answer the five ‘W questions’ (who, what, where, when and why),” says Carrie Hyman of M. Silver Associates Inc. “The second and third paragraphs I use to back up the first paragraph with more details about my lead, and then I add a quote from my client and sometimes another one from an executive source relevant to the announcement."
Leesa Raab of ADinfinitum adds that “by highlighting the main points in the first paragraph, if the reporter doesn’t read the whole release they still walk away knowing what you want them to know.”
2. Keep it short and on-point.
Remember, we’re living in a 140-character world where less is more, says Stephen Bender of Bender Media. Sue Small of Bella Public Relations suggests keeping a press release to one page. “Media people don’t want to read more than that. Just put the necessary information down that they need. They will contact you if they need anything else,” Small adds.
3. Set a professional yet engaging tone.
Your press release shouldn’t sound like an obituary. It should be a document that breathes a balanced amount of hard information and personality. “Write with active words so it makes your release sound like it's in motion and happening,” says Nancy Schuster of Say it With STYLE Public Relations Inc.
4. Don’t just think about your clientele -- think about your media audience.
“Put yourself in the journalist’s shoes,” says Hyman. “Ask yourself ‘what’s the news for this story?’” There has to be a hook.
Also remember that the lead paragraph should be timely, relevant and interesting to the media outlet you’re targeting. A broadcast news outlet is addressed differently than a newspaper or magazine, as are blogs or websites. Being well aware of the journalist and editor’s interests and coverage shows you’ve done your research, which makes them more likely to consider your request.
5. Have a release that can be read and accessed on multiple technologies and platforms.
“When sending out the release, be mindful of the fact that people are going to be viewing anything you send them across many different devices,” says Bender. “[I include the release as text] in the body of the email, as a word document, a PDF, [and] include a link to where it can be viewed on the client’s (or your company’s) website to make things as easy as possible to find and explore.”
6. Be SEO savvy.
With ADinfinitum, Raab says she is always thinking about how to optimize visibility of her clients on the web once the release is posted online. “I choose a couple of keywords that are relevant to the company and to the main topic, and use them throughout the press release.”
7. Keep the fluffiness to a minimum and maximize the how you economize each word.
The shorter, simpler and more to-the-point the release, the more likely it will be read. “Too much fluff means that [there’s] no actual news,” says Schuster. “Hit them in the heart; make a connection so the media wants to keep reading your release.”
“I know that most editors are busy and on deadline,” says Samantha Slaven Bick of Samantha Slaven Publicity. “[They] don't want to read pages and pages of info. If you can't say it all in one release, break your ideas into multiple one-page releases with different titles/focus.” For their client S Factor, for example, they broke their press kit into multiple one-page releases, including an “About” release outlining the history, the philosophy, and the basic information; a bio of the company’s founder; a release on the classes offered with brief descriptions; and a release on celebrity testimonials.
8. Recognize that timing can be everything -- down to the hour and day.
Of course knowing a publication’s editorial calendar is important, and targeting the right week and day are important too, but the time of day is also critical. Focus on the sweet spot.
“If you’re sending your press release via email, send it between 2pm and 3pm,” says Slaven Bick. “Most people are back at their desks after lunch by then and are finished with the morning rush. I’ve always gotten the best responses during this time frame.”
9. Quote yourself!
Everyone likes to have their thoughts known. Here’s your chance. “Quotes are important to try and use in your press release,” says Small. “Most of the time editors/media will just directly grab those quotes and use them. It saves so much time and helps editors a lot.”
10. And don’t forget to include you and your company’s contact information’s.
“It is most important,” says Schuster. “If you write a great release and leave out your contact information, you've got nada. Include two numbers. We live in a mobile world, [so you should offer as] much pertinent information as possible.”
Bonus tip: Follow up without annoying or harassing the media.
“An editor friend once told me that a publicist sent her a 'nasty gram' [stating] how many times the publicist had tried to reach her, how unprofessional she was being, and listed all the nice things the publicist was going to do, and now wasn't going to,” says Schuster. It turned out the editor wasn’t ignoring the publicist; she was on vacation.
“The editor no longer works with that publicist,” says Schuster. “No matter how many times you try to get in touch with the media, just smile and wait for that placement, it will happen.”