Media relations is an important part of any company’s self-promotion efforts. Here’s a brief guide to how, when and why to write and send a press release.
How to write copy for a press release
Today media outlets are operating with fewer and fewer reporters, although they are generally expected to produce the same amount of content. When you provide the media with a competently-written press release on a newsworthy topic, you’re saving their staff valuable time, and the chances that some part of it will be used are good. On the other hand, if you give them something that reads like promotional copy on a non-newsworthy topic, it’ll wind up in the trash. Also, your credibility will suffer, meaning the press is more likely to ignore you the next time you send something.
Remember that copy for a press release should read like a newspaper article – not advertising copy, or a promotional brochure. In other words, the body copy should be strictly factual, with information that can be empirically proven. For example, while a promotional brochure for Prime Design Solutions might read something like, “Prime Design Solutions has grown to become one of the region’s best-known marketing agencies, and is your single source for all your promotion and branding needs,” a press release might instead read, “Founded in 2005 as a one-person design firm, Prime Design Solutions is today a full-service marketing agency offering web design and development, corporate identity and design services, copywriting, and more.” The same basic idea is conveyed in both sentences, but can you see the difference?
That said, you can express opinions in press releases by including them in quotes. To build on the above example in my theoretical release about Prime Design Solutions, I could add a quote from Brian Law, the firm’s president, as follows: “‘I’m proud of the strong reputation we’ve built regionally,’ Law said. ‘We have some of the most talented professionals in the area working for us, and our client list speaks for itself.’”
What to write about
The most important factor, of course, is whether you’ve got actual news to write about – in other words, a newsworthy topic. Pitching a story to any media outlet is just like a sales call – you’re much more likely to have success if you can demonstrate that you’ve done your research by knowing what your prospect (in this case, the media outlet) cares about. The best way to learn what is newsworthy to a given news media outlet is to pay attention to the business stories that outlet runs. Pay attention to overall news content, but also regular features. Do they, for example, run a “business spotlight” or other regular feature or column for which your company might be a fit?
Bear in mind that what’s considered newsworthy by your local media might not be the same as what’s newsworthy to trade publications in your industry. It may make sense to tailor your release accordingly.
Here’s a quick guide to what might be considered newsworthy for the mainstream media:
New employees: You won’t get a huge article, but you can get a brief in the newspaper. Announce your new hire with a paragraph or two about the employee’s past experience, and what he or she will be doing for you. Include a professional headshot in color, if at all possible. If you can tie this news into a narrative about how your company is growing or offering new services, by all means do so. Pro tip: Wait until the employee has been with your company long enough for you to be relatively confident the hire is working out. You don’t want to announce a new hire publicly and then have to explain to your clients why he or she is no longer there a week later.
Awards, industry recognition, service to industry, or new certifications: Again, these are good topics for news briefs — these could be awards your company receives, service by a specific employee (such as election to the board of directors of an industry trade group), or new certifications or qualifications earned by existing employees. Make sure you explain why the award, recognition, or certification is noteworthy.
Many times, the awarding organization will give you a template press release to work with – otherwise, you might look at their website to get those facts. For example, “The Gold Award is given annually by the XYZ Trade Organization to the top-performing agency in the five-state mid-Atlantic region. Criteria for the award include sales volume, employee retention, and customer satisfaction,” or, “The Good Neighbor Award is given by the National Association of Realtors to Realtors who have made an extraordinary commitment to improving the quality of life in their communities through volunteer work.” If you can, include a website URL where the reporter can get more information.
Growth or major new contracts: If your business expands, moves to a bigger office, opens a new branch, lands a big contract from an impressive client, or in some other way demonstrates major growth, that’s newsworthy. Include as many facts as you can that illustrate this growth – these could include statistics about increased sales volume, geographic reach, expanded products or services, number of employees, and so on. Pro tip: if your budget and the situation allows, you can make a new office/branch story even more newsworthy by holding an open house to which the public is invited.
Innovative approaches, interesting regional stories, or ways in which your business exemplifies a national trend: Stories of this nature are more akin to feature stories, rather than hard news, and are therefore somewhat harder to land. Stories of this type could include the development of new technology; an innovative way you’re meeting a market need locally, regionally, or nationally; or a major anniversary for your business. What kind of business features do you see in your local newspaper? Can you relate your business to a national trend in your industry?
Charitable efforts of note: If your business is spearheading or supporting a charitable or volunteer effort, or donating a major service or product to a charity, this may be newsworthy. The bulk of this kind of release should be about the charitable effort, not your business. Pro tip: Unlike most forms of business press releases, you might have success with television news here, if there’s an opportunity for the news to shoot the charitable or volunteer effort in action. Alternatively, let your local news media know when is a good time for a photo op, or even send a photo with the release.
The long list of things that aren’t newsworthy includes sales or other promotional offers.
The anatomy of a press release
Your press release should include:
Contact information and date: Who should the reporter contact for more information? Include e-mail and phone number, as well as your company address. Include the date at the top of the release.
Headline (and subhead): This is the first, and in some cases the only, thing the reporter will read. Make sure your headline (and subhead, if you choose to use one) succinctly communicates the content of the release, and why it’s newsworthy.
Dateline: The first paragraph of a press release should start with a dateline, explaining where this takes place, like this: JOHNSTOWN, Pa. — .
Body copy: The body copy of the release should tell your story, making sure you answer the basic questions of who, what, where, why and when. Paragraphs should be relatively short. Remember to write in the style of a newspaper article, not promotional copy, as discussed above!
Quotes: Longer releases should include quotes from major players in the story. For example, if I were writing a release about Prime Design Solutions landing a major job, I would solicit a quote from the client stating why we were chosen for the job — after all, it’s always more credible to quote someone else praising your company, rather than saying it yourself — and use that along with a quote from the president of Prime Design Solutions about why this is important to the company’s growth. Once again, quotes are a great way to express opinion. Don’t expect quotes to be used in short stories (such as new employee news briefs), although it’s still a good idea to include them to support your overall narrative. Bear in mind that if your news is big enough that the reporter interviews you, he or she will use quotes from the interview, not your release.
Boilerplate: The optional “boilerplate” is a concluding paragraph that includes background information about your company that the reporter might find useful, but that isn’t integral to your main story. It’s often printed in a smaller type size, or following three hashtags (###), which is a traditional way of signifying the end of a release. You may include more than one boilerplate, if another company or organization plays a major role in your story — for example, if your release is about your company receiving an award from a trade organization, a boilerplate for the trade organization may be appropriate too. Include URLs in your boilerplate(s) in case a reporter wants to read more about the organization(s) — the reporter might even hotlink them, in some forms of online media.
Photos: Well-done, high resolution, color photography can be very useful for certain kinds of releases — headshots are highly appropriate for any release that’s about a specific individual at your company, for example. Make sure your shot is at least 300 dpi (dots per inch) in resolution for print media, and jpg format is generally preferred because it’s the easiest to e-mail.
If you are successful in landing a feature story, your local media outlet may send a photographer to shoot the event, new technology, new office, or whatever, but in this age of reduced news staff, don’t count on it. So if you can, provide a photo. For business journals, trade publications, and other non-local media that can’t possibly get to your site to take photos, you’ll need to send photography.
Who to send the press release to
If you have a list of local media, great – if not, research that and draw up a list. Newspaper and print media tend to cover business news more than other forms of media, so start there.
News releases are generated and sent at a rapid pace, and your chances of getting coverage are greater if you send the release to the specific journalist who’s most likely to find your information interesting, rather than a general e-mail address. After all, do you pay more attention to your email@example.com e-mail address, or the one that goes to you personally?
If you don’t know which reporter or editor should receive your release, usually the media outlet’s website will point you in the right direction by indicating who covers business. There’s also absolutely nothing wrong with calling the newsroom and asking for guidance.
Television news. Television news is typically controlled by an assignment editor. If you think you have news that would be interesting to television news, find out who that person is and direct the release to him or her. Bear in mind the news must be visually-oriented — there has to be footage of something interesting for a story to work. Don’t bother sending things like new employee announcements to television stations.
Some markets also have news-chat shows, often airing in the mid-morning or late afternoon before the evening news comes on. Generally, the audience of this type of show is skewed toward older people and stay-at-home parents – in other words, people who are more likely to be home during regular business hours. If your news might be of interest, direct your release to the producer and offer to come on as a guest. “Show-and-tell” segments make up the bulk of this type of show, and are filmed live — so be prepared to explain what you would bring or tell about. Can you come up with a pitch that makes sense?
Radio news. Most mainstream radio stations cover news headlines and the weather, but not much business news. Local shows on news-talk stations, sometimes on the AM side of the dial, are a better bet. Again, do your research — listen to the shows, or see if you can find out what kinds of topics they’ve covered in the past. Can you come up with a pitch that might appeal to a particular host?
Other media outlets. Do not overlook online or print business journals in your region. You should also send your release to any business-related organization you might belong to, such as local or regional chambers of commerce, convention & visitors bureaus, regional or national trade organizations, and so on — many of them have print or e-newsletters, online news sections, or other publications. Think about what you’re trying to achieve, and which audiences you want to reach — there may be more opportunities there than meet the eye. For example, I know of more than one company that sends new employee announcements to the employees’ alumni newsletters as a recruitment technique.
Promote your story through your own channels. Don’t forget to promote this story through social media, your e-newsletter, and blog. Pro tip: It’s best to let people in your own network — such as your social media followers and e-newsletter subscribers — know your news right before the news media receives it. After all, they’re your supporters, so they deserve to know first! More importantly, when they see your news in the paper, they’ll feel “in the know” — and who doesn’t like that feeling? Finally, when you get coverage, let people in your social media network know, including hotlinks to the resulting story or segment.
Writing a guest column
If you don’t have a newsworthy topic to write about, perhaps you can find an opportunity to write a guest column for a trade publication or business journal. This type of column is not directly promoting your company, but is instead about an important topic in your industry on which you can share your expertise — thus positioning you as an expert. What would be interesting to the audience of those publications? Read them to see what kinds of content they provide. Some such publications will even provide editorial guidelines for people who want to contribute guest columns.