When it comes to making announcements about your business, you want to go big — you want to reach your target market, create a buzz and excitement about your products or services, and leave people wanting to find out more. But in this day and age when there are so many platforms, it can be confusing to decide what would be the best way to go about it. Should you schedule a social media post? Publish a press release? Call the media for a news story?
What is a press release?
A press release (also known as a media release) is a brief written statement announcing an upcoming event — such as a grand opening, product launch, or something significant about an organization or business — that you pitch to journalists for publication in media outlets. Essentially, press releases notify the press about newsworthy updates about your company. Its purpose is to get attention and generate publicity. Done well, they’re an excellent component of your marketing strategy. Done poorly, they will end up in a reporters’ trash folder, unread.
For a press release to be effective, follow these steps:
1. Personalize the subject line. Journalists receive thousands of emails a day. They delete most of them. Do a little research on who you’re sending the message to, and personalize both the subject line and the email. Only send it to journalists whom you know typically write stories related to what you’re announcing. Congratulate them on any recent accomplishments — “Congrats on that Emmy! What an accomplishment!” Make sure to be genuine. No one likes a brown noser. Starting points include checking out the person’s LinkedIn account and doing research on past stories they’ve written. Make sure to personalize the email. If it looks like a copy and paste you’ve sent everyone in your contact book, you’re not going to get any traction.
2. Hook the readers with a killer headline. In this day and age, most people have the attention span of a gnat. Think three seconds, at most. If you want a readership that’s larger than your immediate family, be snappy, be funny, be trendy — both when drafting a headline and the subject line when you email the release to reporters. Avoid resorting to clickbait — over-exaggerated claims that more likely than not, leave readers feeling misled or disappointed. Be short, sweet, and tout a benefit of reading. People will always want to know what’s in it for them. If you don’t know how to do this, hire a copywriter to do it for you.
3. Write it in third person. Avoid using first and second person, unless you’re including a direct quote. And when you do use a quote, include something insightful or inspirational — don’t make it all about you. If, when you reread it, it screams buy something from me!, rewrite it. Stick to reporting the facts of the event. The goal is to make it look like a short announcement.
4. Stick to one topic. Have you ever been part of a conversation where the speaker just couldn’t stay on their subject? Your mind starts to wander and you look for ways to get them to their point. The same applies here. Don’t make things confusing — and unnecessarily long — by jumbling together all topics that come to mind. If you have an event coming up, stick with the facts of the event: date, location, time, and guest speaker(s).
5. Get to the point. A well-crafted press release will have no more than 400 words. Use the first paragraph to tell the audience about the upcoming event. Use the second paragraph to summarize how the event will be helpful for your target audience. Include a third paragraph providing your contact information, and bid adieu. You can make it longer if you have additional relevant information to share — but don’t make it longer than five paragraphs. Use short sentences and write in an active voice. If you want to get chatty, do it when people show up to your event.
6. Use proper punctuation. Listen, grammar matters. Too many people rely on spell-check — or straight out fail to proofread a statement — at the expense of their own credibility. You only have one chance to make a good first impression. Don’t botch it over something that’s so easily preventable — especially when you’re targeting an educated audience.
What is a news release?
Even though journalists publish press releases sent to them by individual companies, the bread and butter of their work is to write news articles — a written statement discussing current events. They research the background facts, interview individuals involved, eyewitnesses, and experts on the subject, and relay the facts.
As opposed to press releases — which are marketing tools announcing an upcoming event — news releases can be about any topic a community would find relevant or newsworthy. They could be based on politics, heartwarming stories of good samaritans, crime, or scandals — to name a few. Their purpose is to inform readers about what’s happening around them in an objective manner. They answer five basic questions:
- What happened?
- When did it happen?
- Who was involved?
- Where did it happen?
- Why did it happen?
To keep the reader’s attention, know your audience — their age, geographical location, income bracket, education, and interests. News outlets that target Millennials tend to use a different format than those targeting Baby Boomers — especially when it comes to politics.