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As a publicist, I have both written and read hundreds of press releases. Press releases are a tool for creating an image, generating leads and piquing the media's interest in what you are doing, i.e. your product or service. An effective press release tells a riveting story with a precise media angle, while at the same time covering the necessary components of: who, what, when, where, why and how. An effective press release should also have a title that encompasses the main facts and message of the release. Your press release title and summary are your "elevator pitch," and they are your tool in capturing a consumer or media outlet's initial attention. They get your press release read! The first paragraph of a press release should always begin with the city and state in which the news is coming from, as well as the date of the news to be released. Another mandatory element is your company or organization's contact information. Generally, the more contact information that you can provide, the better it is. The minimum should include: contact name, company/organization name, telephone number and email address.
Nowadays, I find that editors and producers treat email correspondence the way that they used to use the telephone. Everybody is always so busy and half the time members of the press are on tight deadlines. Sometimes answering the phone, or even picking up the phone, stresses them out. Sending an email is much easier! Point being, your email address is crucial.
In relaying your news in a way that captures a sharp media angle, ask yourself the following questions and take notes as you answer them:
- How does this news impact my specific industry?
- What does our company bring to the table that makes us unique and fills a gap in the market?
- Who is our targeted audience for this news? Who do we want to hear our news?
- Who is our wide or more peripheral market for this news?
- Where and/or who does our company's primary revenue come from?
- Which publications, news programs, Internet sites, radio or TV talk shows reach our target market?
Making notes based on the above questions will give you a clearer idea of how to structure your press release to have a relevant news angle or angles.
Although it sounds elementary, editors and reporters say that one of the biggest mistakes people make in their press releases are leaving out the five Ws. I take that one step further and add "how." Before submitting any release, go over the press release in its entirety and make sure it tells a complete story. A complete story tells the reader:
- Who the news is about
- What the news is that you are announcing
- When it will go into effect or take place
- Where people can find your goods, service, event, product, etc.
- Why your product/service/event/new development is relevant at this time
- How you are doing it or how it is being executed
Another common mistake that media professionals cite are press releases that are way too l-o-n-g. A press release is not a book report. You do not need fillers or repetitive writing to bulk it up with a lot of length. Too much length is a time hindrance and tends to cause the reader to lose interest and become bored. The standard press release is approximately 400 words and is the length of one page, and no more. One notable exception is when you are distributing a press release along with a media invite or some sort of invitation to an event. Obviously you need enough text to introduce your organization, the purpose for the event and the details of the event itself. Even in this case, you should be mindful of the length and ask yourself what facts are needed to get all of the information to the receiving party and what text is superfluous.
Another good tool is making sure that your press release does not stay "stationary," but rather that it has movement and versatility, kind of like a good haircut ;-). What I mean by that is keeping your basic press release template but adjusting the release depending on your audience. As you distribute the press release, you can add, subtract or stress certain points that you think that particular recipient will respond to. This also goes back to determining your target market versus your wide market. For example, your company's product or service might fall into several news categories. For the sake of argument, let's say the target market is: products for kids. However, your product or service might also fall into the categories of: niche products, innovative inventions, fun soft news items, and great Christmas/Chanukah gift ideas. Yes, you can sometimes get that much mileage out of one product or press release. So angle your news wisely depending on who you are pitching.
Finally, in this day and age we must consider a concept called "keyword" or "search engine optimization" when composing a press release. The Internet has completely changed the way people search for news. The right keywords can triple or quadruple your estimated traffic to your press release. Press release wire and distribution sites, like PR.com, in addition to traditional distribution, also feed their news content to news search websites all over the web; on these news search websites, media outlets, journalists, editors and consumers use keyword searches to find the press releases that interest them. People type phrases and topics into search boxes to search for their news. Being shrewd about what keywords people are most likely to type in to a news site is crucial in reaching the right people. After writing the initial draft of your press release, set down your work and pick up a blank piece of paper. Write down every important word and phrase that you feel captures the topic and subject of your news. Simply put, the words that you anticipate people will search for. Now go back and re-read your work. See if you have included these key words and phrases or if your language was a bit too flowery or vague at certain points. Plug in the important search words, as long as they are in the appropriate context and fit the logic of the sentence. This includes the title and summary as well. Making these language changes will ensure that you and your appropriate audience will find each other in cyber space. It is kind of like matchmaking.
Following these guidelines will give you every
advantage of getting the right message across and ensuring that
it is read by the right people, for better growth and buzz for your
In addition to serving as Senior Editor for PR.com,
Allison Kugel is also President of Allison
Dawn Public Relations, servicing clients in the areas of fashion,
lifestyle, consumer goods, entertainment and health. View the PR.com
Company Profile for Allison