When I researched what other marketing bloggers have to say about how to write a press release, I balked at the term “old school” when referring to print media. Admittedly, I am one of the remaining few who likes to read a newspaper.
However, it’s important to know that the power of the press is as relevant in the digital age than ever before. If you’re not sending regular press releases, you are missing out on connecting with your community.
To understand the importance of a press release, here’s a primer on how the media world functions. On a basic level, newspapers, magazines and television news need content to operate. Television news curates their stories from newspapers and magazines. At the same time, print journalism’s business model is experiencing a disruption, resulting in tight budgets and skeleton crews.
In other words, the media needs your press release (aka content) as much as you need their reach.
What is newsworthy enough for a press release?
Before Bragg Media, I worked for local newspapers and magazines. During that time, I read a lot of press releases (which were still being sent by fax). In every newsroom I worked in, press releases were not only read but considered for more in-depth coverage, falling into one of these three categories:
- to run as a brief (small segment)
- to cover as an article or feature (news showcase)
- to delete (bye, bye)
The Story Ideas that Get Published
Local weekly newspapers and magazines still print new employee announcements and event information. Midsize to large corporate-owned, regional newspapers, however, are pulling back on this type of news coverage to preserve resources for longer, in-depth features.
It’s rare for a press release to signal an editor to assign a reporter, a photographer or videographer for a page 1 centerpiece or the main story on evening TV news. Don’t have unreasonable expectations. Even a small news brief in the local calendar section is a major win for your business’ brand awareness.
When it comes to major news coverage, journalists are looking for stories that are topical, timely and appeal to a wide interest. They aren’t looking for blatant self-promoters plugging their first book — unless they are holding a free open house that is raising money for a local charity. They aren’t looking for your company’s awesome trip to the Maldives last year — unless that somehow translates to more jobs in the community. They aren’t looking for your employee of the month — unless that designation comes with a free car.
If you think you have news that is worthy of a press release, ask yourself:
- Who will want to know about this?
- How does this benefit the local community?
- Why should people in this community care or want to know?
- What do my coworkers, colleagues, employees, interns think of this as a press release?
80% of business decision-makers prefer to get company information in a series of articles versus an advertisement
About this Blogger: Heather Bragg
Before Heather entered the world of marketing, she was a newspaper journalist. Today, she is best known for developing well-rounded marketing plans that focus on the long-term.
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What information should be included in a press release?
When you are ready to write a press release, think about how a typical news article is written. Use journalism’s who, what, when, where, why and how to make sure you have all of the pertinent information about your story. The standard news article includes:
- Lede: The first few graphs that set the tone of the news item while also grabbing the reader’s attention
- Nut graf: Similar to a thesis statement, this is the part of the story where you get to the point, setting expectations for what’s going to happen and letting your readers know why this article is important
- Other general information, including background
If your press release is promoting an event, include the event details in the following order: time, date, and place. It’s also important to include if the event is open to the public and if there is a cost. If possible, include a quote from someone within your organization that will add a nice description or call to action that helps paint a picture.
The Details Matter
This may seem like a no-brainer: Make sure you have the correct information. I can’t tell you how many times I received press releases about major events with conflicting and erroneous information.
Use a quality control checklist:
- Do you have the correct spelling of names? (Check it three times).
- Are the job titles correct?
- You’re sure it’s Saturday, January 18? Oops. That’s Friday, January 18.
When Mistakes Happen
Sending a press release to multiple media sources is a bell that you can’t unring — which is why it’s important that there aren’t any serious errors (such as the wrong time, the wrong venue, incorrect spelling, etc). If you send a press release with vitally wrong information, it’s not uncommon to send a second release that clearly alerts your contacts to the mistake, but the second release might not catch everyone’s attention.
The Press Release Format
At the top of the press release in the upper left hand corner, include your name, title, phone number and email. If there is an additional contact to RSVP for an event, include their name, title, phone number and email as well.
Underneath this information, write a catchy headline that introduces what your press release is about. For press releases that promote events, I often include subheadings reiterating the time, date and place.
At the end of the press release, offer some light background information about the company, the organization and even the main people involved if appropriate. This is an ideal spot to direct people to a website for additional information or a phone number.
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How should I send a press release?
Copy and paste the text from the press release into the body of the email and also attach a rich text format (.rtf) — files that are generally accepted by all platforms. Marketing and public relations pros often send press releases with their branded letterhead as a PDF — also acceptable file formats.
I don’t typically brand press releases with letterhead because I’m not sending an ad. I’m sending information for a journalist’s consideration as a news item. I try to keep the copy as clean as possible and as close to Associated Press style format as possible, so they have a ready-made article.
Sending Press Releases with Photos
Include the name of the file next to a suggested caption in the body of the press release. When possible, identify the people in the photo (with correct spelling of names and correct job titles). In the subject line of the email, indicate whether or not you have photos or if the press release would make a good video opportunity. If the photos are 1 MB or under, attach them to the email. You may have to use a Dropbox link or other easy file sharing source for high-resolution photos.
Before you send
Ok. You’re ready to press send! Not quite yet.
Craft a quick, yet thoughtful, pitch in your email introducing the press release and why you think it deserves coverage. Sometimes, it helps to connect the dots to a larger issue or to add some details about a person in the press release that you find particularly interesting. Always be polite and thank journalists for their consideration.
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Who should receive a press release?
If you don’t already maintain a database of media contacts, start one. Contact information for reporters, news editors, TV producers, online editors, etc. is typically available on their websites, but often requires constant attention due to employee turnover.
In addition to sending an email, upload the release to local online news sources, such as chambers of commerce, business development organizations, local networking and event sites. These are our go-to online sources for press releases, because the websites are frequented by people looking for this local news. Chambers of commerce websites and websites featuring events also tend to have some of the best search engine optimization (SEO) in the area.
Before you upload information to these sites, it’s helpful to have your press release written and ready to go. This way, you can simply copy and paste the information from the release, including headlines, subheads and captions, into the required fields.
In Savannah, GA, Bluffton SC and Hilton Head SC, here are a few online resources we use:
- Hilton Head Island-Bluffton Chamber of Commerce: If you don’t already have an account with their user portal, create one. Under profile settings, create a new event.
- Greater Bluffton Chamber of Commerce: If you are a member, use your login and password to access your member portal. Under shortcuts, click news releases. You will be taken to all of the chamber’s news releases. Click the “add news release” blue button at the top to upload your press release information. However, if you have a press release about an event, click the grey “events” button at the top. Just like the news release section, you will be taken to the list of events. Click the blue “add event” button to upload your event info.
- Savannah Master Calendar: If your event is in Bluffton or Hilton Head, don’t be afraid to upload the information to Savannah Master Calendar. This is a great community resource for professional networking events, and it’s easy to use. Simply click “add event” button in the upper right hand corner of the yellow header. Follow the prompts.
- The Island Packet: If you have a news tip, you can detail the information in this online form. It doesn’t hurt to email the press release to an editor, but corporate protocol prevents them from moving forward with smaller news coverage.
- Beaufort Area Chamber of Commerce and Visit Beaufort: Have an event? These are two great places to upload your information for an audience in Beaufort SC.
- Eat Sleep Play Beaufort: Now that the creative minds of Picklejuice have taken over Eat Sleep Play Beaufort, expect some fun things from this community website! This online community also has a strong social media following, so you never know if your event or news will make it on their Facebook page with more than 70,000 fans or Instagram account with more than 4,000 followers.
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If your press release is lucky to make it on a news website, consider it a marketing win! News websites generally have great SEO. Today’s journalists are well trained on best SEO practices, and they have a talent for writing pithy search engine optimized copy and social media click worthy headlines.
The Bottom Line
Members of the media are more inclined to pay attention to a press release that is thoughtful, factual and well-written. By paying attention to the details, you’ll earn their trust and the next time you send a press release, you will be remembered!