In numerous posts, I have urged readers to send out press releases. Despite the presence of social media outlets, traditional media outlets still matter and the usefulness of a well-crafted press, or news, release continues. When you win an award, participate in a major charity event in your community, teach a class, host a webinar, or debut a new product or service, a press release should be sent to the appropriate media outlets.
Writing a good press release can be a challenge. The stakes are high for Freelance consultants and other small business owners who must promote their products and services to target markets on a shoestring budget. The press release is an important representation of you and your brand and it’s imperative to make it effective. Reporters might receive dozens of press releases a week, so the relevance of your story must be obvious. The key to success is an interesting news hook, says Lou Colasuonno, former editor-in-chief at both The New York Post and The New York Daily News and now Senior Managing Director at the New York City P.R. firm FTI Consulting.
Colasuonno advises his P.R. clients to consider how newsworthy their story will be to a publication’s target audience. Colasuonno also advises that the press release email subject line summarize your story hook in 10 words or less. Your release needs a good headline, so that the editor or reporter will immediately see how your story will impact their readers. He recommends that you customize your press release to the editor or reporter who has responsibility for whatever your topic is, to improve the likelihood of a response. Finally, he cautions that you visit media outlet websites and note publishing deadlines. Two weeks lead time is standard for many newspapers and a bi-monthly magazine may require three months lead time.
- Determine the story your release will tell
- Write a “hook” that communicates why your story qualifies as news to recipient media outlets
- Avoid using words and phrases that are likely to get your email blocked by a spam filter
- Keep to a 400 word maximum release
Follow the standard format when you compose your release. At center top in capital letters, write FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE and below that include the contact information, with email address, web address, telephone number and today’s date. Centered below the contact info and written in bold capital letters, provide your headline. If your press release must exceed 400 words or one page, include a short synopsis of your story below the headline.
Many press releases begin with a dateline, giving its city and state of origin in parentheses. In the first paragraph, summarize the story’s theme and newsworthy info very concisely. The most significant items appear at the top of the page and less important information is stated in subsequent paragraphs. The final paragraph gives standard company info, including the company mission, when the company was founded, awards that have been received or other major achievements, so that the media recipient will have some background information.
Add credibility to your news release by including at least one quote from someone in authority (maybe that’s you). An insightful quote communicates to readers why your story is important and deserves publication. You might also add audio-visual aspects to your press release and include a YouTube or podcast link or link to a client testimonial from your website. Finally, it’s recommended to send your news release in the body of the email and also as an attachment, since many editors and reporters will not open an attachment from someone whom they do not know.
Alas, even when we follow all the “rules”, our press release may go begging. Carson Stanwood, Freelance PR/media consultant and COO of Channel Signal, a social media analytics platform in Jackson Hole, WY, claims that in his experience, only about 10% of press releases receive a response from recipients. He recommends that you follow-up your press release with a phone call and cautions that you not call daily or otherwise make a pest of yourself. I prefer to call the editor or reporter first, to determine whether there is interest in my story.
I pitch first and then send the press release if appropriate. My strategy does not always work, because editors and reporters sometimes lie, unfortunately. Really, whether your story sees the light of day depends on what other news is happening and what the editor or reporter finds compelling. But keep sending out press releases when appropriate, because that is how relationships with the media are developed. Offer to take a business reporter or editor to coffee and pitch your story in person.
Thanks for reading,