November 17, 2017
For those unfamiliar with public relations, the term “press release” can be a catchall for what people think we do. You know, your news is typed into a predefined format, sent to the media and reporters beat down your door to cover it — right?
Not exactly. Here are some dos and don’ts to keep in mind whether you’re writing your own press release or working with a PR firm to help you along.
The five W’s — who, what, where, when and why — need to be in the first paragraph of all press releases. Don’t bury the goods! Think of any question a reporter might have and address it. Do not try to create intrigue or leave out key information in an effort to get the reporter to call you. Sometimes, if a release is well written, it will get picked up verbatim. Include one or more relevant quotes and a high-quality photo to add visual appeal. If there is an opinion to be expressed in the release, use it in a quote. Finally, don’t forget to proofread.
Skip those five-page press releases. In the words of the immortal Sweet Brown, “Ain’t nobody got time for that.” Stick to the important facts and highlights of your news, if possible keeping to no more than two pages of content in a standard-size font. If you are covering a complex academic, scientific or financial topic, be sure to translate industry jargon into common language. For example, a general assignment producer on a TV station may not understand terms that a 20-year veteran reporter covering complex business issues would know.
Always include a brief, one-paragraph boilerplate — the quick “about the company” snapshot that explains where it’s based, its mission and how to get in touch — at the end of the release. It should succinctly explain what you do. If it’s a joint release, include the boilerplate of your collaborators. Reporters will use the boilerplate as shorthand to describe you in the story. Do not pack it with jargon or acronyms.
Because something is significant to you or your company doesn’t necessarily mean it’s newsworthy to the readers or viewers of a particular news outlet. Chances are, for instance, your company’s new website or 24th anniversary won’t appeal to a broad audience. This may be tough to swallow, especially when your CEO thinks these milestones should be in the news. Instead, write a press release that’s extremely targeted. Your news might not be relevant to the front page of your daily newspaper, but it could be of interest to a specialized trade publication or even a blog that caters to your line of business.
Another option is to skip the press release altogether and self-publish with a big splash to the internal audience you know will love to hear about it. Feature it as a story on your website or send an email newsletter to your database. Share it on your social media channels so you can go straight to your customers and employees.
If your news really is newsworthy, the time to act is now. Write that press release and get out to the media. Waiting a couple of months to share your fantastic news means it won’t get the media coverage it would have received if it was shared when still fresh. The word “news” implies, as the first three letters indicate, that you are sharing something new.
A classic, full-blown press release is not always what is needed to get the word out. If you have a big, media-worthy announcement or a camera-ready event or speaker to publicize, you may actually need media alert, with a simple listing, including the five Ws of why reporters or photographers should come out and cover you and what they will see when they get there. Other possible formats to consider are letters to the editor, opinion/editorial pieces — also known as op-eds — and captioned photos. Mixing up the way you reach out and to whom will garner better results than a slew of press releases will.
If you know your news would be relevant to a particular reporter, pitch it straight to him or her. There’s no need to send it to everyone and their mama every time. Make the reporter feel special by giving him or her an exclusive, the PR industry term for when a specific story is offered to one party only and not shared elsewhere until that member of the media prints the piece or breaks the segment. Offering an exclusive helps build relationships and goodwill and I can tell you from experience, it will pay off later. If a reporter isn’t interested in covering your news, immediately pitch it to another reporter or go ahead with your release as originally planned.
As you can see, there are many unwritten rules when it comes to press releases and breaking these rules can get under the skin of reporters and public relations professionals alike, putting your news at the bottom of the pile or worse, in a recycling bin. In an evolving industry like public relations, that serves another changing industry, journalism, don’t give the media an excuse not to publish your news. Don’t hesitate to hire a PR professional. Even if you can’t bring on a firm full time, you may be able to benefit from a consulting session to help you successfully navigate the world of media relations.
Filomena Fanelli is the CEO and founder of Impact PR & Communications Ltd., a public relations firm and certified women’s business enterprise based in Poughkeepsie. She can be reached at 845-462-4979 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.