How to write an effective press release?

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Mark Glenn

Mark Glenn is a seasoned marketer, accomplished author of three books, and Forbes contributor. He has over 25 years in marketing experience, including CMO at Viralify. Mark is known for his ability to identify new trends and strategies that go against the grain of traditional thinking. His best-selling book "The Social Media Bible" was named one of Business Insider’s Top 10 Marketing Books You Should Read in 2016.

From the sole trader to the multinational company, sending the right message to the public is critical to how they view the business. In fact, press releases can be a vital part of any business’s strategy, as well as its downfall if not handled correctly.

A press release or news release is a written statement directed at the media. The statement is written with the intended purpose of informing a target market about news that will be
of interest to them via the publication. The press release will typically be sent via post, fax or email to a selected editor or writer at a newspaper, magazine, trade journal, radio station, television studio, online news site or a news broadcasting network.

There are many rules and regulations for writing an effective press release and if a release does not follow a particular format, editors will often disregard it. The following guidelines will help you to format your press release.

Target Media List

It is very important to select your target media list carefully. Send the release to the media titles who have an interest in either your industry or the news item in the release.

There are two types of press release:

1. Consumer Press Releases – Aimed at the general public, a consumer release will be distributed via local or national newspapers and consumer magazines. The release can
be written in a less formal tone but should be newsworthy, topical or statistically led.

2. Trade Press Releases – Aimed at specialist trade journals, business press and trade news websites. You are likely to have more success with trade press, although the
circulated readership will often be much less than consumer press. You can also add quotes from the management team.

If you are looking to promote your business to your stakeholders but cannot afford advertising, PR is often the most cost effective place to start. Your PR campaign can then be backed up by an
advertising campaign once your brand has received recognition from the public.

Ultimately, a prospective customer will have more time for your business after reading an article from an editorial viewpoint, than they would from an advertisement which is selling your business
from a biased viewpoint. Customers will learn to recognize your brand from a trusted source.

Don’t be afraid to be creative – look at what people like Richard Branson have achieved through  PR. Also, remember the phrase that all publicity is good publicity. Although Branson’s original
balloon trip was a complete failure, Virgin received unprecedented press coverage which enforced their brand recognition with the public and ultimately aided the development of the business.

The Rules!

The truth is, there are certain rules that you should consider when writing a press release. With the concept of “free publicity” and the fact that the public relations industry is growing at over 20% per annum, it is easy to imagine the number of press releases that arrive on a journalist’s desk every day. A large majority of releases will be quickly directed towards the bin but if you follow some basic rules and capture the journalists’ attention, you’re half way there.

HEADING Type the heading PRESS RELEASE in bold at the top of the release

DATE Always quote the release date under the heading

TITLE The headline should briefly encompass the release’s content – make it interesting and no more than 10 words

OPENING SENTENCE The opening paragraph, in bold, should introduce the story. This is a crucial part of the release to ensure the reader is instantly engaged and will continue to the body of the story.

LANGUAGE Always write in the third person and never try to sell a product/service as you would in an advertisement. Think of the release as a story you would read yourself in an article.

CONTENT Keep the main body of the release free from background information on the company – the release should focus upon a hook which is relevant to the publication and readership. As above, make sure the story is interesting, topical and relevant to the readership.

NOTES Under the NOTES TO EDITOR section at the end of the release, details of the company, background and any other additional information should be included along with full contact details.

Editors also like to see the content follow a specific theme and these tips should help you ensure the content is of the right quality:

SIMPLICITY Keep it simple. Don’t be too flamboyant – just state the facts.

EDITING The key to a good press release is one that does not need editing by a journalist. Making their job easy by just copying and pasting the release into the publication will encourage journalists to use the

COPY DEADLINES Remember time frames: some monthly magazines have a three month copy deadline so if you are looking to promote a new product for Christmas, you should send the release in October. For this reason, planning a sustained and ongoing PR campaign is crucial.

RELEVANCE As well as topical issues look at conducting a survey or using statistics to generate press coverage. State this information as news, then mention how your company can help. Newsworthy stories, especially aimed at local press, can also be related to anything that brings attention to your business. For instance, you celebrate receiving your 100th unique customer by inviting all regular customers for a champagne reception. This is interesting to your local free weekly paper as it has a direct affiliation with the readership, but the story is far too localized for the Sunday Times so go with an entirely different angle to this type of media.

WRITING STYLE Journalists write in a style called the ‘inverted pyramid’ which means that any paragraph can be taken and understood without the other text supporting it. If you can follow this system, the journalist will be more inclined to use the story as their editing work is limited.

RELEVANT CONTACT Make sure the release is distributed to the relevant news or features editor as they are unlikely to pass it to a colleague

Finally, don’t give up. A PR campaign should be a long term investment. Don’t be disheartened if your release is not published straight away. Try to create a dialogue with journalists over time and as long as your releases remain interesting and relevant, you should see results.