Press releases are sometimes considered an outdated tactic. According to a MuckRack annual journalist survey, 53% of US-based journalists don’t rely on them at all, and only 3% rely on them when they come from established newswires. It’s no surprise: social media and influencers are becoming increasingly important avenues for journalists.
But press releases are a time-honoured PR tool – in fact, the first one ever dates back to 1906. They’re an excellent way of communicating your message, telling a story, and sharing interesting news with journalists, who’ll ideally receive everything they need to write a detailed and fulsome article about your company and its product. Even if some consider them unfashionable, they can be effective if you know how to use them, and if you think a little differently about how they can be deployed. A press release is an excellent way to distribute news, make an important company announcement, and otherwise give journalists all the facts they need to write an engaging story about your brand.
But here’s the thing. Journalists get hundreds of press releases every day, and not that many of them stand out. Follow the Dear PR twitter account for a litany of common offences. It’s easy to point out common mistakes, though. What’s less easy is landing on a formula that works.
Here’s how to make sure your press release has a fighting chance of being seen and noticed.
Create an eye-catching headline
It’s obvious enough: the headline is the first thing a journalist reads, so it needs to be as striking as possible. A great press release can be killed by a limp subject line.
It’s a tough art to master, and there aren’t any fixed rules as such. But as a general guideline, keep it to ten words or fewer – and put the most interesting stuff first. If your client’s done the first ever whatever in the world, your subject line should open with “World-first”. Don’t hold back on the good stuff: journalists, as a rule, don’t delay gratification.
Don’t hold the news back
If you’ve got them to click, that’s half the battle. Of course, that means you’ve still got half a battle – and it’s very easy to die in the second half of a battle.
As with headlines, frontload your release with relevant info. Follow the inverted pyramid structure, where the information gets decreasingly important throughout, as you pad it out with details and curiosities. Above all, don’t waffle: get right to the point. Your opening paragraph should be clear, concise, and direct.
Remember the bigger picture
A great way to increase coverage is to tie your announcement to a bigger picture. What does it actually mean for the world? Can it reduce CO2 emissions and contribute to the battle against climate change? Who will it impact, and how? What, if anything, does it mean for the world?
That said, don’t try to force a news angle if it’s not there. A press release should support the product or service, but it should also be ultimately factual. False claims undermine this.
Quotes are key
Always include quotes from key spokespeople – both because it’s kind of weird if you don’t have any (“The CEO could not be reached for comment”) and because it’s a useful way to boost their profile and that of the company.
They’re also a good opportunity to communicate a company’s personality. So, if they come from a unique perspective and capture a unique voice, even better: nothing puts journalists to sleep faster than the whole “I’m excited to launch this product that I’m launching”, XX said” format. If possible, add further credibility by asking customers, influencers, or case studies for comments.
A great message means nothing if it’s not targeted at the right recipients.
Research your target journalists, and make sure they’re going to care – whether they’re in the trade press or the national press. Before a journalist goes onto your distribution list, look at what they normally write about and check that your press release fits in with their beat. Don’t send a health reporter a story about new shoes. The more you know that the journalist in question is interested in the general topic of your release, the more likely they are to find it interesting. You also want to make sure you follow them on social media. What they post and tweet can often provide a window into their professional thinking and professional interests, so do your research. It’s also worth attaching visual components to your release wherever possible. A wall of text can be tremendously boring for anyone, and especially a journalist who has to sift through a number of releases that might look very similar. An infographic, a photo, a simple pop of colour to break it up a bit can make a huge difference.
However you get the news out there, be prepared to respond. It’s one thing to pique a journalist’s interest – it’s quite another to turn it into a story that they share with their readers.