A well-prepared press release can make the difference between success, meaning getting something covered by the media, or failure, when it gets tossed in the trash heap.
Before becoming a small business marketing consultant, I served as a full-time reporter and editor for a number of publications, where I read, edited and selected thousands and thousands of press release to investigate further or publish as written.
Here are my tips for crafting a successful press release.
It MUST have news.
Press release and news release are interchangeable to most reporters and editors. While most people prefer to call it by the former, it’s the latter that makes the difference. News means something new, exciting, odd, unusual or interesting. If the press release doesn’t directly and quickly address one or more of these components, don’t even bother.
By the way, Every small business has news going on. Find it and focus on it. If you can’t, contact me. I have found news in seemingly hopeless situations. Try me before giving up.
It should read like a news article.
The easier you make it for a reporter or editor, the better chance you have of getting in the news. Staffing cuts at newsrooms force smaller numbers of employees to do more and more. The days of press releases being fully researched and rewritten are largely in the past.
If your news is written like what you are reading in the paper, then your chances of getting in print go way up.
Quick Journalism 101 lesson: The first paragraph should explain why its news in general terms; the remainder should include a quote from the business owner or an executive explaining what the news means, followed by more details on the news.
While some PR people complain about this trend, they should welcome the opportunity to have their words presented as they crafted them. But recognize for what it means: Your press release may or may not be edited.
Journalists strive for complete objectivity. For them and for their publications, that means every statement has to be either accurate or attributable. What that means to a small business owner is that platitudes like “the best,” “people’s favorite” or “customer’s choice” will not get into print. Including them increases the chances of the press release getting tossed.
Use active verbs
Verbs are the drivers of sentences. Or, using a better verb: Verbs drive sentences. Notice the difference in those two sentences. The first is fine, but the second one pops. Verbs are the action. Good action draws greater attention.
Make your press release pop with strong, active verbs. Sentences with “is” or “are” are signs of weak verbs. Rid your writing of these clunkers and watch how much better it reads.
But make sure the active verbs you use are accurate. Active, but inaccurate verbs are worse than boring verbs.
Include at least one quote.
Earlier I mentioned that a quote should be included in the press release. It should be the second paragraph. It should explain in clear terms what this news item means in the bigger scheme of things.
Here is an example:
First paragraph or lead: Joe’s Flower Shop intends to dig into the X-town area with a 2,500 square foot location, set to open in March.
Quote: “So many of our customers were trekking from X-town at our flagship location, opening a second location really was our only choice,” said Joe Flowers, CEO of Joe’s Flowers. “Our customers have been clamoring for a bigger location, where we can showcase more flowers, for years”
Notice how the quote does several things at once. First, it explains why the new store is opening in cear terms. Second, it gives the reader a sense that this is a successful business. Third, it says things that it’s hard to say when being objective in a news story. Fourth, it has flashy verbs: “trekking” and “clamoring.”
But most importantly, the quote affirms the news value of the first sentence while also giving the reader a sense of Joe Flowers and his business. Quotes say what cannot be said objectively and NEVER restate the first paragraph.
Fill in the details.
Readers like reporters and editors want to know the basic details about a news item. Specificity is key. Failure to include enough details frustrates everyone, especially those choosing what’s worth media attention.
More Journalism 101: Every press release should tell who, what, where, when, why and how. An owner doesn’t have to give proprietary information, but some details, say the size of the building, helps ground the piece.
Write a headline.
Journalists live by and love their headlines. Write a smart, accurate and active headline. Odds are they won’t use it, but it’s a starting point. It also may convince the editor or reporter to read further into the press release, just like the publication’s headline should encourage its readers to dig deeper.
More Journalism 101: “Owner plans new location for flower shop” is a boring headline. Would you read the article? “Owner planting new roots in Xtown” is better. The headline should be 5-8 words long, or, if you want to help the web editor, no more than 70 characters (Google doesn’t like more than 70 characters).
Check, recheck, spellcheck.
With fewer editors, newspapers struggle to edit the articles fully prepared by their staff. A successful press release must be free of spelling, grammar and punctuation errors. It also must be factually accurate. If the editor or reporter spots one error, the press release is destined for the trash can. No exceptions. Every name, title, company name, date, time, town must be correct. Nothing rankles an editor more than a call from a reader complaining about the accuracy of a press release. If it happens, your press releases will almost always be blacklisted in the future.