Remember that Joni Mitchell song “I’ve Looked at Love from Both Sides Now”?
I have looked at press releases from both sides, from the point of view of a publicist and that of an editor. This is a big help when it comes to knowing what to put in a press release.
Let’s start at the beginning. What is a press release?
It’s not an ad. An ad is information that you pay to have published. Because you are paying for it, you can decide what to say and how to say it, and the newspaper (or radio or other media) is obligated to publish it the way you submitted it.
You don’t pay for the publication of a press release. Yes, I am talking about FREE media coverage. Of course, an editor is not obligated to publish it. Your challenge in writing a press release is to make it so newsworthy and clear that the editor will want to publish it.
Five guidelines for writing a press release a busy editor will want to publish
1. Your topic must be some kind of news. Your release is probably the only way the news media will find out about it, unless your name is Barack Obama or Paris Hilton. They won’t be searching out your news, you must tell them.
What do I mean by news?
Maybe you have been promoted. You have earned an honor of some kind. You achieved a new certification in your field. Maybe your business hired a new employee or moved to a new location. Maybe you are holding or sponsoring an event.
What is not news?
If you want to publicize a new product or a sale, don’t write a press release–buy an ad. The exception to this is if you can find some way to tie your product to the news. An example would be tying a new investment product into the current mass of financial news.
2. Write the release in media style. All the vital information must be up front, in the first paragraph if possible. Explanatory material can follow lower down.
I have seen many press releases that began with a flowery, maybe even poetic first paragraph that someone probably spent hours writing. Unfortunately a busy editor is likely to look at this, and if the news doesn’t come through in the first paragraph, the release goes into the circular file.
The first paragraph has a heavy load. It must both demonstrate to the editor why this story is important and newsworthy, and also provide all the important facts.
3. Follow standard press release form. The release should be no more than one page if possible. There should be a contact name, phone number and email address for the editor if he or she wants more information at the top. Contact information for the public, which may be different, should be at the end of the body of the release. The words “For immediate release” are usually at the top. If the information should be withheld until a certain date, say so.
4. Make sure everything is correct. Use spell check, and also proofread several times. Dates should be expressed as both the day and the date, but check to make sure that they agree.
5. Research the media to which you are sending the release. Make sure you are sending it to the correct editor. Many editors prefer email submissions these days, but some like their press releases to be faxed. Often information about how to submit a press release is included in the newspaper’s website.
Now you know how to write an effective press release and get a little free publicity for your business.
Who needs a press release? You do!