Marketing Series: Are Press Releases still relevant?

For those working in marketing or public relations, you will know it has become a sorry state of affairs, press releases are now commercially driven. So many times they will be passed to the sales team.  How can you still get free publicity in the commercially driven industry?

Newspapers and press releases

A press release, news release, media release, press statement or video release is a written or recorded communication directed at members of the news media for the purpose of announcing something newsworthy.

The most important word here is ‘newsworthy’.

When done properly, a press release can get you free editorial, which is effectively free advertising. A high percentage of press releases are written without any thought given to who the audience might be, or indeed, what the story is.

Before you even begin your press release, you need to consider who is likely to be reading it. What is in it for them? Why should an editor or sub-editor run your story? Bear this in mind as you start to plan your press release because it could be the difference between a waste of your time or free publicity.

Fundamentally, a press release needs to be a story, or at least have a story in it. It is not good announcing generically that your business provides excellent customer service because who doesn’t?

Do you have an anniversary coming up? Have you taken on a new member of staff? Have you won an award? The receiver of the press release has to have a damn good reason for giving you free publicity.

Think of the headline. Will it pack a punch?

Once you’ve decided on the publication you are targeting, and the story you’re writing about, write the press release as a journalist would.

Journalists follow a fairly basic structure when reporting their stories. Your press release should have a leading paragraph at the very top, and the subsequent paragraphs sitting underneath.

In terms of pure news reporting, the less relevant or important the information, the further down the story it features. This is because reporters submit their stories to sub-editors, whose job it is to cut the story to size for the space on the actual page or relevant word count online. It’s easier and quicker for them to crop from the bottom upwards to fit the story to size, knowing that they are cutting off the least important information.

Plus, the number of writers and journalists have been cut over the last 10 years. Deadlines and pressures are as high as they have ever been. If they only have to change a few sentences to ‘make it their own’ it is so much easier for them.

Structure in its basic form

In the leading paragraph, you should aim for one sentence maximum. It should sum up the entire story in its most basic form. Imagine someone on a bus scanning a newspaper before they have to get off at their next stop. They only have a few seconds to digest the news – and if they read your first paragraph, they’ll know what it’s all about in a nutshell.

The second paragraph expands on the first one, and usually adds names to the characters and locations of the story.

The third paragraph will be a quote from the main subject or character. This could run up to about four or five sentences at most, but no more. This is your chance to drop in some positive soundbites about your business.

The following paragraphs should develop the story in one way or another. What’s the background to the story? Explain more about the basics of your business. How long have you been in existence? What other achievements have you accomplished over the years? Remember, the less important information, the further down the page it goes.

The final paragraph is the Call to Action. You’ve given your reader all the information about you. Now you want them to act on that information, otherwise, it’s been a wasted exercise.

What you looking at?

It seems too obvious to say, but don’t forget to attach at least one relevant image. It could be a picture of the person who you quoted, or of the product; which should be clear and in the environment of the story.

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