Want to see your new venture covered on the biggest, most relevant websites and reap all the business benefits thereof? Knowing how to write a press release that will get your project the attention it deserves can mean the difference between earning widespread coverage and languishing in the social media void.
In the Digital Age, small businesses come in all shapes and sizes. Although there are plenty of professional service companies out there, ready and waiting to write your PR and other documents, many up-and-coming entrepreneurs decide to learn how to perform this task themselves. This not only saves money, but also diversifies the skill set of the small business owner.
Whether you’ve got a fantastic new crowdfunding campaign or have just launched your first website, knowing how to write a press release is essential if you want to get the word out without cutting into your profits. It’s also a highly transferable skill that will look great on any resume.
How to Write a Press Release That Will Get Attention
What Is a Press Release?
You’ve undoubtedly heard of these newsy documents before, but most people have never read one. You’re going to want to get familiar with the format if you intend to learn how to write a press release of your very own.
Take a look at a few press release templates before we move forward. We’ll examine the individual parts of a press release later on in this how-to guide. For now, you just want to get an idea of how they look.
Press releases are documents sent to news outlets and journalists to inform them of upcoming newsworthy events, products, and campaigns. Today, they are delivered almost exclusively through email. Some companies choose to send a .PDF for printable hard copies, but this is optional.
The entire purpose of a press release is to get media coverage. That’s it. You should not be asking your PR list to buy your product, endorse your candidate, or attend your event. You want their audience to do those things, of course, but you aren’t selling anything directly. It’s a tricky business, and that’s why you need to…
Know What Makes a Press Release Effective
Ever since I found my first writing jobs, I’ve received multiple press releases every week, sometimes every day. It didn’t take long for me to realize what components made a press release effective:
- A great subject line
- Concise, well-written copy
- A story relevant to my outlets
- All the media I need to go to press
- A professional contact
That’s five things, folks. If your press release is outstanding on four of them, you might still stand a chance, but it’s better if you have them all mastered.
Let’s go over the ground rules, shall we?
Know Your Story and Your Audience
I’m not the busiest of writers, by any stretch of the imagination. However, I have no time to go searching for a story within a poorly composed press release.
Your copy should tell the recipient exactly what the story is and how it fits into their publication schedule. It’s OK — and sometimes even preferred — if you can envision multiple angles for a writer to take, but limit yourself to no more than three.
Do not ask your target to send you ideas for possible stories. Don’t ask whether there’s a story in your information. You are responsible for telling the writer or editor why your material matters to her audience.
I also don’t have time to open emails with ambiguous subject lines from unknown senders, in the hope that there’s a story in there. Not only will using “Hi” — and all variations thereof — as your subject line not entice me to read your press release, but it may also get your message flagged by my spam filter.
Consider the subject line your elevator pitch. Know what you’re selling, and sell it well, in 50 characters or fewer.
You Do Not Control the Story
That being said, understand that you are not in charge of what a writer does with the information you’ve provided. Misjudge, and you’ll find yourself in deep, should the publication choose to do a write-up anyway.
Consider what happened when Bic asked Ellen Degeneres to represent its unnecessarily gendered pens. If this happens to you, own the mistake, remember that no press is bad press, and move on.
You should also know that, in the interest of journalistic integrity, you will not have final approval over the story. Don’t ask for it. If you have any concerns, outline them when and if you receive a reply.
The only thing you can control is the power of an exclusive story. Ideally, you’ll send out exclusive requests earlier than mass campaigns, but more on timetables in a minute. If you promise an exclusive, don’t renege on it, or else you’ll find yourself blacklisted.
Don’t Follow Up Too Soon
Unless a publication has a stated, “don’t call us; we’ll call you” policy, it’s always a good idea to follow up on an email when you haven’t heard back in a reasonable amount of time. Unfortunately, you have to know what a reasonable amount of time is, and that’s a thin line to find when you’re just starting out.
As a rule, 1-2 weeks is a good follow-up window. If you don’t hear back after that second email, move on. You aren’t out anything but the few minutes’ time it took to research your recipient and fire off the email.
But doesn’t persistence pay off?
In some fields, yes. But, speaking as a person who receives press releases, if you email me three times in a few days’ time, I’m going to get annoyed, and I’m going to be less likely to take your story to my editors. In fact, I might make sure every email I receive from your domain goes directly to my spam folder. Badgering me is a sign that you haven’t quite gotten this professionalism thing down, and I don’t have time to deal with an unprofessional person.
Similarly, if I’ve responded positively to your email, understand that, in many cases, I cannot provide a guarantee of coverage, and, unless I have agreed to receive a book to review, I will not do so. That would be unethical, because, with the exception of things published here, I don’t control when or if my articles go to press. Those decisions are left to people at higher pay grades.
So, if I express interest in a story, or agree to keep your project in mind for future coverage, that’s all I am promising: my thoughts and interests. In business, as in dating, you need to remember to take things as they are. Emailing me back to remind me that I’ve “promised” to provide you with a platform will get you a one-way ticket to my shitlist, no coverage attached.
Get Your Story Out On Time
If your story needs to go to press in 1-2 weeks, you should have sent out your release 1-2 weeks ago. Add on another week or two if your story is an exclusive.
Seriously: give writers time to write. I cannot stress that enough.
Things happen. Editors push back stories for breaking news, more pressing deadlines, and better-performing subjects. Your writer doesn’t control the weather, such as it is.
You should also be available for follow-up questions. Sometimes a publication wants to take an angle you haven’t considered, and will need a bit of extra information to go to press. Quotes, dates, and image permissions are all requested frequently. Be available to give them.
Be as Brief as Possible
As you’ll soon realize, PR emails can be very, very long. Unlike most Internet correspondence, it’s OK to make your recipients scroll a little when you send out a press release, but don’t make them scroll for no reason. Your press release should only contain essential information.
Let’s say you’re announcing an upcoming book tour. The book in question, Your Title Here, is written by Joe Smith and Jill Jones, and will be published by Imprint Publishing on 6 September, at a cover price of $17.99.
None of that information is unnecessary, but it’s not enough for me to go to press. You should include some copy on the novel, as well as a blurb about each author and the publisher.
Because you’re announcing a book tour, I’ll need to know the dates, times, and locations of all the stops, preferably with links to ticket vendors. You should also tell me what format the engagements will take — Q&A, reading, conversation, etc. — and whether anything special will be available to attendees.
Finally, please, please send along related media, such as cover photos, author headshots, tour posters, and book trailers. It’s OK to tell your recipient that interviews, excerpts and other extras are available upon request, but forcing your writer to ask for the images and videos they need to go to press only increases the time it will take for her to get the word out.
They might seem overly simple, but following these simple rules will make learning how to write a press release a lot less awkward and painful.
Have more questions about how to write a press release? Leave them for me in the comments!
Image Credit: StartupStockPhotos