Looking for a potent, cost-effective way to publicize your business? Look no further than the time-honored press release, a breaking story about your product, service, or organization that gives journalists something they’re always looking for: news.
Press releases are short and crisp stories that fall somewhere between a bulletin (“this just in”) and a news article. Traditional, short releases are meant to let editors or journalists know whether your story is worth pursuing, while longer releases–if they’re well written–may serve as an actual printed article.
So, how do you go about writing a press release?
Your first goal is to come up with a “newsy” angle. Think like an editor or journalist. Is there a “scoop” here? What’s unique or interesting about your subject? What advantage or improvement is involved? Does the event, product announcement, service, or organization offer a distinct advantage over its rivals? What’s new or different about it?
The following are some news angles to consider when drafting your release. Each of them is a suggested “spin” or purpose that you may want to emphasize when writing your story. While this is not an exhaustive list, perusing it may give you some ideas.
Write your press release when you wish to announce
- a new product or service.
- the revamping of an existing product or service.
- a change of venue or location for a business or organization.
- a change of ownership/management.
- the winning of an award.
- a special event (wine-tasting, tour of facilities, free seminar).
- a new solution to an old problem.
The Inverted Pyramid
Once you have your angle or story idea, you need to present the information quickly. Put your most important ideas up front. Editors, journalists, and even casual readers may look elsewhere if they don’t immediately see the merits of your story. It’s crucial to grab your reader’s attention.
To do that, you’ll use a journalistic technique known as the “inverted pyramid”. That entails communicating the gist of the story in your headline and first paragraph. The reader should know the “five Ws” of your news item before getting to paragraph two. As your reader moves into your subsequent paragraphs, the information should grow more specific.
In sum, you move from the “big picture” to progressively smaller, supporting details–hence the “inverted pyramid”.
Now, what are those “five Ws”? They’re the answers to the following questions:
- What is the product, organization, special event, etc.?
- Who is involved?
- When did/will it take place?
- Why is it happening?
- Where is it happening?
Writing Your Title
Creating headlines is an art, a skill that you can develop with practice. Your headline is your first point of engagement. Use it to communicate as many of the five Ws as possible.
Think about your own reading habits. What would interest you in an article? Most readers are looking for some kind of benefit.
Let’s look at an example. Suppose you’re promoting a local firm that offers Web site design and development. Your headline might read something like this:
Area Firm Offers Web Site Design and Development
That gets the information out, but it’s kind of dull. There’s no angle, nothing new or beneficial that speaks to the reader’s interests.
Now, if this firm offers Web sites that clients can update by themselves, you’ve got a distinct advantage to make known. Aiming for that angle, your new headline might look like this:
Area Firm Lets Clients Update Their Own Custom-Designed Web Sites
Upon reading that, an editor, journalist, or casual reader will likely be more intrigued. The headline now not only communicates what the firm offers (Web sites) but also points out that the sites are custom-designed and that customers can update them.
Writing the first paragraph
Once you’ve written an attention-grabbing headline (or placed a “filler” headline at the top of your page until you come up with something better), you can compose the first paragraph. Here, after typing in the location (use all caps) and current date, you’ll want to divulge those five Ws we spoke about. Using our design firm example, here’s what a first paragraph might look like:
- ANYVILLE, NJ February 28, 2006 SEO Designs, a new area firm offering custom-designed Web sites, opens its doors in the downtown Anyville area this coming April. Owned and operated by expert designer Hans Zonn, SEO will offer traditional “static” Web pages as well as interactive sites that clients can update themselves. The facility will feature a large storefront with an open customer-care area, where visitors can sip free coffee or tea, attend design seminars, sign up for Web-building workshops, and consult with the firm’s IT staff to build any kind of professional Web site, large or small.
Put a quote in your second paragraph.
Here’s where you quote one of the people involved in your story. Doing so shifts the reader from simply taking in information to, in effect, “being there”. Here’s an example:
- “With traditional Web design,” asserts Zonn, “the customer pays a fortune for a site that may turn out to be a template or a copy of an existing site. Worse yet, every time the client needs to update or change the pages’ content, he or she must pay the designer extra fees and endure a long delay.”
Paragraph Three: Get More Specific.
In your third paragraph, supply more details about the product, service, organization, or people involved–give more details about its advantages or “newsworthiness”. Continuing with our example, that paragraph might look like this:
- SEO offers cutting-edge computer workstations, which customers may use any time during business hours (9:00 AM to 8:00 PM), whether they need a quick tutorial or wish to update something on their Web sites. SEO also offers a myriad of other design services, including brochures, newsletters, logos, banners, postcards, company reports, and more. Furthermore, the facility stocks computer and office supplies, and will refill ink jet cartridges at a substantial savings over the purchase of new ones.
Quote ‘Em Again in the Fourth.
Your fourth paragraph should contain another quote. If possible, try to get a testimonial from a satisfied customer or client. Otherwise, another statement from someone involved with the story is fine. In any case, the additional quote gives your reader a change in rhythm, while adding another personal element to the story. Here’s an example:
- “Whether they need to register a domain name, publish a home page, or create an online shopping mall, local entrepreneurs can use us to secure their own unique presence on the World Wide Web,” notes staff Internet Consultant Bob Shiska. “We offer customers a place to go when they have questions, need assistance, or simply want to access the Net.”
Paragraph Five: The Story Behind the Story
In your fifth paragraph give biographical or background information. What’s the story behind the person, organization, product, or business? How does that history relate to the current situation?
- SEO Designs was founded in 1992 by Hans Zonn, who holds an MFA in Design from the Pratt Institute. He segued into Web design when he himself needed a Web site to advertise his print design services. After paying thousands of dollars to a Webmaster he found via the phone directory, Zonn found himself deeply dissatisfied with the results. Subsequently, he immersed himself in the study of Web design, attending classes and devouring scores of books. In the process, he met like-minded professionals who felt a special obligation to provide honest advice and service in an industry rife with shady practices and potential rip-offs. Several of those colleagues have since joined Zonn at SEO, providing expertise in a wide range of design and IT services.
Paragraph Six: Tell Your Reader How To Find Out More.
Finally, in your sixth paragraph, provide an address and contact information for the newsmakers involved. Make sure you also include the URL of a Web site, if there is one, where your reader can learn more.
- SEO Designs is located at the corner of This and That Streets in the downtown Anyville area. To find out more about SEO’s products and services, you can either visit the store Monday through Saturday (until 8:00 PM on weeknights and 6:00 PM on Saturdays), or call toll free: 800-XXX-XXXX. You can also visit SEO online, at www.thisisnotarrealurl.com.
Getting Your Release Out
Now comes the fun part: sending your completed press release to the media. Whom should you contact?
The answer depends on your publicity goals. You should also consider the relevance of potential media outlets to your story. In the case of the design firm above, local newspapers would be the ideal target. A small-market radio or TV news station in the area may also serve as a possible recipient. Scour the World Wide Web or phone directory for contact names, phone numbers, and submission policies of local news outlets.
No matter which outlet(s) you contact, the beauty of the press release is that it costs you nothing but the time involved in writing and sending it. Even if you decide to pay a professional writer to create your release, however, your costs are rather minimal compared to creating and placing a print or broadcast ad. Writers typically charge less to write press releases than they do to write ads, and they can produce them much faster than they can a print, radio, or television advertisement.
What’s more, readers may believe your story to be more truthful than they would an ad, because of your release’s resemblance to a news item.
A Final Note
Don’t forget to place your contact information at the top of your release. While formats vary, this is the one most commonly used:
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Your Name
Getting the word out via a press release may prove the most effective way to get publicity for yourself, your business, or your colleagues. Just follow the simple steps outlined above, be persistent and patient–and be ready to respond when those inquiries start rolling in.
— Mike Matera is a communications consultant, specializing in copywriting, Web publishing, WordPress, and corporate training. Find out more at www.mikematera.com.