We currently live in a climate of information overload.
While not necessarily a bad thing, the flow of news, ideas, and data can present a challenge for any company trying to get their message out amongst many others doing the same.
It appears even more daunting when you consider that message not only needs to be carried by traditional outlets such as trade publications and industry-specific websites, but also the social networks and blogs that prove a vital part of our daily communications.
However, there are plenty of tools, which if applied correctly, can help lift a firm above much of the noise to reach their desired audience.
One such mechanism is the press release.
From the aerospace industry to zoology, from large legacy companies to tiny startups, the press release is a key element in effective public relations that every firm should master.
Though on the surface, it may seem an outdated method for announcing what’s happening with your company, press releases can play a vital role in your company’s publicity efforts.
Unfortunately, many of us either don’t take the time or have the understanding to create a compelling and informative piece of communication.
Let’s examine this timeless form of messaging to ensure yours is heard.
What is a Press Release?
As the name states, a press release is exactly that – a release of information to a press, media or other service that gathers and dispenses news.
Although most associate press releases with large-scale announcements from national organizations, it’s arguably the most common form of communication between a company and the media regardless of the respective industry.
Although it dates back to the early 1900’s, and even with some minor tweaks to keep it relevant for the times, the press release has remained mostly unchanged for much of its history.
As a written informational piece, a press release is intended to communicate key events and news to the media. Beyond that, it also serves as a jumping off point for journalists to craft an article or story (or not to as we’ll cover a bit later) about your firm.
Elements of a Press Release and How to Write Them
Even though there are plenty of differences that separate one industry from the next, a press release is one of the few things that carry a consistency across all levels of business.
The purpose of the press release is to get a message across, regardless of what that message may be. To be effective, some universal elements need to be understood to create a release that can be easily read, understood, and reported.
Here’s an example on Reuters, now let’s detail each element and provide you with some tips on writing a release that works.
Dateline and Contact Information
Although slight variations exist, the dateline should appear in the upper left of your release with the contact info located either in the top right or just below the dateline.
As the vast majority of press releases are intended for immediate publication your dateline should read:
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: 1/1/2019
The contact information should reflect the individual tasked with fielding press inquiries or the main point of contact for the subject of the release. At a minimum, the contact info needs to contain a phone number and email address.
TIP: Don’t get fancy with your dateline or contact sections. Although you may feel the need to stand out, this is not the section to do so. The formatting for the date and contact is commonly accepted and allows a reporter to quickly scan for the release timeframe and whom to call or email if any follow-up is necessary.
Your headline is what will draw in the reader and offers a brief but relevant summary of your subject matter.
Catchy and to the point is often your best approach, but you must capture the meaning of your message in as few words as possible.
This is particularly vital with email releases. As your headline will serve as the subject line to whatever groups or individuals you send the communication to, it needs to stand out. Think dynamic, authoritative, and memorable.
TIP: Regardless of which industry your business is in, take your time creating the best headline possible. Make it stand out from the crowd. Reporters, business writers, and industry bloggers all deal with a lot of news and notes that blur together. 90% of your time in writing your press release should be devoted to crafting the headline. The other 10% is spent writing copy to support it.
This is where your announcement is detailed, albeit as briefly as possible. The body of your release should be no more than three paragraphs – an intro, detail, and background. Each section should be no more than two to three sentences long.
The first paragraph should reflect the Who, What, Why, When, Where, and How of the information you want to communicate. This portion of the press release must be succinct and to the point and ensure you cover the subject and purpose.
The second paragraph provides more detail and support to your announcement while still being concise. This is also where you will want to include a quote that a reporter can reuse should they write a more extensive article from your information.
The quote itself should carry some weight, both in who provides it and lending value to the overall message. Ideally, it will be a high ranking executive or the most senior level person involved with the subject matter. Depending on the project scale or news item, a secondary quote may also prove helpful, but any more will dilute the press release.
The third and final paragraph of your body is where you can include additional supporting data. Again, the key is to keep this short and to the point and only include the most vital points that help reinforce your main subject.
If it proves relevant and supports the message, you can also include one to two pictures to provide a visual representation.
TIP: You may have noticed us using the words succinct, concise, and short to direct how to write each paragraph. That’s no accident. An efficient press release conveys information in a manner that is easy to read and can be quickly understood.
Save wordy and flashy prose for your marketing materials. Make your point, make it quick, and make it clear. A reporter will appreciate a release they can effortlessly flip into a story for their readers.
Boilerplate (About Us)
The boilerplate area is where you provide a brief description of your company including significant details like headquarters and year established, and any recent data points or achievements.
Below are two examples for two different industries:
A boilerplate for a multi-family real estate firm:
About GoodHomes, LLC
Founded in 2000, GoodHomes, LLC has established itself as one of the largest multi-family management firms in the US through a commitment to creating quality neighborhoods for residents and high-value properties for investors. Based in Seattle, WA, GoodHomes currently manages more than 50,000 units in 25 states. For more information, please visit www.goodhomeswa.com.
A boilerplate for an education based technology firm:
About ABC Tech
ABC Tech, Inc. is a leader in online, educational study apps and currently partner with over 250 school districts nationwide providing tools and insight that help students from grades 5 through 12 improve their study habits and achieve better test scores. Our award-winning platform will expand to an additional 200 districts by the end of 2020. Our headquarters are in Austin, TX with offices in Denver, CO and Charlotte, NC. You can learn more at abctechinc.com.
Should your press release involve two or more firms, it is customary to include a brief about each entity.
TIP: Although there is a strong desire to announce how great your company might be, keep it to the bare minimum in your boilerplate. The About Us section should be less than 100 words and emphasize your mission and where the company currently stands in fulfilling its goals or its current or future growth.
The final element to your press release is the inclusion of three hash symbols (###) centered below the last line of text. Much like the dateline and contact info, this is a standard formatting technique to indicate the end of the release.
Timing and Distribution of a Press Release
How you write your press release is not the only consideration in getting your company news noticed. When and how your business chooses to release what they perceive to be valuable information is a principal factor in an effective public relations strategy.
Typically, you should utilize a press release only when your organization has important news to report. It’s also a good idea to fully understand how the media in your industry circulates newsworthy items.
Knowing which stories carry the proper relevance to warrant a press release can help you craft an effective communication policy that helps get your messages out to the masses.
With that in mind, below are the six most commonly accepted circumstances where a press release makes the most sense regardless of industry.
Major Product Changes
For companies in the retail, manufacturing, or entertainment businesses, press releases remain the most widely used avenue to update the media about new product announcements or updates or enhancements to an existing service or commodity.
This works for both physical items or more abstract concepts.
For example, we are all familiar with releases that announce the latest iPhone or Android device or updates from car makers that note a redesign for an existing SUV. As we mentioned earlier, this is how most perceive the use of a press release.
However, entities such as NASA or non-profits like Habitat for Humanity can use a press release to announce a discovery or charity drives.
Regardless of the product or idea you’re promoting, a press release can be made to fit whatever your need.
Acquisitions, Mergers, or Partnerships
Another frequent use for press releases includes the announcement of one company acquiring another or two entities merging.
While this type of press release needs to adhere to our writing guidelines of being brief and to the point, this version will typically be a bit longer due to the need to note the credentials of multiple companies instead of just one in the boilerplate section.
Another means of use includes industries where its necessary to communicate the transaction of property (including intellectual property). In this instance, add the property transaction info in the body of the release. In the boilerplate section, along with the acquiring entity information, insert the data for the seller and any brokers as necessary.
Structural Changes to the Company
Potentially the broadest of the categories of when to send a press release, structural changes can include any of the following:
- Relocation of Headquarters or Major Regional Office
- The Opening of a New Office
- Operational Expansion or Contraction
With any of the above situations, you should think about what constitutes essential, reportable news. For example:
Expanding your company’s home base by 50,000 square feet? Yes, that would prove noteworthy enough for a press item.
Adding two interior offices to your existing space to accommodate a couple of new hires? Probably not.
Executive Hirings or Promotions
The hierarchy of your company usually determines which positions necessitate a press release. What your specific industry deems noteworthy may also be a factor. Typically, if you fill a significant executive position, the standard practice is to announce it in a press release.
Breaking or Emergency Related Information
Nobody wants to highlight setbacks that an organization may have to deal with, but a press release is an excellent way to report vital news and help a company stay in front of the story or communicate critical points in an evolving situation.
Good examples of this include issuing press releases in times of weather-related disasters or accidents that occur at a plant, office, or base of operations.
Even though we recommend keeping the self-congratulatory language to a minimum when writing a standard press release, it is perfectly acceptable to send one highlighting recognition by a third-party association or industry body.
In fact, many associations that present awards that recognize company achievement will produce a press release of their own, so a humbly written announcement on the part of the recipient will help reinforce the significance of the award.
TIP: We’ve all heard of the boy who cried wolf. From a business perspective, yours doesn’t want to be the organization that thinks every minor tidbit of information is newsworthy. If it is, you’ll run the risk of many being unsure what’s relevant and what’s not as it relates to your company.
While some industries do vary with their methods and frequency of communication, oversaturation of your press releases can find you a place at the end of the journalistic line, with underreporting of your company or no reporting at all.
Now that you know when to send a press release, the next obvious question is where to send it.
Once again, this part of the process may vary depending upon your industry and how news and information are gathered and reported. However, two main distribution points are universal.
Individual Publications or Websites
Are there a handful of widely read and deeply trusted reporters in your industry? If so, it’s always an excellent idea to speak directly with those individuals first.
Everyone likes an exclusive, and there’s no better way to get your releases read then through the top media people at the publications or websites that serve your area of business. Just make sure to provide them your press release a day or two before sending it to a broader group.
Also, as the prevalence of blogs continues to rise, another excellent practice is reaching out to those bloggers who regularly write about your company’s area of focus. Many top bloggers have loyal followers who avoid traditional media outlets and will give your story to an audience that in the past may have been overlooked.
Mass distribution services are the best way to get your release to a wider assortment of news outlets with little effort. However, yours isn’t the only company that uses wire services, so you should always temper your expectations when using the blast method.
One approach to staying above the mob of wire service releases is to schedule yours at off times. Most people will set up their press release to go out at the top or bottom of the hour. Post yours at either :15 or :45 or you can make it even more distinctive with post times like :27 or :38. Every little advantage helps when trying to get your news noticed.
TIP: It may be stating the obvious, but ensure you know who the most popular and most respected trade publications are in your profession. Beyond that, you’ll also want to know their reporting methods, how they handle press releases, and which individuals cover specific beats (often its best to reach out to reporters and not editors). This is especially true for local or regional business magazine that might encompass a multitude of topics and industries for a city, region or even a state.
The ability to write and distribute effective press releases should be at the top of every organization’s communication efforts.
Not only does it remain a highly effective way to distribute the vital information about what is happening at your company, it also projects the image of a professional and extremely polished marketing team.
Which leads us to our final tip.
TIP: Your efforts do not stop once your press release is picked up and reported. Depending on the message you need (or want) to convey, follow-up with investors, potential clients, or partners while the ink is still fresh. This will guarantee you strengthen momentum for your company’s efforts, whether its to raise capital, increase customers, build confidence or all three.