Press Releases: Back to Basics

There has been a lot of debate recently about whether press releases are still an essential part of a PR or marketing campaign.  Some people think that blogs and social media sites have taken the place of press releases, but that the reality is…press releases can be easily used to gain free publicity for your company IF you know how to make them work for you.

First, we’ll review the basic components of a press release.  Then, look at what are considered to be the keys for a successful press release followed by an example.

In getting back to the basics, let’s recall what a press release is.  According to www.dictionary.com, a press release is “an announcement of a newsworthy item that is issued to the press”.  The primary components of a press release are:

  • Contact information –should include the contact person’s name, phone number, email address, and company website URL.  It’s important for the reporter/editor to be able to reach a contact person for more details.
  • Headline –serves as a concise summary of your press release in order to grab the journalist’s attention.
  • Subhead –offers a few additional details to your headline.
  • Lead paragraph – the who, what, when, where, and why of your story are briefly answered here.
  • Body – expand your story with details, statistics, quotes, and background information.  Though you’re expanding, do it in as few words as possible, preferably 1 page or less.  List information in order from most newsworthy (top) to least newsworthy (bottom).  Readers have been known to bail on your story before reaching the end, so give them the important stuff first.
  • Boilerplate – the final paragraph is a standard, reusable paragraph that describes your company and what you do.

In a presentation titled “Public Relations for the Automation Industry”, Walt Boyes, Editor in Chief of Control Magazine, states that a press release must be “news, noteworthy, well written, topical and targeted”.

  • News/Noteworthy – Journalists want stories that will capture their readers’ interest.  And we want to capture the journalists’ interest.  Thus, if we in sales and marketing want our press releases published, our goal should also be to write our press releases in such a way that a reporter will want to use our press release to capture their readers’ attention.  This often means avoiding salesy lingo.
  • Well Written – Proper grammar, spelling, and formatting are absolutely required.  Poorly written press releases are likely to be discarded.  Walt recommends that they be written by a professional release writer.
  • Topical and Targeted – Keep in mind who your target audience is and which distribution methods and sources will get your press release to that audience.

In addition, images—such as photos or logos—can help express your story as well as catch the reporter’s eye.  If images are part of your press release, they must be easily accessible by the press.  This can be accomplished by including with your press release a link to your downloadable images or by including your image files on a removable storage device to be distributed with your hard or softcopy press release.

Let’s take a look at “Apple Sells One Million iPads”, a press release which can be found at www.apple.com.  The release communicates the contact information, the “who, what, when, where, and why”, access to downloadable images, quotes and stats, and the boilerplate—all without typos.  In my opinion, a headline containing your company name won’t always work, but Apple (and other big shots) can sometimes get away with it.  In other words, when lesser-known companies put their name in their press release headlines, it can come across as an advertisement packaged as a press release, which will not appeal to journalists.  Along these same lines, the third and fourth paragraphs of Apple’s release contain some obvious marketing plugs—a typical no-no.  A few other things to point out: the subhead is missing, and I did initially overlook the link to the images, which could be improved by an actually including an image on the same release page.

For more information and tips on press releases, visit the following links.

Photo Source: stock.xchng/Gastonmag

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2 Responses to “Press Releases: Back to Basics”

  1. Jason Whitmen May 5, 2010 at 10:00 pm #

    Nice writing style. I look forward to reading more in the future.

  2. KatherinePersac June 2, 2010 at 5:49 pm #

    Thank you, Jason! I’m working now on an SEO post, which should be ready soon.

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