Reporters and editors tell stories about throwing away press releases, often without more than a mere glance. But the press release in the digital age has taken on new, more mature roles that make it a valuable part of your communication arsenal.
To ensure a press release serves a beneficial marketing or informational purpose, here are some useful tips:
1. Write for your customers, not your boss
Write about what your customers want to know, not what your boss wants to say. Customers will be interested in relevant information about events, new products and special offers. They also may be interested in significant sponsorships or causes an organization supports. If you gear your press releases to customers, you have a better chance of attracting the interest of a reporter or editor.
2. Stand in the shoes of a reporter or editor
Reporters have beats. Publications have areas of focus and different sections. So as you think about appealing story hooks, also think about what reporters or publications will have the most interest in them. Then put yourself into their shoes and ask what kind of information they will want — and, just as important, what kind of information will they blow off.
3. Think of press releases as media advisories
Don't spend time word-smithing the press release. Devote your time to coming up with intriguing or attention-grabbing story angles, especially ones that convey the key messages you would like to convey. You are not writing the story; you are providing the spark for a reporter to write the story. Tantalize reporters and editors and provide them the background information, contacts, images and video that help them get a running start on the story.
4. Publish your own press releases
Post self-published press releases on your online newsroom (you definitely need an online newsroom). Use key words and tags in your press releases to earn clicks on your website and drive up your search engine rankings. Here is a caution, however. Self-publishing is not a license to write self-indulgent press releases or try to whitewash bad news. You need to subscribe to the same discipline of looking for good story angles and dodge the temptation to insert gratuitous quotes from the boss.
5. Dump all vestiges of business-speak
Yes, even if you are writing about a business topic. People don't talk like that. You probably don't actually talk like that, either. Speak to your audience in language they can understand, not faddish business terminology — think, "paradigm" — or worse, acronyms. If readers (or reporters) have to decode what you write, chances are good they will skip on by and your press release will be editorial roadkill.
6. Newsjacking is perfectly legal
David Meerman Scott popularized the phrase, but newsjacking has been around a long time. It means an opportunistic approach of hopping on an already moving news story. If the weather is turning to snow, maybe you should write a press release that hooks onto the ski lift — for example, a tire store holding tutorials for young drivers on when and how to mount chains. Be aware of what's happening around you and find an angle that gives you an opportunity to stand in the sunlight of media exposure.
7. Add shelf life and convenience to your media coverage
You need an online newsroom to house your press releases and your media coverage. Your online newsroom also can contain a blog, background material, images or video that can be downloaded for use in stories. It is a one-stop shopping center of who you are and what you are doing. And it has a shelf life almost as good as Twinkies. Best of all, an online newsroom gives you the freedom to add other kinds of content, such as features about employees who have won praise for going the extra mile for customers or a list of in-house experts and their areas of expertise.
As a former reporter and editor, I can attest that self-important, indulgent and irrelevant press releases wound up in the round file. But that doesn't mean the press release is dead or even dying. It has a purpose and it can have an impact, if you know what you're doing.