The Basics of an Effective Press Release

A Changing Art

The role and use of the press release has continued to evolve with the increased importance of digital marketing. Both the content and the targets of the press release have increased its importance to many companies in helping them get their messages out. Ironically, this shift has also led a number of larger companies that once dominated the field to reevaluate how they get their news out to the marketplace.

The press release originated as a basic way for very large companies to regularly communicate with a narrow part of the media, almost assured of broad coverage of most releases. Much as the Internet has opened the news market in general to many new sources and organizations, it has leveled the playing field in the use of this valuable marketing tool. This is so much the case that Coca-Cola’s digital communications head recently announced the company hopes to kill the use of the press release by 2014. It is redirecting such efforts towards a number of creative digital methods in concert with its redesigned and repurposed website. This announcement actually underlines the importance of the press release and its role in an integrated marketing strategy. As its name implies, the former narrow purpose of this tool was to get information to the press for them to distribute. Now, however, as discussed in our previous article, you can ensure correctly developed, written and distributed press releases help your company to:

  • Increase SEO results through keywords, links and shares
  • Serve as effective marketing materials
  • Effectively communicate specific information to your market space, customers and employees

Writing Press Releases that Work

The changes in how press releases are distributed cause some modifications in how they are written. There are two fundamental things to consider when writing your company’s press release. The first item is the physical structure. The second is the actual content and target of the release. Let’s first look at the basics of structure.

The Basic Template

There are a number of good references and samples on the web showing the basics of a good press release. In fact, companies like PRWeb offer some very useful tutorials you can benefit from even if you don’t user their service. It is also useful to search for and review sample press releases for specific issues, such as announcing a new product or service, adding a key member of management, an acquisition, etc. Also, always remember to regularly search for all the press releases from your major competitors and track them. One useful step is to adopt a basic format that you like and you can use consistently. Take the time to have a graphic designer customize a basic template using your company logo, colors, and look. At the same time, don’t get too fancy or blur the fact that it is a press release you’re sending out.

Targeting the Content

The philosophy of how press releases are targeted is changing the content that is included. There is a good discussion of basic pointers by Zach Cutler that deals with the more traditional release. These are good elements to follow, even if you’re not really expecting the release to be covered on the morning news. Following these tips make your release more likely to be read. Above all, keep content crisp and succinctly presented. That said, here are some additional items to keep in mind:

  • Every worthy press release will start with a well-written headline that distills the basic message of the release. Follow the samples for how the headline is formatted in bold and title case.
  • A clear sub-headline. If you’ve ever fished, the metaphor is that the headline is the bait to get a nibble and the subhead should set the hook and pull the reader to the body of the release. You can learn a lot by reading a number of professional releases from companies in your market space. Study how they use keywords and power phrases.
  • The body of your press release should get the key point out right up front. This is another area to focus on keywords and company branding messages. Following this will be a paragraph or two with information about the general subject. The function of this material is to make it easy for a journalist to write a more credible general news piece while mentioning your announcement. For example, if you’re announcing a new product to provide online security, include a paragraph about why online security is such an issue and provide hard industry data.
  • Company contact information. This area is overlooked by many companies and that is a big mistake. It’s important to have a real person that can answer a phone call and active email addresses that will be closely monitored. If you do generate interest in your press release, be ready to capitalize upon it.

Maintaining a Consistent Flow

If your press releases are consistently written well and provide real information, you will develop a following of individuals that look forward to receiving them. While we have somewhat discounted the importance of actually being covered by the press, that is a major coup when your story is picked up and included on a blog post, in an industry publication, or other general media outlet. The press release is an important tool that shouldn’t be intimidating. If your team doesn't have talented writers on staff, you can use any number of content writing sites and freelancers to get quality press releases written for as little as $35 to $100 apiece. That’s a small investment for a potentially large ROI. We'll next talk about how to get the best distribution and visibility for your press release.

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