Here's a confession. I hate calling journalists. To be fair, I also hate calling to order a curry take away or to get a plumber round. I may be a borderline introvert. But when you work in PR - or if you do your own PR - you will be told that you need to call journalists to encourage them to use your press release.
Now I know that some journalists, particularly those at local newspapers, do like to get stories via the phone. But I would say that most journalists cannot stand getting called and asked whether a press release was received. They're busy and will invariably tell you to email it to them. And you're back at square one. Because of this, I have spent 20 years in PR learning to write press releases that will sell themselves, so that they get used without me having to call.
And now I'm going to share how to do this with you.
First of all, what is a press release?
A press release is a tool to share information with the media. They have a set format using the inverted pyramid (more on this below). And they tend to be used for news i.e. something new. They are different to an article or blog post, which provide opinion rather than news.
Press releases can get run practically verbatim, particularly in trade media and local papers. But often they are a door opener. The journalist reads your news and finds something of interest. It may not even be the thing you're focusing on in your press release. They could be working on a feature on a related subject and decide to include you. Or they could call you up and ask to interview you on your business because it sounds interesting.
More often than not, press releases get ignored. There are plenty of reasons for that:
- They're written like an ad
- They have no real news
- It's not relevant to the publication or journalist
- There is not topical hook or angle
- It just doesn't fit into the publication at that time
- The journalist is swamped and misses it
It's that last reason that people tend to call up journalists. And it's valid. But I am a firm believer that if you target your press release correctly and you write it well, it will get attention without the need to chase. I have plenty of clients who I have written press releases for, who have followed the steps I told them to take, and have had their releases run practically word for word without having to pick up the phone.
Here's how to do it:
Step 1: Remove your ego
If your press release sounds like an ad for your business, it probably is. And it won't get used. If you make it all about you, how wonderful you are, how delighted you are that something has happened to you, it won't get used. If you insist on having a long company descriptor - about why yours is the best company ever - right there in the opening sentence, you are on a hiding to nothing. Remove your ego.
Step 2: Think like a reader
Read your press release. Does it sound like an ad? Ask yourself: What is the reader getting out of this?
Let's say you are a nutritionist and you have launched a new detox programme that you want to share with the media. If it is GENUINELY different from anything else out there and it will have a profound impact on the lives of the readers and you are targeting a health publication, then write about it, but be sure to focus on the benefits to the readers.
However, most people believe their product is the bees knees. You need to step outside of your business and look at it coldly through the eyes of a reader. Are you simply trying to flog something or are you providing useful, interesting content?
Now, if you told the reader what the top three every day toxins in their diet were and how to combat those, that would be useful. And if you then went on to say that you have created a new detox programme to sort the problem out, you have a far better chance of getting interest. It's an art to marry your actual news with something readers want to know.
Step 3: Use normal language
Something happens when people try to write press releases (I'm particularly looking at you US technology companies). They turn into very boring, cliche-filled, pompous fools. They try to use big, clever sounding words. They add in extra words that no-one would ever use in day to day language. Be human. Use small words. Use short sentences. Cut out adjectives and cliches. And never, ever, ever use the words unique, state of the art or revolutionary.
Step 4: Spend time on your headline
The headline is the hardest part of a press release to write. I tend to write it last. It needs to be short (no more than 10 words). It needs to grab attention but also tell the journalist what the press release is about without resorting to clickbait tactics. Go to a reputable news site and read some of the headlines. That is what you're aiming for.
Step 5: Do the opposite of what you learned in school
You do not want a teaser intro, a meaty middle and an epic conclusion that reveals all. Press releases use an inverted pyramid model. You want to get all the facts out up front in that first paragraph. Who, what, when, where, why. Answer those questions succinctly but using interesting words that make the journalist want to read on. The second paragraph can explain the how. The third can be a quote from someone. It needs to have an opinion or some facts. Wrap up with a final paragraph telling the reader where they can get more details or pricing info.
You can end it with boilerplate information - a short paragraph about the company, with an offer to editors for additional information, samples, images or interviews. Don't forget your contact details.
Here's a sample outline of what a press release should look like:
Should you call a journalist?
Public relations is about, well, relationships. So talking to journalists goes a long way to doing this. As does meeting them. But you can build a relationship via twitter, being helpful, responding quickly and putting them in touch with people that can help them. But if you are just starting out and find it all a bit intimidating, take heart. You can get good results without having to pick up the phone. And once you've built up an online or email rapport, calling them is actually a doddle.
Wondering why you should write a press release?
I wrote a press release for a client of mine. She sent it to one industry trade publication. They ran it. She secured over £30K in new business off the back of it. Press releases may be a very basic PR tool, but written well, they do work. They may not generate instant sales like the example I've just given, but publicity helps build your credibility and it massively broadens awareness of your business, without you having to pay for advertising space. And as press releases that are posted online get listed in Google news, they massively boost your SEO too.
If you need help writing your press releases, check out my PR Firestarter Kit. Or for even more PR help, take a look at Publicity for Solopreneurs.
Got press release related questions? Post them below or head over to my Facebook page and join the campfire chat.