Press releases are still important…so how do you write a great one?
In our fast-paced and quickly-changing media environment, few things have had the staying power of the press release. It has been a component of public relations for decades, and you may think it has remained largely unchanged in that time. While that may be true of the basic goals and tactics of writing press releases, I would propose that there are new elements in the ways a successful press release is compiled. Though the media landscape has certainly changed in recent years, the need to get one’s message out to the general public through the media has remained. Because of that, the ability to write and send actionable press releases remains one of the core components of any PR professional’s toolbox. Here are some tips for making your next press release a successful one.
Think Like a Journalist
This is something that hasn’t changed about writing press releases, but I think that’s because it remains the most important. When you’re trying to get your news covered, you have to consider that the audience you’re trying to reach (media) is incredibly busy and will see many press releases in a given day. To make yours stand out, you need to consider what each reporter is looking for.
Make sure you know the name and general coverage topics of each reporter you pitch. You want to make sure that you can personalize the pitch as much as possible.
Beyond that, make sure that you get to the point quickly in your email, and make sure your press release gets to key information quickly, too. The key takeaway here – make sure that your press release and pitch makes the journalist’s job easier.
Finally, as you keep your direct audience in mind, consider also that journalists have their own audience to keep in mind. The goal of the journalist is to share newsworthy and important information with the public, so the more you can incorporate that end goal into your own work, the better your press release will be.
Consider Social Media
Here’s an area where PR has changed. Leveraging social media is a key skill for modern PR practitioners. However, I also think it bears mentioning in this discussion. That’s because, as you’re writing your press release, you should consider what information a journalist might need to be able to share your news on social media.
Whether it’s a quote or a bite-sized piece of info, this is another area where you can make the journalist’s job easier. You already know that journalists are some of the most active social media users. They will want to have news to share on social media. You can give them just what they need by doing the added work upfront to package your information in the best way possible for sharing on social media.
Tell the Story
It is common to hear public relations professionals discussed as “storytellers” these days. However, I would contend that – when it comes to writing press releases – the art of storytelling is sometimes minimized.
If your press release is just the nuts and bolts facts of the news item you’re pitching, you’re missing an opportunity. Remember, journalists are busy. They are looking for stories that are going to break through the content clutter that people face every day. You need to find the “angle” or the “hook” that will bring viewers/readers and, thus, journalists to your news item.
I’ll give an example from our work for McDonald’s. One of the key benefit programs that McDonald’s offers to employees is the Archways to Opportunity program. This is a way for employees to further their education or receive tuition assistance. In our area, there was a McDonald’s employee named Amanda who had earned her high school diploma through the McDonald’s Career Online High School, and we were planning an event to celebrate her great achievement.
When I went about writing the press release, I made sure to have Amanda fill out a short questionnaire that gave me a little more background information about her experience in the program and her reasoning for going back to earn her diploma. Through this, I found that she had a daughter who was nearing high school graduation, and Amanda had decided to go back to school so that she could be an example for her daughter. She and her daughter both ended up graduating within months of each other.
This provided me the story behind the news that I needed. I made the family story a key focus in the press release, and we ended up having news organizations from over an hour away travel out to our event to cover it because of Amanda’s powerful story.
Yes, this takes a little bit of upfront work on your part. But it will pay big dividends later if you are able to secure more media coverage for your event or announcement.
Provide Clear Contact Info
Finally, make sure that you provide a clear way for the journalist to contact you. If there are multiple contacts for a story, make sure that each person’s title is easy to understand. Again, this is all in pursuit of making the journalist’s job easier. The more you can do that, that more coverage you’ll win.
Finally, while you want to make it as easy as possible for each journalist to respond, you also should not simply sit back and wait for the responses to roll in. Remember, journalists are extremely busy, so you should also be prepared to do your due diligence and follow up on your pitches to make sure that you have provided all the information and supporting assets the journalist needs to do their job.
While the press release has a long history, its importance has not diminished. Though the media landscape is constantly changing, the need to get your story out to the general public will always remain. If you master the basics and find ways to weave in your unique story, you’ll find that your press releases will start to see more success.
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