1. What a press release can do for your business
Press releases are a popular way of letting the media know about your
business and important things that are happening in it. They're a great
way to get publicity for virtually no cost if you know what you're doing
-- AND they can get you valuable links.
When you send out a press release and it successfully catches the
attention of the media, you can expect it to:
Improve the public's overall view of your business.
Produce greater exposure for your company that you can take advantage of
for higher profits and bigger deals.
Increase the number of links pointing to your website if your press
release (or a news story about your business) is published online.
Increase the number of sales you make.
Of course, because press releases are such a potentially powerful way to
get free publicity for your business, there are an awful lot of people
sending them out!
Every day, reporters' desks are swamped with stacks of press releases
issued by hopeful businesses angling to capture some free publicity
through media coverage.
This means that, depending on who you're contacting and where you want
your story to be released, there can be quite a bit of competition to
deal with. So if you want to ensure that your press release doesn't
simply end up in a trash bin, there are some clear rules -- and clever
tricks -- that you should know.
In this lesson, we'll discuss the various rules for creating and
distributing a press release that captures the attention of reporters
while meeting professional industry standards of etiquette and format.
2. When to send a press release
A press release is not something that you issue whenever the mood should
strike. It is a marketing tool that should be used only when you have
something truly newsworthy to announce.
If you send a reporter a press release every time you change the color of
your packaging, they're going to start ignoring you. So when you really
do have a big story or event to share, they'll never even know, because
they will automatically stop reading when they see your company name.
As far as we're concerned, the BEST reason to NOT send out trivial press
releases is that they are a waste of time.
Why put hours of work into something that is simply going to be thrown
immediately into the garbage bin? You'll want to spend your time putting
a press release together ONLY when it is appropriate.
Here are a few examples of the types of news that would be appropriate to
include in a press release:
Controversial statements, especially if they are at odds with another
organization in your field. This could be as simple as disagreeing with
the market predictions of another company, or arguing the importance or
lack of importance of some new legislation related to your industry.
Official announcements that have a large impact on your business. Things
such as new or unique products, mergers, or a joint venture with a large
organization are appropriate things to issue a press release about.
Special events or offers that are related to a particular theme or
season. These offers should be more than simply sales... for example,
maybe you're planning to donate a percentage of the proceeds of each sale
Timing is everything!
Different media work on different timelines.
An e-zine or online newsletter might use press release material the day
after it's received. Newspapers prefer at least a week to prepare a
story, although they might use it sooner. Magazines work at least three
In other words, if you don't have your Halloween-inspired story to them
by mid-July, forget it.
Contact the media on your list to find out their lead times.
Reporters will be among the first to tell you that most people's idea of
what constitutes a "newsworthy" event varies drastically from theirs. So
before you risk looking foolish and ruining future opportunities for
publicity, seriously consider whether or not what you're announcing will
be of interest to others.
Ask yourself this: Would you read an article on the same topic about a
company in an unrelated industry?
Your story and angle must be both compelling and unique. If the story
passes the test, then go for it. The publicity you can get as the result
of a well-timed press release is probably the best free advertising you
can get! If not, settle down and wait until you really DO have something
newsworthy to announce.
3. Format your press release to industry standards
Imagine for a moment that you are a reporter. You're busy, you're
stressed, and you've probably been up since the crack of dawn. Now
imagine that you're sorting through yet another stack of press releases.
The first one you pick up is 10+ pages long. You skim over the first page
and discover the writer has launched into a blow-by-blow account of their
company's four-year history.
You see no headline and no contact information -- so there's no point in
reading it! You toss it in the trash.
The next paper you pick up is a fluorescent orange color (quite
offensive, considering you have yet to drink your first cup of coffee)
and the ornate font makes it nearly impossible to read. So it gets
trashed as well.
The next one looks a little more promising. At least the writer was
considerate enough to adhere to industry standards of formatting, making
it easy to read. So you do.
The fact is, if you want your press release to be noticed, you must obey
certain formatting rules.
If you are mailing your press release, use your letterhead or plain,
boring, normal-sized 8.5" x 11" white paper. If you're sending it
electronically, on the other hand, make sure you use a plain white
There is absolutely no need to try to jazz things up with colorful paper.
This will only make you look unprofessional and reduce the validity of
your statement. After all, if your press release is actually newsworthy,
there shouldn't be any need for visual embellishment!
Here are the elements you need to include within the body of your press
a. Contact information
In the top left-hand corner of the page, you should include a heading
that contains your company name, address, phone number, email address,
It's also important that you include the name of the person who will be
acting as the liaison between your company and the media. If you don't,
the majority of reporters won't even bother to look at the rest of your
(It's a good idea to keep the number of contact people to a maximum of
two; otherwise it can get confusing.)
b. Date or time the news is to be released
Underneath your heading, you should write: "FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE." This
lets the reporter know that you are giving them the freedom to choose
when they publish your story.
If your press release is date-sensitive, perhaps because it is related to
a specific holiday or event, you should write: "FOR RELEASE ON OR BEFORE
[date]." You decide what -- the editor decides when
It is unwise to place too many restrictions on when your story can be
published because this will reduce the chance it will receive coverage if
other, more interesting news comes up.
Under your release statement, you should include your headline typed in
all upper case so that it will be easily noticed and recognized. Your
headline should be something that will grab the attention of the
For example, a headline that reads "MANY PARENTS UNHAPPY WITH DAYCARE" is
weak, while "PARENTS LIVID OVER INCOMPETENCE OF DAYCARE WORKERS" makes
the same article sound much more interesting.
Also, try to include your main keyword phrase if possible. This will give
your press release extra SEO power if it's published online.
In italics, write a one- to four-line summary of the information that
will grab the interest of the reader, and compel them to read on for more
e. City and date
Next, you should begin the body of your press release with the city your
message is coming from, as well as the date of your announcement.
For instance, you might start off with: "NEW YORK. January 17, 2009,
Gizmo Technologies announced today the release of Gimmick Version 2.0...
This immediately gives people a "time" and a "place" to relate the rest
of your article to. Once this has been established, you can begin writing
the body of your press release.
You should write your press release with the most important information
first. This is so your press release will grab the attention of whoever
is reading it and give them the information they want right away.
(Note that newspaper articles are written in this format, with the most
important details revealed first.)
Remember to give your reader the "who, what, when, where, why, and how"
as soon and as briefly as possible. There is no reason for you to go on
and on with pages of irrelevant details.
If you are comfortable doing so, sharing your financial information can
be a good way of lending credence to the importance of your press
release. Reporters can look at your information and see for themselves
that you have a solid track record and business plan.
Make sure that you keep your press release to no more than two pages,
though one page is much better. If you do have two pages, be certain to
place the word "-more-" at the bottom of your first page so there isn't
any confusion as to whether your press release continues. Also remember
to number your pages if there is more than one.
Whether your press release is one or two pages, you should be absolutely
certain to double-space. If you don't, your material will look too dense
and it is unlikely to be looked at!
g. Company description
Include a short summary of your business that includes more than just
your company name and industry -- but don't get carried away and write a
comprehensive description of all your achievements!
Stick to details like how large your company is, what it sells, how long
you have been in business, and any other pertinent information that
relates directly to your story.
Once you have completed the body of your press release, drop down a few
lines and type "#" or "-30-" in the center of the page. This is a
traditional way of saying that your piece is finished.
Above all, keep your message simple and your writing clear!
If there are complex concepts that require explanation, keep the
clarification to one or two sentences. Have some friends read it over
first to make sure your message isn't confusing.
Reporters will appreciate it when your article gets to the point and
stays there. The more you deviate from your declared topic, the more
likely it will be that they get annoyed and stop reading.
Don't make the mistake of thinking that if you follow these formatting
rules too closely, your press release will just disappear among the
others. The truth is, it will give you a professional appearance that
will increase the likelihood that a busy reporter will take the time to
examine your statement.
Using all of the elements we just talked about, here is a template you
can use to create your own press release:
**********Beginning of Template************
From: Your company name
Contact: Your contact person
The contact email address
The contact phone number
***FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE***
[HEADLINE IN ALL CAPITAL LETTERS]
Summary (in italics): A short rundown of the information including the
most interesting facts.
CITY (in capital letters), date, opening paragraph: list the specifics
(who, what, when, where, why, how).
Main paragraphs: Elaboration on points outlined in opening paragraph.
Keep them short and sweet.
Pertinent quote (if appropriate and available).
Quick close that might reiterate your main point (don't overdo it!)
Company description: This is not an advertisement. Give information on
when it was founded, size, number of employees, product niche, etc.
***************End of Template*************
How to format? Like the pros!
The best way to see how a press release should be formatted is to browse
through a few of them yourself. You can access live feeds of press
releases by visiting one of the major press release submission services,
such as www.prnewswire.com or www.marketwire.com.
4. Choose an angle that grabs reporters' attention
4. Choose an angle that grabs reporters' attention
Unless you're a multimillion dollar corporation, new packaging or a new
marketing manager will NOT be considered newsworthy. Reporters receive an
endless stream of these announcements every day, and yours is almost
guaranteed to land where the rest of them do -- in the trash!
You need to think creatively when approaching the media and consider such
a. Popular trends
There are always new hot things on the horizon that capture the public's
imagination. If you can somehow link your message to an upcoming fad or
trend, you are far more likely to get media coverage.
b. Human interest stories
People love stories of success, failure, heroism, and charity. If you can
somehow angle your story to generate a strong emotional response, you are
more likely to capture a reporter's interest.
Is your company involved in some kind of charity work? Are you
participating in a food drive? Are you making a significant contribution
to society in some way?
If you are, you may be able to create publicity for your business around
one of these angles.
c. Controversial statements
We don't recommend that you intentionally create an uproar by making a
scandalous announcement; however, you can grab people's attention very
quickly with strongly worded statements about your company's view of
recent media occurrences.
d. A reporter's favorite topics
Everyone has a favorite topic, and reporters are no exception. If you
have noticed that a certain reporter has a habit of focusing on a
particular aspect of business or society, try to craft your message to
cater to this topic. You will greatly increase the chance that you will
be published by doing so.
This also goes for specific publications that you are sending your press
release to. If they are focused on a particular topic, you should tailor
your message so that it is directly relevant to their readers.
For instance, if you were issuing a press release to sporting
publications, you would want to explain how your new shoelaces are an
important contribution to athletic performance.
Compelling visuals that augment your story can increase your chances of
getting your news published. But if you're submitting your press release
electronically, one of the quickest ways to get your press release
deleted is to attach images!
Don't get us wrong... reporters really like to see images, provided they
are directly relevant to the topic of your press release.
But attachments can take forever to download and can potentially contain
viruses -- BIG turn-offs for busy reporters.
Remember: You don't want to do anything that will discourage a reporter
from reading your press release!
Instead of sending your image in an attachment, post it on your website
and include a link to it within your press release.
Here are a few more guidelines to follow with images:
Make sure the image is sitting in plain view on the web page you're
providing the link to. A reporter shouldn't have to search the page or
click through a dozen different pages to find it.
Make sure your image is in JPG format -- GIF images are all right too,
but they're generally less desirable than a JPG.
Include two or three different sizes of the image, starting as small as
280 pixels in width. That way, a reporter can choose the size they need
and easily add it to a column or feature story about your product or
Even some of the most experienced press agents make the mistake of
sending image attachments -- something many reporters find very
frustrating. A simple, no-hassle link to your images in your press
release will make it automatically stand out from the crowd!
5. Critical mistakes you absolutely must avoid
Anger or annoy reporters and you'll ruin your chances of profiting from
this powerful form of free publicity. They're busy people who will
appreciate it if you avoid wasting their time with the following
It's okay to send a follow-up email or make a phone call to ensure a
reporter or editor has received your press release. But under no
circumstance should you harass them with repeated follow-ups.
Reporters and editors are very, very busy people, and a single follow-up
message is sometimes very useful for reminding them about your release in
case they've overlooked it or forgotten about it.
Your best option is to have a specific reason for contacting them to
follow up. If you want to add something new to the information in the
release, like an additional benefit, you have a reason for the call or
But again, keep your follow-up effort to ONE phone call, email, or
Harassing a reporter with a cascade of messages can result in your being
stonewalled -- even if the reporter was originally considering your press
b. Sending your press release to everyone
This is a sure way of annoying the media, and word will get around. Focus
on your niche!
It is not only a waste of your time to send your press release to
organizations with absolutely no interest in your business, you also risk
alienating reporters who might have otherwise considered running your
If they hear that you are sending your message to everyone, they won't
even bother looking at it!
c. Using meaningless buzzwords
Buzzwords are words that have been picked up in general "business speak,"
and while they may have meant something at some point, their overuse has
left them almost meaningless.
These are words such as "paradigm" (instead of "concept" or "notion"), or
"cyberspace." There will be times when using one of these words may be
necessary. However, as a general rule, you should avoid them --
especially in the headline of your press release!
These words cease to have any real meaning when they become used too
frequently, and reporters who hear them dozens of times each day will
likely be sick and tired of this "non-speak."
d. Making spelling and grammar mistakes
This may seem like a minor point, but take it seriously! If your press
release is riddled with errors, it will be laughed at. If you can't take
the time to run a simple spell checker and proofread your work to make it
appear professional, why should a reporter bother wasting their valuable
time reading it?
It takes very little time to check your spelling and grammar, and it
really can make the difference between a ton of free publicity and your
press release getting thrown into the trash.
Once you've spell checked and proofread it yourself, hand it off to a
friend or family member and have them take a look at it as well.
6. Where should you send your press release?
It doesn't matter how much time you spend crafting your press release --
if you don't send it to publications and reporters who have a direct
interest in your industry, it will hit the trash bin and all of your
effort will be wasted.
As with your product or service, you should not be trying to "sell" your
press release to every reporter under the sun. You'll look far more
professional -- and be far more likely to have your story covered -- if
you focus your efforts on media outlets and journalists who have a direct
interest in your topic.
Before sending your press release off to ANY publication, you should ask
yourself the following questions:
Is the publication interested in your market?
Does the publication care about organizations of your size?
Is there a lot of competition for space in the publication?
Will the publication generate a reasonable amount of publicity for you?
Of course, with that said, you still need to find the right publications
and people to report your story. Here are your options:
a. Online press release services
Your first option for getting the word out is to hire a press release
service. The obvious benefit of hiring a service like this is that you
don't need to do the work yourself, leaving you free to focus on other
aspects of your marketing strategy.
The downside, besides the extra expense, is that you know your industry,
and that makes YOU the best person to decide which publications to target
and which to avoid.
A service might do a good job, but you could do better. Free services:
You get what you pay for!
There are a number of free online services that promise to submit your
press release to hundreds -- even thousands -- of media contacts. We
recommend you avoid these services entirely.
Not only is their contact information often outdated, your press release
may end up getting submitted to entirely the wrong person or department
and you'll end up looking extremely unprofessional!
b. Doing your own legwork
We highly recommend that you make a point of sending your press releases
While it might seem like more work, the long-term benefits will likely
outweigh the initial investment of time that your first press release
will require. Because you know your business better than anyone else
does, you are the best person to decide which publications and reporters
are best suited to release your story.
And if you are planning to issue a lot of press releases over the next
couple of years, doing it yourself will be far less expensive than hiring
a press release service, which generally charge several hundred dollars
Plus, once you've made the initial contact with reporters and developed a
relationship with them, it will be far easier to get your next newsworthy
event into the spotlight.
Remember that it can often be who you know that makes the difference!
c. Beware of media lists "for sale"
If you decide to send your press release yourself, you might think that
you can save yourself a lot of trouble by purchasing a media list that
provides you with the addresses and phone numbers of various media
Our advice is to be careful when using these kinds of sources. Often they
are outdated or only provide a little bit of information about each media
This can lead to your press release being sent to the wrong person, or to
an address or fax number that no longer relates to your business at all!
If you are going to use a media list, you should know:
How much address info is included? (Will it include email addresses,
postal addresses, names, phone numbers, and fax numbers?)
When the list was last updated.
Whether the addresses are valid for sending press releases to. You don't
want to be sending your press release to the wrong address.
How the list is broken down. Is it by topic, alphabetical order, size of
publication, or some other way?
If a certain percentage of the list is out of date or incorrect at the
time of purchase, will you be compensated?
Whether the source that compiled the list is biased. You should make sure
that whoever set up the list is legitimate and honest about who is on the
Should you decide to purchase a media list like this, we suggest you
simply use it as a guide and personally check to make sure the
information is still current before sending the press release. This will
help you avoid embarrassing mistakes.
d. Good places to start
In a moment, we'll share a list of good places to start when searching
for media contacts and distribution services. However, we would again
like to emphasize the importance of contacting only those publications
and reporters with a direct interest in your industry or area of
If you don't, you're wasting time, and we can guarantee that your hard
work will simply end up in some frazzled reporter's trash bin!
Gebbie Press -- "The All-in-One Media Directory"
The Paperboy -- Links to more than 6,000 newspaper websites
The MagazineBoy -- Links to more than 1,500 magazine websites
Press Release Network -- Global press release service
Oxbridge Media Finder -- Research Canadian and American publications
Next up, we'll share a few of the press release services we've used and
found to be effective. These websites not only offer PR services, but
they also contain useful information, templates, formatting instructions,
and much more.
Some of these sites are free, and some ask for some sort of payment for
publishing and hosting your release. When looking at your options, find
the one that suits your needs best.
www.prweb.com -- This is a must-visit for ALL your press release needs!
(In fact, this is the service we use to send out our press releases.) To
read their formatting tips, visit:
One thing we should mention is that online press releases have their own
As the media continue to rely on the Internet for communications, old
methods of press release submission are slowly falling behind. It's just
more convenient for an editor to look at a list of headlines on a PR site
than it is to pore over a stack of faxes or a pile of letters.
Plus, many of these press release sites have excellent link authority, as
evidenced by their Google PageRank. Publishing your release there,
whether or not it drives traffic, can improve your site's relevance in
the eyes of the search engines and boost where you appear in the search
So it's important to strategically "pepper" your keywords throughout the
copy of your press release to help the search engines index it. Don't
forget to include your keywords in the headline, summary, and body of
your press release.
Try to keep each press release focused on a specific topic so you can
tailor it around one or two related keywords. It's also a good idea to
include a link to your site so you can benefit from the high PageRank of
some of the press release submission sites.
7. How to send your press release
Once you have the names of media contacts, you need to decide how you'll
send your press release to them. While email is now considered the
"standard" way of sending press releases, there are still some reporters
who prefer to receive them by fax or regular postal mail.
The easiest way to find out what a particular reporter prefers is simply
by asking. You can make a phone call and find out for sure what the best
method of delivery will be.
This also gives you an opportunity to give the person a "heads-up" that
they will be receiving a press release from you.
If you are mailing your press release, don't fold the paper like it is a
letter. Fold it so that the first thing the reporter will see is your
heading and headline.
And should you decide that fax or "snail mail" is the best choice, make
sure you use a legible font. There is absolutely no need to use fancy,
ornate fonts. Clear and easy-to-read lettering will be best.
8. Case study: Anythingleft-handed.co.uk
Anything Left-Handed (www.anythingleft-handed.co.uk) started out as a
small shop in London selling left-handed items. But putting that business
on the Internet gave them access to the world -- and the world spent over
$900,000 at Keith Milsom's store in a single year!
We read about his success and just had to interview him for a newsletter
Keith told us that writing and distributing information-packed press
releases is one of the key strategies he has used to build his brick-and-
mortar business into a phenomenal online success.
Keith's wife Lauren writes most of their press releases, which highlight
special events like their annual "Left-Hander's Day" and new product
Lauren also includes their corporate profile -- which is an ideal way to
attract attention from magazines or websites that might want to do a
spotlight article on their business!
One of the most effective press releases published by Keith and Lauren
highlighted a survey they were taking of left-handed people. The story of
the survey was picked up by such a wide variety of media sources -- from
hobby magazines to corporate newsletters -- that their results were much
more comprehensive and helpful than they could possibly have imagined.
In their experience, you can be very successful with press releases if
Keep a current list of media contacts.
Only send relevant information to your media contacts.
Write from the point of view of your customers.
Write your press releases so the journalists can see that it would be
easy for them to make a good news story out of it.
Be concise and interesting.
A well-written press release does a lot of the journalists' work for them
by making it obvious why and how this story will appeal to their
audience, and making it easy for them to follow up.
9. Final thoughts
Press releases can be an extremely powerful marketing and SEO tool, but
you need to be sure that you follow a few very important rules in order
to ensure that your message has the best possible chance of catching a
If you find yourself tempted to stray from these basic rules, take a
moment to think about the over-tired, overworked reporter who will be
reading it. Their time is limited, their patience is short, and their
garbage can is close at hand.
The very best way to guarantee that your press release has a chance of
getting noticed is to follow the advice we've given you in this lesson.
Remember to strategically plan your angle so it's interesting, unique,
and relevant to the audience. Then make sure your message is short and to
the point! Your Action Plan:
Write a list of newsworthy announcements your business will be making in
the future. Only send out a press release when you have something
newsworthy to announce. (Remember the timelines of the media outlets you
plan to send it to.)
Format your press release to the industry standard using the template
provided in this lesson. Grab the reader's attention with a compelling
headline and include a short summary at the top.
Create a spreadsheet to store your list of media contacts at publications
relevant to your industry that will be receptive to your press releases
in the future.