How to Write and Distribute a Press Release That Wins Exposure
Writing and distributing a press release to share your news with the media is often considered a difficult exercise. Many businesses rely on the expertise of a PR agency or simply don’t send press releases. Yet, getting media exposure is essential for a business, to increase your brand awareness and build your brand profile, but also to develop your online presence and reinforce your linking strategy.
The heart of a great press release lies in two qualities: Brevity and providing real news.
The most effective press releases are short and to the point, using the fewest words required to tell the story. Remember, the journalist you’re sending it to will be looking at hundreds of them every day. Therefore, you need to do them a favour and get to the point.
In addition, journalists are in the business of being read and shared, so a press release needs to be newsworthy. In other words, the content of the press release does well if it passes the gossip test, meaning people will want to read it and even better, share it. That’s the ultimate test of whether your release is newsworthy.
What is a Press Release?
A press release is a piece of content or a statement aimed at communicating news to the media. It is often used for big announcements, reports and surveys and business news. The main objective of a press release is to draw attention and interest toward a story and ultimately to get journalists to write about this story.
Media coverage is particularly valuable for a business as third-party recommendations are highly influential in the decision-making process. That’s why PR is an essential channel for a business’s marketing plan and why press releases are still very useful.
How is a Press Release Different from Other Types of Copy?
Writing a press release differs from other types of copywriting simply because the recipient is not the same. When writing a blog post or a social media post, for instance, you directly address your target audience whereas, with a press release, your objective is to convince third-parties such as journalists or copywriters to write about you or your business. They are the ones telling the story so you have to keep in mind that they will only write about things that interest them or that will interest their readers.
The form and tone of voice don’t matter as much. What really matters is the story and the worthiness of this story. Therefore, it’s a very different exercise. You need to keep your target audience - the final readers - in mind of course but also consider the journalist’s interests.
Writing Press Releases: The Essential Things You Need to Know
- Short, to the point
As we explained in the previous part, press releases are NOT blog posts. So when writing a press release, you don’t have to worry too much about the form and the tone of your copy. The objective is to deliver your news story to journalists who’d potentially like to write about it. So get straight to the point and keep it short! You should allocate more time to the construction of your story than to the writing. Of course, avoiding spelling mistakes will make a better impression. Nothing that a good proofreading session won’t help with.
- You need a big idea
Any story needs a big idea and a press release is no different. If you are planning to send one to explain what your business is and when you started it, that isn’t going to impress many journalists. People start businesses every day. However, if you explain what need or gap it fills, why and how it will make a difference, you might catch more interest. The key question you have to keep in mind when writing a press release is: So what?
The same rule works for product launches, survey results, company associations, new hires, seasonal trends, seasonal developments and so long.
- Newsworthiness and relevancy are key
The topicality and newsworthiness of your story are as important, if not more, than your big idea. When a journalist reads a press release, he or she wants to know if the story is news-material. So if yours is linked to the news, a trend or even to a subject that is popular and regularly dealt with, you increase your chance of getting picked up.
- A press release isn’t an advert
We will never insist enough on this, a press release isn’t an ad. Journalists are not looking for products or services to promote, they want to provide valuable and interesting content to their readers. This is what advertising exists for and they generally don’t want to have anything to do with it. However, if the angle of your story presents an interest for their readers, they will happily write about you or your business (which brings us back to our two previous points). So please please, if you’re planning on sending a description of your product in minute details, don’t.
The main parts to include in your press release
- An opening paragraph
The opening paragraph is the second most important thing to prepare, just after the headline. Journalists receive tons of pitch emails every day so you can be sure that they will spend no more than two minutes deciding if the story you’ve sent is interesting and “coverable”. So you better put all the interesting elements at the beginning of your release. That’s why we recommend summarising your story in three lines in your introduction. Always ensure you are answering the following questions: what, who, where, when and how.
- Body copy
The body copy of your release should contain the details of your story. Explaining the why, giving a little bit of background on your business and on the story, adding figures, quotes and testimonials are all good ways to enrich your release. No need to write three pages, journalists won’t read it. The shorter the better. Really.
We strongly recommend inserting quotes in your press release. They add a human angle to the story and also provide an element that journalists will be able to use as it is to complete their news piece.
However, adding one for the sake of it isn’t recommendable. A quote needs to bring a human touch to the story. To make sure it’s the case, always ask yourself, is it something that I could have simply written in a paragraph?
Feel free to check out our 20 examples of great quotes for your press release.
- Notes to the Editor
At the end of your release, don’t forget to add your contact details, and all the additional information and links you want the journalists to have. You want to make it easy for them to learn more about your business or your story. In the jargon, we call this part “Notes to the Editor”.
- A catchy headline
Of course, the headline is the most important element of your press release because it will determine if your release gets read or not. Therefore, you need to prepare a short and somewhat catchy subject line which will make journalists want to read it. We detail how to craft a good one in the following paragraph.
Crafting Your press release headline
If the headline doesn’t grab attention then even a great press release is a waste of time. The headline should hook the interest of the journalist immediately and attract intellectual, emotional or some immediate interest.
Don’t worry, journalists don’t expect you to be an experienced writer. A headline summarising the big idea of your press release will be enough. Simply try to craft a short and catchy subject line which summarises or describes the key news element of your press release.
Fear of loss, celebrity, trending or viral events, spectacular success, new products/technologies and new business alliances or collaborations that change market realities are all in the top 25 headline subjects identified by PR Web, giving you a steer on what types of subjects garner interest.
In addition, tools like the Advanced Marketing Institute’s headline analyser are helpful in checking the emotional appeal of the headlines you write.
We suggest writing the headline last on the press release so you can check what you write does not give a misleading slant to the contents of your press release. Nothing is more irritating for a journalist than to be sucked into a release by a fabulous headline about a totally different subject to the facts in the release.
Distributing Your Press Release
Thinking of how to distribute your press releases efficiently is as important as writing a good and newsworthy story. If you have a great story to tell but nobody ever hears about it, you will go unnoticed, and vice versa. Depending on the size of your business and on the budget you’re ready to spend on PR, different solutions exist. Here are four of them.
- Work with a PR agency to distribute your press releases
One solution to get your press release in the right hands can be to use the services of a PR agency. Indeed, they’ve got the experience and the contacts, which make it easier to distribute your stories.
Public relations agencies are used to working with journalists and influencers. Most of the time they know the right approach to adopt when contacting them. Many of these agencies offer to write the press release for you as well, increasing your chance of coverage as they normally master the codes of journalism.
However, this type of service comes at a price. For small businesses particularly, agencies are not always affordable. This option is more apt for large businesses as they can afford to allocate a larger budget to PR.
Another inconvenience is that journalists actually don’t always like working with agencies, especially when it’s a small business. Based on our experience, and our conversations with journalists, more and more of them prefer dealing directly with the founder or the marketing contact from the business.
- Press release distribution services
Another option you’ve got to distribute your press releases is to use an online PR platform which lets you send your press releases to a database of journalists, bloggers and influencers. Most of the time, this type of tool, like JournoLink, enables you to select industry sectors and a geographic area for each press release you want to send out, in order to match it with the relevant publications or people. Some of them also allow you to select journalists according to the publication they’re working for.
Feel free to read our previous blog introducing the 10 best affordable PR platforms you can find online.
Using online release distribution platforms is a lot more affordable than an agency. Some of them are however more expensive than others. As the services offered are slightly different with each of these platforms, it's best to do your research to choose the one that fits your business best.
- Distribute your press release on social media
Social media is a vital part of a businesses PR strategy. First, because it’s one of the easiest ways to communicate with your audiences, to build your brand profile and to share your content. But did you know that a lot of journalists and bloggers use these platforms to get in touch with businesses? Some of them even prefer this way as it is fast and easy, and they can find additional information in one click.
Research the people you need to target, follow them on Twitter and don’t hesitate to send a direct message when you’ve got a story that could be of interest for them.
To increase your chance of getting their attention, regularly like, share and comment constructively in order to build a relationship.
- Build your own PR distribution list
Of course, there is always the option of managing your PR from A to Z, meaning that you can build your own list of journalists and send out your press releases through your usual email provider. If you want to opt for this solution you need to have the human and time resources as it can take time to build a good list of contacts.
Nonetheless, it’s the cheapest way to manage your own PR.
Actually, if you invest the right amount of time researching the publications and the bloggers and journalists you’d like to target, your strategy could be very efficient as you would have a very targeted audience.
The main inconvenience of it is that it can be very hard to find contact details. Indeed, as they receive thousands of emails every day, journalists and bloggers tend to hide their email address.
Finding a compelling story to tell and distributing it through a press release is only the first step of the PR process. Once you’ve sent it out, you need to track it online and offline to see if you got covered. Our blog listing the best tips and tools to track coverage could help you with that.
Writing a press release doesn't have to be difficult. Getting straight to the point and keeping in mind the newsworthy aspect of your release are the two things to remember if any. As for the distribution, many solutions exist out there. It simply depends on the budget on the time you are ready or able to spend.