The pros and cons of using newswires has always
been an issue in PR. The idea of using a distribution tool seems at odds with
the core value of PR being in the value of trusted relationships that PR
professionals build directly with the press. However, for businesses just
starting out with PR and marketing and which don’t already have connections with the press, newswires can be a
helpful way to get news out, and hopefully generate some awareness.
One of the challenges with newswires is that they are not a one size fits all solution. There are premium newswires aimed at getting big, global brands into top tier media, or niche newswires that give specific groups of journalists news that is highly relevant to their areas of interest (which is where JournoLink sits, in case you were wondering). For the former, you can end up paying many hundreds of pounds, whilst the latter are typically much cheaper, as they serve a much smaller audience. But whatever kind of newswire you plan to use, they can only be as effective as the quality of the story you send out.
The clue is in the name; if it’s not really news, don’t use a newswire.
First and foremost, any journalists who use a newswire to source ideas for news stories are looking for something distinctive; so don’t use a newswire for anything that’s run of the mill or me-too news. We still see far too many press releases issued by companies who think that hiring a junior sales person in the Burkina Faso office is somehow breaking global news. If your press release is going to be picked up, then it’s got to stand out from the hundreds of other announcements sent out every day. A good start is to make sure that there’s a genuine news angle in there; is your product or service the first of its kind, the fastest or the cleverest? Did you raise a ton of money, or hit some kind of amazing company milestone or sales target? Did Richard Branson just tell you that your business is the best thing since sliced bread? Or did you do something crazy, like make your pet dog the new CTO? Whatever your angle, really think about whether it’s something that’s going to make a journalist want to write a 500 word story and go through the hassle of pitching it to their editor.
The style and format of what you send out via a newswire matters too. Aim to have a good headline that gets the most essential fact about your news across in 10 words or less; don’t be afraid to make it fun if it fits the context of what your news is about. There’s nothing wrong with a bit of wordplay if it’s a consumer product, but if your subject matter is serious, use a serious tone for the headline. Something I’ve always tried to do with my headlines is try to make them good enough to work as the headline of an actual article. If you are overly wordy or too dry and technical you are making the journalist have to do extra work to turn it into a story.
Press releases have a tried and tested layout, so don’t stray too far from what the accepted standard is. If you are unsure, there’s a good guide written by real journalists over at journalism.co.uk (https://www.journalism.co.uk/skills/how-to-write-the-perfect-press-release-for-journalists/s7/a535287/). Ideally, you should be getting your five W’s - who, what, where, when, why - into the very first paragraph. Your aim should be that if a journalist only spends ten seconds reading the headline and first paragraph, they should still be able to write their whole article from the information it contains. The longer a press release is, the less likely anyone is to get all the way to the bottom. So make sure the really crucial stuff is at the top, and your whole release doesn’t run longer than a page to a page and a half, max.
Although press releases still stick to a very traditional format, social media has influenced it to a degree. Some people like to use a more truncated format, sometimes called a ‘social media news release’or SMNR. This format still relies on a strong headline and putting the key facts right at the top, but it’s even more pared back and is almost a bullet-list of facts and figures, plus links to social media channels and other online resources to give the journalist everything they need to build a story. This is a helpful post on the differences between a conventional and social media news release - http://www.prnewswire.com/blog/the-difference-between-social-media-news-releases-traditional-press-releases-6116.html.
Getting the words right is one thing - but you also need to think about what images and media can really make the story shine. It can be a pain to do, but you always want to try and have some decent photos to accompany any story, even if it’s just a photo of yourself as the company spokesperson. Offering an interesting product shot or even some stock imagery that you’ve purchased can make the difference. Very few articles these days are just text, so once again, saving the journalist time and bringing the news to life visually will maximise your chance of getting some pick-up.
Finally, don’t forget that using a newswire is just one avenue for getting your news out there. You should still be using business-friendly social channels like Twitter and LinkedIn, plus anything else that’s relevant to your business or personal profile. There is no better advocate for your company than you; so use whatever channels you have to get your story heard.
Written By: John Ozimek at Big Ideas Machine