How to Write Press Releases that Attract and Convert
Press releases are a great medium to promote your business. Here’s a quick guide to understanding and seizing their potential.
Since it’s a pre-internet format and it’s not obscure at all, I’ll assume most of my readers are well aware of what a press release is. But, regardless, I’ll provide an introductory overview and definition, to work with you from a clearly defined angle.
Wikipedia defines a press release as “ a written or recorded communication directed at members of the news media for the purpose of announcing something ostensibly newsworthy.”
Press releases are often presented to the business’ target audience, in contexts such as digital “press rooms” or “newsrooms”, sites where they can find news about the company, straight from the horse’s mouth; but we’re gonna ignore that, for the moment. I aim to explain how press releases can be used as a first step to attract media attention.
The goal of the press release, basically, is two-fold: It announces something while aspiring to garner interest from specialized journalists who might want to write about the company.
Considering the quoted definition, as well as this notion of the goals of a press release, we can conclude that:
- A press release has the press as its target demographic.
- It announces something ostensibly newsworthy.
So, we can propose two questions:
- How do we attract the attention of the press?
- What is ostensibly newsworthy?
I’ll answer the second one first,
If everything is newsworthy, nothing is newsworthy
Not everything is worth a press release. Writing for CoSchedule, Breonna Bergstrom presented eight examples of when to write a press release:
- [Extraordinary] breaking news announcements, or extremely timely and relevant announcement, as in GSMA Supports the W20 Call to Action for G20 Leaders to Ensure Women’s Digital Inclusion.
- Product launches, as in New iPad Pro with all-screen design is most advanced, powerful iPad ever.
- Events, as in Legendary Rock Band Aerosmith Announces Las Vegas Residency: “Aerosmith: Deuces Are Wild” at Park Theater at Park MGM.
- Partnerships, as in New VL Omni and Inriver Partnership Launches VL Omni Inriver Shopify Plus Connector.
- Research releases, as in An Independent Assesment of the Human Rights Impact of Facebook in Myanmar.
- Awards, as in Press Release: Netwrix Receives Multiple Industry Awards.
- Hiring new executives (This applies to large, highly-influential organizations, rather than early-stage startups), as in Yahoo! Appoints Marissa Mayer Chief Executive Officer
- Crisis management, because it gives your business a certain control of its image, even when times are hard. Anyway, take this recommendation with a grain of salt, like crisis management specialist Erik Bernstein wrote, “…A press release is great if you can sum up the Who, What, When, Where and Why in a one-pager. (…) the Why can require a significant amount of explanation on its own, and is often delivered most effectively in an arena where the audience can explore the topic in a back-and-forth conversation rather than being left to interpret what they may from a sheet of text…”
To this list, we could add the launch of the company. That’s it. You don’t need to have one or two of these every week. Press releases should be scheduled according to how your business and its offerings are evolving. Don’t put the carriage before the horse and decide that you need press releases, ask if you need press releases.
If your company breaks an industry record, by all means, yell it from the rooftops and take it to the press. But, if the milestone is pretty average or below average, celebrate indoors.
What’s the story?
The previous list of press-release-worthy occasions is based on a very simple idea: These are news that people involved in your industry as customers or as colleagues, or, in some cases, that the general public might be interested in. Write about something that feels relevant to those around you, and tell a story.
Writing well is knowing what to say.
Journalists are storytellers. Contextualize the news you’ll convey within the story of your company. Before starting to write, in order to have a clear scope of how you’ll communicate the news, I recommend you set a list of relevant questions and write their answers. These questions will vary depending or instance: What is being offered? What makes it unique? What stage of the company’s development is it part of? What does this do, how does it benefit the customer? When it comes to the press release, in particular, writing well is knowing what to say.
Some writing tips
- The headline should include keywords. “Keywords”, not in the SEO sense of the term, but rather “keywords” as in the “key concepts, key information” sense of the term.
- The first paragraph should begin with the date and place of publication of the press release, and give an overview of what you’re communicating, a synthesis.
- The following paragraphs should expand on the basis settled in the first paragraph, and answer the questions explained above.
- Remember to write in the third person. Obviously, maintain all “we”s and “I”s included in the quotations you feature.
- Remember to include relevant links within the text.
- Facilitate relevant images.
Well, I’ve written the press release, what do I do with it now?
Some companies have a “press room” or “newsroom”, that collects their press releases. For small businesses that couldn’t achieve much by merely throwing a press release out into the ether, news wires are often recommended. There are many wires available, for businesses of all sizes. For instance, CISION provides press release distribution and monitoring services, while PressCable provides businesses with everything they need to effectively launch a press release. This includes writing and writing assistance as well as distribution. PressCable works best for mid-size/small businesses targeting local and national media. CISION works for big businesses with big budgets, who are aiming for international attention.
A press release is the first step towards garnering attention from the press. You might want to reach out to journalists who might be interested in your business’ story, directly. Most wire services also provide you with access to a database of reporters you might be interested in communicating with. Cold pitch your company’s story.
A colleague of mine once said that the term “cold pitching” predisposes one horribly and is almost factually incorrect: A pitch is never “cold”. You’re not catching someone “cold”. You’ve got to start with the belief that the person you’re pitching to is already looking for someone like you.
A pitch should be short, to the point, and demonstrate that you know what the journalist in question is looking for.
Fast Company’s editors published a frankly beautiful article about the Do’s and Dont’s of pitching them. I’d recommend you check it out.
When to hire a professional
Even if you have some writing experience, creating a compelling, solid press release is no easy task. If you’re wearing a lot of hats, you might lack the time and focus necessary to take care of this aspect of your company as well. If that’s the case, you might be better off hiring a professional tasked with telling your story and guaranteeing its reach.
Need press release writing services? Let’s talk!
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