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Press releases- How and Why to Write and Distribute Them

Image Press releases- How and Why to Write and Distribute Them
By Vanessa Salvia, 10/29/07

So you’ve got some news you want to tell the world about? A press release is the right tool for the job when you have business-related news you want to share with a large audience. But most press releases go unread and unreported on. This article presents tips to maximize your chances for effective press release composition and distribution.

What topics are good for press releases?

Product releases, product improvements, significant business milestones, opening new facilities, and major changes to your distribution model would all warrant a national press release. Adding a new line of products, hiring new staff, promotions and that type of news can also be announced with a press release. Of course, some news that might not be relevant to a large number of people might be best handled by submitting to local and regional news sources. But depending on the size of your business and the strength of your reputation, a national release may be the right move. Decide on a case-by-case basis, and ask yourself how universally relevant your news items is. One perception regarding press releases has always been to not send press releases unless the business was announcing a large change or major event. In today's world, press releases are posted online and on company websites, and are linked to by blogs and other online avenues. Press releases reach a wider audience now than they ever have, and they aren't written just for "the press" anymore, but have the power to reach your buyers directly. It is no longer wise to "save up" your press releases for the big events. Find many small reasons to send them out. Send press releases often, and get your business name out there any time you have an opportunity to share some business news.

I’ve written press releases in the past with no results. Why?

There are a few reasons why your press release may not be responded to. Often, the issue is relevancy. Most of the time, So-and-So promoted to Senior Partner does not make for national news, unless you’re Nike. Another cause for an unsuccessful press release—and probably the primary cause—is poor writing and improper formatting.

Who are press releases written for?

Press releases are written for journalists, either print, online, or both. Sometimes online news sources will print your press release as submitted, with no changes. Other times, journalists will use the news item as a source for a larger story. Either way, you want your press release to be written in a way that captures the most important nuggets of your news in an interesting yet factual way. It should be self-explanatory yet provide contact information in the event anyone receiving the press release has questions. And it should contain quotes and other authoritative statements in case journalists want to use something right out of your release without chasing down any additional information. Keep the spin to a minimum; that’s the job of the journalists picking up your story.

The 5 W’s + H

It’s easy to remember the 5 W’s: who, what, when, where, why. Then add a how. The most successful press release addresses all of these without hyperbole or embellishment. Who: your company; What: the news are you sharing; When: if announcing a launch, redesign, or other change to your business, include an effective date; Where: state where the change will take place--only online, or in your brick-and-mortar store? Only in a certain country?; Why: This is best thought of as ‘Why should anyone care?’ and not, ‘Why am I making this change?’ Answer the ‘why’ question by making your news as exciting and relevant to as many people as possible, again, by being totally factual. If you really have to blow a lot of hot air into it to make it seem important, it’s best to hold off on the release until you have more to say. The How of this equation addresses the manner in which you are making this change, if that is relevant.

Formatting a press release

There is a specific style in which your press release should be formatted. Look at this example of a traditional press release from PRWeb.com.

One thing PRWeb doesn’t mention in this example which I think is good practice is to place your quotes in bold, and include more than one quote. There is only one in this example. Also, this example doesn’t include an email address. Include one with the [at] and [dot] spelled out to avoid your press release being mined for spam, in this format: msmith at xyzcompany dot com.

PRWeb has more tips on composition of a press release like this one.

The social media press release

The previous example shows the way press releases have been written for decades, but there’s movement afoot to create a new, more web-friendly way in which to disseminate information. This “Social Media Release” is being championed by several web gurus, spearheaded by Tom Foremski at Silicon Valley Watcher, and brought to fruition by PR Squared. The Social Media Press Release is designed to provide readers with the ability to bookmark and share the content, and in turn, spark discussion where none may have existed before. A Social Media Press Release also provides the ability for the web community, like bloggers and other influential digital media people, to easily pull out the information they need to write a story using their own methods.

The Social Media Press Release (SMPR) contains information that specifically links to web-based content, such as links to download more information, links to automatically post the content to Del.icio.us, links to photos, videos, an RSS link so the reader can subscribe to your business’ blog posts, and links to other relevant content on the web, such as reviews. This type of targeted content would not be possible in the aforementioned standard press release. Download an example of this Social Media Press Release from PR Squared. Most discussions about this would agree that the SMPR is not intended to replace the traditional press release, but enhance it.

My press release is written, now what?

Now that you’ve gotten your press release styled the way you want it, you’re ready to send it. Deciding how and where to send out your press release is the next big decision you’ll face. If you don’t want to take the time to research the many different approaches that the distribution services take, contact a few and let them pitch their services to you. Some of the wire distribution services are quite expensive, so call them; you’ll be able to ask questions and cut to the nitty-gritty about what they are promising you for the money. Some distribution services are prepared to handle Social Media Press Releases, and some are less equipped to do so. Ask about how prepared they are to include SEO (search engine optimization) and social media marketing in your releases.

Your press release should be displayed on your website and your business blog. Create a page on your site specifically for press releases and create a printer-friendly PDF file and link to it. Shift Communications has created a Social Media Newsroom and offers a template guide to creating one on your own website. The template contains spots to highlight your company’s resources in every way, such as links to media coverage, a multimedia gallery for videos or photos, past news releases, RSS feeds and more.

Build press release contacts

Even if you hire a distribution service, take the time to research local media outlets and contact them yourself to find out who on their staff handles press releases and how they prefer them to be formatted. Get their name and email address so you can avoid sending your press release to a 'general info' address; it is unlikely that your release will be forwarded to the correct person. If you sent out a press release last year, make a few phone calls to see if staff members have changed. You might be pleasantly surprised at the reception you get from local media, so don’t overlook this outlet even if you are focusing on a national campaign. The coverage you seek might come later on, and not necessarily at the time of your release, so don’t be surprised if you get contacted weeks or even months later when the magazine or newspaper has space for you.

Conclusion

With today's focus on online communities and the social aspect of marketing, a well-written and search engine optimized press release can get your news out in ways never before imagined. MightyMerchant would be happy to offer you our services when it comes time for you to make a business announcement. If you feel comfortable writing something yourself, our skilled writers and editors can take a look at your release and polish it, if necessary, or we can work with you for a customized release you can be proud of. Just let us know!

About MightyMerchant

MightyMerchant specializes in developing e-commerce and database driven, content-rich websites for small business customers across the US. The company as listed as one of Practical eCommerce Magazine’s “Top 100 Notable Shopping Carts” in September/October 2007. Hundreds of site owners use MightyMerchant to manage their online stores. For more information visit www.mightymerchant.com, and for ecommerce knowledge and tools visit the MightyMerchant eCommerce Blog.

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