For more than a century, press releases have been a staple of the public relations industry. Today, they’re not only one of the best tools for delivering branded messages, but also an important ally for anyone looking to drive traffic to their website. If you’re looking to attract the attention of the media and increase organic traffic to your website, it’s more than worthwhile to learn the ins and outs of writing an effective press release.
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What’s a Press Release?
Plainly put, press releases are a communication between your organization and the media. Press releases are generally made with the goal of getting media coverage of the information contained in your release. Traditionally they’ve been used to attract attention to changes, build brand awareness, create publicity for events, and circulate important branded information. And as a practice, it wasn’t long ago that press releases were mostly relegated for large businesses due to fierce competition for the very finite space in traditional media.
But one of the democratizing effects of the Internet has been to enable businesses to open up the gateways of information without necessarily having to involve the gatekeepers of traditional media. Today you can use press releases to reach out to thousands of bloggers and professional journalists across the Internet, without than having to individually submit to journalists and hope for the best.
It’s also important to recognize the role that social networking has played in fundamentally the Internet and global communications. From organizing political revolution to creating the next big thing in pop culture, the content-hungry bloggers that are principally responsible for circulating content on the Internet are always eager for fresh news and ideas. While a direct sales pitch won’t gain much traction with audiences on sites like Facebook and Twitter, the news information provided by press releases is exactly the type of content that the blogosphere can use.
Why Use Them?
Almost 100 million people get their news from the Internet every day, and more than two thirds of journalists use search engines like Google and Yahoo to keep up with the news. Press releases can help you tap into these two groups by making it easy to find your message in any major search engine. They’re also a simple way to help control your brand image online, by guiding and directing the conversation about your brand.
Press releases are also simple to create and distribute, allowing you to sustainably produce them as part of a long term marketing strategy. And because they can be made at virtually no cost, they’re have one of the best rates of return on investment of any means for promoting your business online.
How To Write a Press Release
The most important thing to have in any press release is a newsworthy approach to the issue. If you’re announcing a new product, a newsworthy approach will tell us why we should care about it. If your press release reads like an ad, it will be treated like one and dismissed. A newsworthy approach to your press release helps you show what’s novel or noteworthy about your message, and in doing so, helps capture the attention of the reader.
If you’re trying to determine if something counts as newsworthy, just ask yourself if it matters to anyone outside of your organization. If your company just created a new product that’s going to help improve to manufacturing for several industries, you’ve got a newsworthy angle. On the other hand, if you’re announcing a barbeque fundraiser, you might find it too difficult to make it newsworthy.
Elements of Newsworthy Content
So what is it exactly that makes a story newsworthy? Newsworthy content can generally be broken into four different categories. You don’t need to have all of these elements in order to make your release newsworthy, but you should have at least one.
News about your organization.
News that’s internal to your organization could include the release of a new product, re-launching a product, a grand opening, or even a significant change in staff. Have you recently undertaken a partnership with another business or individual worth mention? Have you received an award or new certification recently? Have you recently “gone green?” A press release is the ideal place to talk about what’s new with your business, just remember that it’s not newsworthy if it isn’t interesting to an external group.
Information about events.
If you’re participating in a charity drive, community service project, or speaking at an event, a press release is the place to promote it. The key here is that the story has a community interest, because your organization is doing something that’s clearly relevant to an audience.
Innovation always makes headlines. If your business is doing anything innovative, you may have the perfect story for a press release. If you’re not embarked on creating cutting edge innovations, you can use novelty by finding an unusual element to whatever it is you do.
When a New York based frozen yogurt chain named 16 Handles began to use a popular smartphone app to send customers coupons, the Internet lit up with stories about it almost overnight. The story was as simple as a moderately novel way of marketing desert, but even the slightest novelty is often enough for your release to gain attention in the content hungry world of social networking.
Last but not least, there’s the ambiguous element of human interest. This category is a catch-all for anything that’s of interest to society at large. Have your services made a positive impact in the lives of someone in the community? Does your organization have any non-profit objectives? Press releases with an element of human interest are entirely viable, provided only that they include enough concrete information. Press releases filled with hyperbole are an anathema to journalists.
Finding a Newsworthy Angle
More often than not, you may find that you’ll have to work to find a newsworthy angle for whatever it is you want to communicate. Anytime you’re compelled to search for an angle that isn’t obvious, a good way to start is to relate your topic to something that’s trending online. It could be something taking place in the headlines or a seasonal activity, but relating your topic to something else that’s newsworthy is often sufficient for making it newsworthy in itself.
The writing involved in a press release is probably significantly different from most of the content that you create. Rather than being sales oriented, press releases are generally succinct and factually rich, allowing journalists to easily parse them for interest and pull information from them for stories. To that end, here are a few things to keep in mind while writing a press release.
The Active Voice
Always write your release in the active voice. Writing in the active voice means your subject is performing the action determined by the verb. For example, “the butcher saw her cow” is written in the active voice, while “the cow was seen by the butcher” is written in the passive voice. The active voice is better for making your writing more clear and engaging to read, while the passive voice is often confusing or dull to read.
The Five W’s of Journalism
If you’re writing a newsworthy press release, one of the easiest ways to make it seem more like news is to match journalistic style. That’s where the five W’s of journalism come in: who, what, where, why, and when. What happened that lead you to create the release? When did it happen? Why did it happen? Your release isn’t just a matter of producing information for the public, but also a narrative that helps explain why the reader should care.
The correct place to put the five W’s is in the lead paragraph of your release. When placed in the introduction, you provide the reader everything they need to know before getting into the gritty detail to follow.
The Internet is heavily saturated with press releases from nearly every industry imaginable. If you’re looking for an example or template to get you started, you can look for inspiration in what others have done. Press release distribution sites are a good place to start; we’ll cover a few of those sites in a later section.
Quotes are an excellent way to steal the attention of a journalist who’s scanning through your release, because they give your content a handle that allows their job to be as easy as possible. Quotes generally come from two sources, an industry expert you’ve contacted, or someone in your organization.
Anytime you’re selecting a quote to use, the most important guideline to follow is to make sure that your quote sounds conversational. The way people speak and the way people write generally differs drastically and things that sound great written down often don’t sound as smooth when spoken aloud. Rather than talking like a machine, discard corporate verbs like leverage and facilitate, and make your quote as natural sounding as possible.
Attention Grabbing Headlines
A catchy headline is often the difference between a reporter caring about your release or only skimming over it. Whenever you’re working on a headline, remember that reporters aren’t in the business of helping you make money; they’re looking for interesting stories. Set aside the sales pitch and try demonstrate how newsworthy your article is right in the headline.
For contrast, a bad headline might be something like “new site provides exercise programs; lets teenagers talk about fitness”, while a headline that’s more on point like “celebrity sets bad example for fitness alternatives.” In many ways the headline is the most important part of your press release. The body of the release is made up whatever you have to back up the claims you’ve made in your lead paragraph and your headline.
And Don’t Forget
After working diligently in writing your press release to not sound like a sales pitch, at the end of the body, you can conclude with one or two sentences talking about your company. Don’t forget to include all relevant links, contact information, and to proofread your press release. Once you’ve finished, end your release with three pound signs, ###, and center them underneath the last line. Although doing so is not entirely necessary, it is considered standard practice in journalism.
Distributing Your Release
You can send releases to many places, including within your industry, locally, and of course traditional media like newspapers. One way to distribute your release is to manually build a list of media contacts from your industry and the Internet. In the long term, a personalized list of places to distribute is generally a good idea.
For those just getting started with press releases, the best place to start is generally submitting your release to a distribution service. There are no fewer than 50 major distribution sites online, but three of the most popular include WebWire, PRWeb, and eReleases.
SEO and Press Releases
As part of Penguin and Panda, Google has essentially neutralized the SEO value of press releases by requiring that links within the release include a no follow tag. Nevertheless, it’s generally worthwhile to follow good SEO practices in writing your press releases for two reasons.
The first reason is that your release may end up on sites where does contribute towards your SEO. The second reason is that good SEO practices generally force you to write succinctly and to the point, which is precisely what journalists are looking for.
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Important SEO Points
Like any content you create, the first step to writing a press release is determining the keywords you want to target. You should already have a good idea of which keywords you want to use if you’ve worked on SEO in the past, but if you’re not sure where to begin, you can use free keyword tools like Google Keyword Planner to get started.
Scatter your keyword throughout your press release, including the headline and any subtitles. The most important rule to follow is to not force a keyword where it doesn’t sound natural, because SEO considerations are always secondary to the importance of quality content.
For organizations of nearly any size, press releases are one of the best ways to get attention from the media. And with a little imagination, practically any industry or niche can find a newsworthy angle to their business that’s worth the attention of journalists. By following the good writing practices outlined above and including at least one newsworthy element, you can write a release that’s all but guaranteed to help you attract attention from the media.