Ah, the press release. For many decades, it’s been a mainstay in business, when a company sends a document to the news media to announce something, well, newsworthy.
Yet, is a news release even relevant anymore in our current age of social media and digital marketing?
I say yes, but only if a business truly understands the power and intent of such a tool. In today’s digital world, a news release is a great anchor point for social media posts, for driving website traffic and for other digital marketing applications, but it must efficiently communicate value to the intended audience.
First things first. Ask yourself if you truly have news to share. Every business leader should be able to definitively answer a simple question before writing a press release: Do my customers or potential customers need to know about this? Just because the development is new and exciting to you doesn’t mean it’s new and exciting in the marketplace. If you really are the first to launch a new product or service – great, send the release. If not, perhaps other forms of communication, such as an ad or a newsletter directed to customers, is the better way to go.
Second, consider if a news release is the right way to convey the intended message and if you are the right messenger to convey it. Is your business moving to a new address? Perhaps sending reporters a simple, short email with the specific details will suffice, rather than sending a formal release. Consider also that point of view matters when communicating your message. For example, if Business X is donating $100,000 to Nonprofit Y, whose point of view will draw more news coverage: the business crowing about its benevolence, or the nonprofit explaining how it’s going to use the donation to serve hundreds of people in need? Remember that the goal of a press release is to draw coverage. In my experience with business philanthropy, it’s always better for a release to come from the organization receiving the donation.
Next, can you explain your news in a page, or two, at the most? Albert Einstein once said, “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.” So, if you can’t summarize your news in just a few hundred words, it’s not ready to be shared. The goal of a press release is to stimulate interest, ideally compelling a reporter to call or email to learn more. Think about your own email inbox: when you receive an unsolicited email, one which goes on and on at length, do you read it completely, or are you more likely to delete it? If you hit delete, you understand how busy reporters and editors feel about novels masquerading as news releases.
With that in mind, it’s also a good idea to imagine a reporter or editor holding a stopwatch while reading your news release, allowing you only five to 10 seconds to make your case. Thus, your lead paragraph must be packed with relevant and important information – who, what, when, where and why – and nothing else. In many ways, the strategy of a news release is the same as that of a cold call. Quickly get to the point and rapidly demonstrate that your news is worth the reader’s time.
Quotes are a critical element of a good news release. They provide credibility from an expert source and give reporters ready-made content they can use. However, I’ve seen many releases in which the quote seems like an afterthought, the CEO simply restating what appeared in the lead paragraph. If your release, for example, is announcing that the business is expanding with a new distribution center, it’s the perfect opportunity for the boss to offer more information about the benefits to the community, such as: “Because of the success of our core product, we are thrilled to be opening a new distribution center that will add 50 more jobs to the local economy.”
Remember, a news release is not news in and of itself, but rather it’s an introduction and an invitation for journalists to create news from the information you have provided. If that information has value, is easily understood and worth the reader’s time, you have a much better chance of receiving the kind of coverage and attention you want.
Michael Dunne (email@example.com) is a long-time PR manager who has worked for both large and small businesses, and PR agencies. He believes that in business, what you say and how you say it are just as important as what you do.