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How to Write Press Releases

How to Write Press Releases

Because I thought this would be useful and timely for members of The Santa Claus Conservatory I copied this from my Encore Entrepreneur Academy website & posted it here. 

Checkpoint:

  • You understand the difference between marketing and promotion.
  • You have created a list of creative promotion ideas for your business.
  • You have started to create a promotional plan for your business.

Create a media relations strategy for your business to harness the power of the media (and get free advertising!)

Just like your customer testimonials, the printed words of journalists have a stronger impact on your target market than anything you could put in a marketing brochure. An article in a newspaper, a story on the radio or clip on TV that covers your business or product in a positive light is worth at least four times any advertisement you could produce.

Unlike advertising, you can’t buy editorial space or make a newspaper write something positive about you. However, there is a specific way of communicating with the press and providing them with interesting, relevant story ideas about your business.

So how do you get your business in the news? Media relations is the practice of strategically informing and working with particular journalists about things that happen in and around your business. When done well, it results in balanced media coverage that appears in places your target market pays attention to – free advertising! When done poorly, you run the risk of negative publicity and damage to your reputation.

And how do you make sure your news is communicated accurately and consistently? Press releases are a key tool in any media relations strategy. They are the standard format for announcing, communicating with and correcting the media. Today I’m going to show you how to write them so that your news gets noticed and your story gets published.

In this E-Class we will cover:

  • The components of an effective press release
  • How to decide if your news is of interest to the media
  • How to write a press release
  • How to send a press release
  • Common mistakes to avoid

An effective press release gets the attention of the media and gets your story covered.

They make editors interested in your angle, and journalists want to write about your news. They are relevant to the community, the publication, and your business, and are written for the media in a standard format.

Press releases are just simple, one or two-page documents that don’t require any fancy design or formatting. They are concise, engaging and get to the point.

It’s important to remember that press releases are not sales letters, newsletters, brochures or advertisements. They aren’t designed to sell and they’re not written for your customer. They are written to communicate news to the people who write the news, and designed to get noticed amongst thousands of potentially competing messages.

Here’s how you write an effective press release:

1. Decide if your story is ‘newsy’ enough to send a news release.

Is it newsworthy?

Newsworthy stories are those that matter to the media’s target audience. If you’re not used to working with the media or writing press releases, think about this question carefully. You may care about what you have to stay, but will other people? Why will people care? Why will it matter to the media’s audience? Your story needs to be relevant, current, important and new. It needs to answer the five “W’s” (who, what, where, when and why).

Is there an angle?

Your story may be newsy, but it also needs to have an angle. An angle – or story idea – is something that makes what you have to say new or unique. Each press release needs at least one solid angle or story idea for the journalist. If the story is buried in the press release, it won’t get covered.

Your angle might be something that connects your news to something outside your office or business. For example, your news might be that your company has had a record year for profit, but the actual story would be how you managed to have a record year for profit during a recession. This would be relevant to business readers who could learn from your strategies.

Is it the right time for the story?

Timing is everything in the media – and for your business. Think about when you would want your story to run so it maximizes its impact on your audience. If your news is urgent you’ll want it to send it right away, while if you’re making an announcement or hosting an event, you’ll want to be strategic about timing.

This works both ways. There are certain times of year that are busier than others for certain media outlets. The volume of advertising in October through December means a lot of editorial space for print publications, and a higher chance of your story getting published. If the publication just ran a feature story on something similar to your news, you may position your announcement as an appropriate follow-up.

Is the story true?

Don’t even try to spin inaccurate or exaggerated facts – someone will find out. Journalists are trained to uncover the real story, and won’t assume everything you say is true. Double-check all your facts and sources for accuracy to avoid inadvertently sending out wrong information. This will damage your reputation and your relationships with journalists.

Who needs to know about your news?

Once you’ve established what your story is, decide who needs to know about it. Just like all other marketing initiatives, it starts with a solid understanding of your target audience. When you know who that audience is, you can focus on targeting the media who reach that audience and then write your press release for the journalists who work for those publications.

2. Write your press release in standard format and in a style that makes it easy for the media to understand your story.

Every press release should have a:

  1. Headline
  2. Dateline
  3. Lead
  4. Inverse pyramid format
  5. End indication
  6. Company description
  7. Media contact

Write a headline that will get noticed. You have seconds to catch the interest of the editor or reporter, so you need to do it with your headline. Your headline should describe the store and tell the reader why it matters or why they should care.

HOLIDAY SPRUCE OFFERS FREE CHRISTMAS TREE REPLACEMENT TO ALL RESIDENTS CARR’S CARPET CLEANING SWEEPS UP WITH BUSINESS OF THE YEAR AWARD MOMS ON WHEELS TO DELIVER NUTRITIOUS MEALS AT SCHOOL THIS SEPTEMBER

Include a dateline. The first line of your release should start with a dateline – the date and location of the story. For example, “May 20, 2009, Vancouver, British Columbia – Body copy starts here…” This clearly tells the reader where the story takes place.

Spend time on the lead. The lead is the first paragraph of the news release, and just as important as the headline. If it doesn’t hook the reader, the rest of the copy won’t get read. The lead has to expand on the headline and answer the five “W’s” with enough detail to get the reader to read one. Spend the bulk of your time on the lead, drafting several different versions to evaluate which has the biggest impact.

June 29, 2008, Carwright, California – Attention busy moms: scratch lunches of your list. Moms on Wheels is expanding this September, providing daily lunch service for elementary school students with busy families. Parents can now subscribe to daily or weekly deliveries and trust that convenient, healthy bag lunches are arriving at their children’s classroom.

March 15, 2006, Bend, Oregon – You could say that Carr’s Carpet Cleaning Services truly ‘cleaned up’ this year; the local business was honored with an award in four categories at the annual Chamber of Commerce Business Awards. Carr’s Carpet Cleaning earned Employer of the Year Award, Story of the Year Award, Fastest Growing Business, and the prestigious Business of the Year Award.

December 20, 2007, Halifax, Nova Scotia – Holiday Spruce announced today that 75 percent of the Christmas Trees for sale at their Bend Street farm have been mistreated with a chemical component that may be dangerous if repeatedly inhaled or accidentally ingested. The Christmas tree farm is offering free removal and replacements for all families affected.

Use inverse pyramid format to structure your release. News articles and press releases are written in inverse pyramid (or triangle) format, with the most important information at the top. Less important and supporting information follows in decreasing order. Originally, this was so that editors could cut from the bottom when laying out stories on the page. Now, it is just standard practice.

Keep your language clear and simple. Write in a simple, clear style with minimal use of descriptive, flowery words and embellishment. Each word should have a purpose so you only use the space you need to tell the story.

Use facts to back up your claims. Back up what you’re saying with facts and quotes from trusted sources. Tell a story, but prove it’s true. Journalists need facts and confirmation from multiple sources, so show them you’ve done some of the work for them.

Keep industry jargon to a minimum. Make is easy for the journalist to understand your message and relay that message to their audience. Limit the amount of jargon you use, and when you need to use key phrases, make sure you provide clear explanations for those terms.

Quote key players, but use quotes sparingly. Quote a maximum of two sources in your news release to avoid cluttering the release or confusing the reader. Use authentic and concise quotes to back up facts, add personality and a new voice to the release.

Indicate the end of the release. Press releases require a symbol to indicate the end of the release. This is either “-30-” centered at the bottom of the page, or “Ends.” with a period, left justified.

Include a short company description. At the end of the press release, include a short description of the company or companies involved in the news. Limit this to a few sentences about who you are and what you do, but provide enough to give your story context.

Make it easy for journalists to contact you. Decide who will be the media spokesperson (or people) and provide as much contact information as possible so it’s easy for reporters to be in touch. Include names, titles, phone numbers (business and cell phone), email addresses and website addresses.

3. Create a list of people and publications you need to send your release to, and choose a distribution method.

Create a media database and target list.

Keep and maintain a database of local and regional media who cover news in your industry or publish for your target market. You can include both advertising and editorial contacts in this list, and use it for marketing and media relations purposes. If you advertise with several local publications, you can ask your ad rep which reporter or editor you should be in contact with.

There are a number of ways you can create this list – depending on the needs of your business and the size or scope of your market reach. If you operate a small business in a smaller city or town, you and your employees can easily create and maintain the list. If you operate in a bigger city, you may wish to enlist the help of a PR agency or online subscription databases.

Subscription services will customize lists for you on a one-time or yearly basis. These companies maintain the most up to date contact information, as well as list the contact details for freelancers who you may not otherwise find online.

Every list should include as much information as possible about each publication and each reporter or editor. Typically, editors and journalists will be responsible for specific “beats” or subject areas like crime, health, community, and business. You will want to make sure that your news ends up in the hands of the most relevant contact. For example, if you own a restaurant, you’ll be looking for the lifestyle or food editor.

Master Media Database
Outlet Name Type Contact Email Phone
Daily news Newspaper Jane Wong jwong@dnews.com 999.662.7878

Send your release via email.

The easiest way to send your release is by email. Remember that journalists are bombarded by press releases – they literally get thousands a day – so follow some of these tips to give it the best chance of being read:

  • No attachments. Paste your release in text format in the body of the email, and stick to simple formatting. Attachments get stuck in spam filters and run the risk of being deleted. If you need to attach small photos or a PDF, be sure that the bulk of the content is in text form in the email.
  • Your headline is the subject line. Use the power of your headline to get the email opened. It’s good practice to include the first name of your recipient in the subject line as well.
  • Write a personal note or pitch. Increase the chances of your story getting covered with a short introduction at the beginning of the email. If you have a long distribution list, do this for your top ten recipients. Use this note to hook the reader, show that your news is relevant or connect it to one of their recent stories.

Use a distribution service.

If you have a larger budget and are looking to distribute your news on a regional or national scale, or to a very targeted group of media, there are many distribution services you can use. Some distribution services – like prnewswire.com – will send your release out on the ‘wire’, which is a general channel for press releases that all media subscribe to.

Others – like ca.cison.com – maintain their own comprehensive databases of media across North America and the world. You’ll be able to customize your list to a specific group of editors, journalists, and freelancers. These companies also provide writing and editing assistance and can monitor the news to send you clippings of your coverage.

4. Make yourself available to respond to media inquiries.

Once you send your release, make sure that you or the contact you put on the release is available to take calls and answer questions.

You might consider including your cell phone number in addition to your business line and email so that media on deadline have easy access to the people they need to quote in the story. You want to make it easy for the reporter to cover your news, so be accessible and avoid playing phone tag.

Avoid these common press release mistakes, or your release will be in the trash before it’s even fully read.

  1. Grammar errors. Remember that your release will be sent to professional writers, so make sure it has been spell-checked and proofread for grammar and punctuation. Journalists and editors won’t spend time on poorly written releases riddled with spelling errors. If you need help, hire a professional writer.
  2. Too much information. Stick to the five W’s (who, what, where, when, why), and avoid going over two pages double-spaced. Press releases should be written to hook the reader and give them just enough information to want the story. When the reporter decides to cover your news, then you can provide them with more information.
  3. Too little information. On the other hand, you want to make sure that you provide enough information to support and illustrate the story. Include full contact details, source quotes, and facts to back up your claims.
  4. All recipients in the “To” field. If you’re sending your release via email, always use the “BCC” field for recipient’s email addresses. When you put addresses in the “To” field, competing publications will see each other on the list and may decide against running your story.
  5. Sent Monday morning. Journalist and editor’s inboxes are chock-full of press releases first thing in the morning – especially on Mondays. Send your release midday, and avoid calling or emailing reporters around their deadlines. A daily newspaper’s deadline is usually about 4pm, while weekly or monthly publications will have different schedules.
  6. Reads like an ad. Your press release should communicate relevant, newsworthy information to the journalist, whose job is to communicate the same to the public. It’s not an ad, so don’t write it like one. Avoid salesy copy and catchphrases, or the release will get trashed.
  7. Failure to get permission. You need to have permission from every person and company you mention in your release before you send it out. This includes permission from anyone in the images that you provide as well. Failing to do this may mean your story gets pulled at the last minute.
  8. Sent to multiple editors at once. Choose one editor at each news organization who would be most interested in your news, and send the release to them only. If they don’t have a use for your story, but think another editor would, they’ll pass on the release directly.
  9. Sent to every outlet in town. Only send your release to publications that are relevant to your news and could realistically cover the story. The AutoTrader magazine won’t have use for your restaurant news. Failing to do this shows you haven’t done your research.
  10. Same day follow-up. Avoid the urge to call editors or reporters the same day you send the release. They are inundated with releases, so it may take a day or two for them to read and respond to your release. Wait a few days, then pick up the phone and pitch them on your news idea.

Press releases can be highly effective marketing and promotional tools, but make sure to use them strategically.

Use press releases every once in a while, when you have something really newsy or exciting to share. Making contact with the media a few times a year is usually more than enough to get your business some attention without overdoing it.

Of course, this will depend on the type of business you have and the amount of newsworthy information you have to share. I’d just advise you to be conservative, and save your releases for the important stories.

Now, we’ve talked about customer acquisition costs and the 80/20 rule (80% of your sales come from 20% of your customers). Next week, I’m going to show you how to identify and keep your top clients and say goodbye to you difficult ones.

Until next time!

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