The value of press releases is often overlooked in favour of exciting new digital tools and firm favourites like printed materials and direct mail. However, despite some claiming that you should ditch the press release, here at RDPR we think it can be a powerful tool for businesses of all shapes and sizes when used in the right way.
In this guide, we'll take a look at the do's and don'ts of press releases and provide you with the tips you'll need to start producing and distributing top-notch releases that get your message out to the people that matter.
- The problem with press releases
There's no denying press releases are an overused PR activity and with the raft of free online repositories now available, the inboxes of journalists and editors are subjected to a daily influx of PR dross. The relative ease with which a company can now produce and distribute a press release is a double-edged sword that lowers the bar, but also serves to intensify the competition for a finite amount of attention.
However, a bad workman blames his tools and I'd advocate the view that rather than there being an intrinsic problem with press releases - the issue lies with the way that they're used.
- Prior preparation and planning prevents poor performance
If you approach press releases as a box-ticking activity - you're setting yourself up to fail. There's a disparity in the business world between what's considered "real work" and "marketing" that you'll need to address on an organisation-wide basis if you're to successfully promote your company.
You work hard to impress clients and customers - so treat yourself as a client and go the extra mile with your promotional activities. With the hordes of agencies and individual companies vying for the attention of a limited number of publications - it's no longer a case of simply being in it to win it.
As such, the planning stage of the press release is, in my view, the most important. During this period, you'll want to sit down with relevant collaborators from your organisation and consider:
- What your PR goals are
- What news or views you can share to serve these
- What publications and sectors you'll target.
Be laser-focused on your goals, look into what your peers and competitors are doing and don't be afraid to turn away from press releases if they won't be the most effective way to get a particular message out.
- What to share?
There are very few intrinsically bad topics for a press release - only bad ways to handle them. Although the sort of thing you'll want to cover will undoubtedly vary according to sector and industry, there are a few golden rules that will serve you well regardless.
The vast majority of releases will fall under the umbrella of company growth, research and thought leadership or promotions. And there's a right way and a wrong way to handle each of these topics.
For example, news about taking on new staff won't get you in the national press, but may appeal to local or regional publications (especially if there is a tangible benefit to the area's economy).
Research, comment on relevant issues and general thought leadership pieces can be a powerful asset if they're based on relevant topics and contain insights. However, if they're based on flimsy research, a laughable sample size or add nothing new to a discussion, they're likely to be ineffective at best.
The same goes for promotions. If you're doing something that's genuinely exciting or novel, by all means shout about it. However, if you're simply offering a 50% discount on a product or announcing a similarly staid offer, it'd have to be a very slow news day if this was to ever see any coverage.
- Pique - don't promote
Another issue that often bogs down an otherwise promising press release is when companies try and be overly-promotional. As someone who's trawled through a lot of these, it seems that many organisations have unrealistic expectations about what they can achieve with a single release.
While press releases can be great at generating exposure for your company, do try and remember the following:
- Outside of online repositories, your press release will never be reproduced in full (and post-Panda update is unlikely to be indexed by Google)
- Your company is not Coca Cola, Microsoft or Nike - not every bit of company news will warrant or attract coverage
- Journalists and publications aren't interested in you for the sake of it - think about how you can best meet their needs when producing materials
- Shamelessly tying your release to a news story or prominent issue (a practice known as newsjacking) is a good idea - but only when you add something to the discussion.
The bottom line is to make your press release genuinely interesting and be content with the promotional benefits you derive from coverage.
Writing and Wronging
This ethos should inform every stage of the creation process, but be especially factored in when writing the actual release. One oft-recommended exercise is comparing a full released to the finished article - notice how all the irrelevant company info is absent?
Be realistic about the sort of thing that will make it into the finished article and exclude the rest - no matter how uncomfortable it makes you. Press releases don't have to be designed in a certain way - the reason why so many look the same is simply due to consensus, so don't be afraid to step away from this set-up.
People in the business world are often time-strapped and under pressure to deliver - so if there's an easier way to achieve a goal, we'll usually take this and journalists are no different. So how can you use this insider knowledge to your advantage when composing a release?
Interesting facts and low-hanging fruit: Journalistic writing is typically based around the inverted pyramid - with interesting information appearing towards the "top" of a story, less important nuggets appearing lower down and contextual data at the end. Bear this in mind while writing and make sure you top-load your releases and don't make journalists dig for interesting facts, even if this means excluding your company name from the title all together.
So for instance: "Tax specialist Smith and Smith reveals ideal working conditions for contractors" could be better presented as "More than half of self-employed workers want flexible hours".
Summaries and quotables: Summaries are a must-have and bullet points should quickly become some of your best friends. Make your release skimable and if you are including quotes - try to avoid being rambly and make them, well, quotable.
Integrate: Be sure to include social media profiles, email contacts and a link to your website in the contextual information of your release, after all this is the 21stcentury you know.
It's a good idea to know where and to whom to send your press release. For local press, this can simply be a matter of making a few phonecalls and most trade press, regional and major publications will have an individual or generic email address where these are sent.
There's also a range of free and paid press release repositories out there, some of which have active services that can be useful for finding opportunities to comment on relevant issues. Some of the most popular options in this regard include:
The News4Media Network
- Know when not to release
Press releases aren't a silver bullet in terms of marketing and it's important to know when and when not to utilise one. There's a plethora of cost-effective marketing tools available for small and medium-sized businesses, so don't feel obliged to stick with this avenue if you're not convinced your release will be interesting and effective.
So what do you think - are press releases still worth it or will they go the way of the dodo in the coming years? We're always keen to hear your views, so don't be shy and let us know in the comments.
And if you want to learn more about producing the perfect press release or enquire about our corporate communications services - why not drop us a line or give us a call today?
Images used courtesy of Wikimedia Commons, Drew Coffman on Flickr and Wokingham Libraries on Pixabay