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Press release writing for SMEs: Four key ingredients for success

Posted by Suzy Simpson Apr 16, 2014 11:00:00 AM

Topics: press releases, small business pr, SMEs

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A client win, an internal promotion or appointment, a new service, or even a profit loss – whatever your news, a press release is often one of the most effective ways for an SME to communicate the stories it wants to share in with its key audiences.
 
In this guide, we'll help SMEs dodge the press release pitfalls that waylay even the largest of companies and break down some of the barriers that prevent your message getting out to the people that matter.
 
The Process
 
The majority of corporate or FMCG (fast-moving consumer goods) stories in the press are often the product of a press release sent to the journalist. If the journo/publication is pushed for time, then the release is often published word-for-word, albeit usually in an abridged format, and read by the publication’s thousands of readers. Pretty good advertising, eh?
 
But before we get too carried away with the idea that any old story can be written into a press release and published far and wide, it’s worth bearing in mind that there are four key ingredients that SMEs need to bake into their releases:
 
Have foresight
 
What is the one message you would like readers to take from the release? Often, the news story itself is not answer, but the message it supports.
 
For example, you’re writing a release about a new hot shot that has joined the firm, but the reason you want to publicise this is to demonstrate to potential clients the company’s ability to attract the best.

 
To compare it to football - a top signing tells fans and rivals a lot about the club’s ambition for the foreseeable future, and is a great news ‘hook’ to sell in key messages.
 
So use the exciting news to reinforce the messages, usually around three, you most want to share – don’t waste the opportunity by getting too bogged down in the specifics.

Who’s who
 
There’s nothing that aggravates a journalist more than being sent an irrelevant press release. So much so, ex North West property journalist Simon Binns attempted to end this once and for all by venting his frustrations to the PR world. Listing some of the worst qualities of a particular press release, he wrote:
 
"Chucking numbers about willy nilly, trying to be matey, trying and failing to write some sort of novella instead of just saying what you mean, and above all, treating the journalist and therefore the readers of their publication like an absolute moron. "
 
Getting a flavour of what the journalist has previously written about will provide an understanding on which topics/issues are of interest, alongside the geographical areas they cover.
 
If you’ve been appointed to complete the fit-out of a prestigious office development in Manchester, chances are the local business press will be interested, but a journalist covering Liverpool won’t be.
 
Taking the extra time to research the relevant journalist, publication - and even producing multiple releases to broaden the story's appeal - will not only improve the chances of the press release being issued but will help to create a fruitful and lasting relationship.
 
Know what sells
 
On average, journalists are probably sent around 80 press releases a day with each vying for a few column inches in the weekly or monthly supplement, but only a select few will be chosen.
 
The higher profile the publication, the less chance it will be interested in run of the mill CSR (corporate social responsibility) news, such as a cheque signing or a school fete. High-profile sector publications want news that will matter to their readers, so always consider whether your story will fit the bill.
 
Prestige is key, so if you’ve managed to hook-up with a well-known public figure for a charity event, that can be press ‘released’. If you’re attending a charity event and won an auction, this is not likely to be of any great interest to the outside world, so best to keep that internal.
 
Keep it to one page
 
A 'one pager' is the unwritten rule of press releases and a rule most experienced consultants stick to regardless of the news story (the only exception being joint ventures where every representative wants their say). Keeping to one page makes the release more approachable as there is less likely to be too much information to process when the journalist has little time. A one-pager also maintains discipline and prevents the writer from going off on a tangent in an effort to tell readers every great thing about the company.
 
By sticking to one page (font size between 10 and 11), the press release will feel readable and ensure key messages are not lost over two or even three pages. And if the publication in question is interested in pursuing more information - they'll know how to get hold of it from the contact information supplied in the boilerplate.
 
The bottom line
 
Sticking to the above four key ingredients will help to increase the chances of your press release being published, but unfortunately, there's no such thing as a silver bullet when it comes to coverage.
 
What are your experiences with press releases? Have you found them to be worth the return or do you shun them in favour of blogs, social media or any other apparatus. Let us know in the comments - we're always keen to hear what you have to say.
 
And if you need any help putting together press releases or want assistance with any aspect of media relations - be sure to get in touch today.
 
We've also put together a comprehensive new beginner's guide for SMEs on some of the best marketing and PR avenues and how to go about procuring them, check it out now:
Marketing and PR for SMEs
Images courtesy of solihull wikipedia, Alan Cleaver on Flickr and Enki on Clipart

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