June 11, 2019

For Immediate Release: Increase Visibility with These Press Release Basics

Follow these simple steps to write an informative and engaging press release that’s sure to gain traction with major publications.

Ah, the timeless PR question: What’s the secret to the perfect press release? You know, the one that gets picked up by multiple outlets, spurs interview requests, produces lots of subsequent content, and drives interested readers to your website?

Well, it’s not so much a secret as it is a recipe for getting coverage (at least that I know of, but if you have the secret, by all means, please shoot me an email). Press releases are the staple of PR content and serve as a sort of megaphone to extoll your company’s achievements, progress, and other major milestones. Whether you’re publishing them to your website’s pressroom, pitching to journalists for a feature, distributing via newswire, and/or sharing on social media and in email newsletters, press releases are your statements to the public. How you craft and put them out into the world matters.

With that said, let’s go over the basics:

Always Include the Press Release Essentials

Press Release 101, the basics of the basics. There are countless articles that harp on writing the perfect headline, addressing the five W’s, and why you as the PR pro should include your contact information. Without regurgitating what we’re pretty much already nodding our heads in agreement on (you are agreeing that a great headline is important, right?), I’m going to summarize.

Every press release must include the following:

  • An informative and interesting headline that answers the question, “Why should I care?”
  • Well-written and direct copy following AP style guidelines without grammar errors or fluff
  • A dateline (yes, AP style)
  • An impactful first paragraph that delivers on key takeaways (Who, What, Where, When, and Why)
  • A clear call-to-action at the end that directs readers to the specific page on your website that prompted the press release, such as a product webpage, event registration, landing page to access a report, etc.
  • Boilerplate (aka your company’s “About” section) copy that includes a link to your website
  • PR contact information for convenient follow-up

Ask “Is This Newsworthy?”

When considering potential press release topics, ask yourself, “Is this newsworthy?” and give yourself a true and honest answer.

Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but just because you want your business featured in publications does not mean your story will always be impactful enough to get your business in these publications. I completely understand how frustrating it can be when a newsworthy story angle around the office is scarce, but that’s your opportunity to seek out thought leadership coverage with contributing articles and expert interviews.

So, before you start writing your press release: Ask yourself (and your team) if this is hard, actual, audiences-will-care-about-this news. If you hesitate, then sprinkle this news into a different, relevant pitch to leverage and skip the press release.

Some examples of newsworthy press releases include:

  • A new product feature or service offering
  • High-profile partnership or recognition
  • Prominent C-suite appointment (usually best for local press)
  • Exclusive insight and findings into the industry
  • Upcoming momentous event

Understand Your Audience to Deliver the Perfect Pitch

No, “everyone” is not an appropriate response. Recognize who your primary and secondary audiences are; they’re the ones you want to answer that “Why should I care?” question with your headline because they’re who you’re speaking to.

Journalists always have their readers top of mind, as we businesses do with our customers. Your press release will only make it to your target audiences (outside your own inbound marketing efforts) if you start by pitching to journalists whose readers will actually care about your news. Does the publication attract your ideal prospects, and do the readers expect news from your beat? Are they familiar with your business (or your competitors)? Has this journalist written on the topic before — and recently? Do they engage with your same industry circle on social media?

If not, don’t pitch to them. A surprising 44% of journalists reported that the #1 thing PR professionals could do was to better understand their target audience (1). Before sending your press release pitch, research the end consumer of the content and know who you’re pitching and what they find interesting. When 75% of journalists say less than a quarter of the pitches they receive are relevant or useful, yours that is intriguing to their readers will stand out.

Include a Quote from a Top Representative at Your Company and Make It Count

Yes, usually it is the CEO because the quote needs to come from a public-facing representative of the company. However, if you’re talking about a new tech product, the CTO may be your best bet. For instance, as a marketing automation provider whose customers are marketers, our SVP of Marketing is often quoted.

While keeping the messaging of the quote as professional as possible, it’s important for it to also be recognizable as a quote. The test goes: Can you tell, without the quotations, that it’s a quote? If so, great! If not, you’ve got some work to do in framing the quote.

These quotes are the best opportunity to highlight what may otherwise seem too subjective for a press release. Don’t just repeat what’s already been said or insert a hollow exclamation. Your quote(s) should provide depth and insight into your topic from a trusted source close to the news. A strong quote really drives home the “Why should I care?” question and helps your odds of having your press release picked up.

If it makes sense for the press release and you can keep it concise, I’m a big believer in including two quotes: one from a company rep (like the CEO) and one from a customer or involved third-party. If you’re launching a new product and have a customer using it in beta, get a quote (or write one and get approval) from them. If there’s a partnership involved, provide a quote from your company rep and theirs.

Multimedia Assets Are Your Best Friend

We always talk about the importance of visuals in every facet of content marketing and storytelling — and press releases are no different! Most published articles have at least one image, but journalists don’t always have the time to track down the right imagery for every piece. Make their jobs as easy as possible by providing them with visuals that accompany the newsworthy content. Imagery (and video, especially) go a long way.

What’s more, I highly recommend creating a shareable media kit folder (via Dropbox or Google Drive) that houses the press release’s multimedia files in addition to the press release, company logos, and (depending on the press release) headshot of the representative quoted.

Pitch, Promote, and Publish Your Press Release

Get your news on every available channel and pitch it immediately upon release to your relevant media contacts (remember: know your audience; help their readership). Newswires serve their purpose, but only 3% of journalists rely on the newswire, so why should you (2)?

Pitch your press release to journalists

I like to see who’s been talking about the press release topic in the past few months, covered our competitors, and has shown interest in our news in the past. It’s a lot of work, but having a media database like Cision, Agility, or Muck Rack makes this a lot more manageable. In fact, 65% of journalists would rather receive customized press releases segmented by product, industry, or theme, rather than one mass-audience distribution (3). For instance, I have different media lists for different types of press releases and then segment the media lists further for relevant messaging.

Submit your press release to participating publications

Some publications are great about submitting your press release (either by form or email), and if you follow all the above tips, you can likely get your press release featured. I maintain a list of publications for easier coverage, and I highly recommend creating your own list for quick reference.

Publish your press release on your website

Every organization’s website needs a pressroom to house media coverage and press releases. For one, you own the link to your press release — plus it helps drive more traffic to your website. Housing your press release in your own press section of your website creates more engagement opportunities through email newsletters, social media, etc.

Share your press release on social media

Never underestimate the power of social media. Share your press release on your company’s various social media handles, and encourage your team members to share as well. (This is especially easy with Act-On’s Advanced Social Media Module.) Include your multimedia imagery to give the social posts extra umph, create a few varying versions, and piggyback off a few trending hashtags.

Press releases require great writing, thorough research, and deft distribution techniques — all of which requires a great deal of time and skill — but the pay-off can help get your business and offerings in front of your target audiences while also increasing brand awareness. Plus, they help you build brand credibility by getting featured in media publications. If you want to see how it’s done, visit Act-On’s pressroom to learn more!