How to write a press release

In the last blog entry, I discussed how many businesses incorrectly defined marketing as a sub-function of their sales department.   There is also a second incorrect definition, to think of marketing solely in terms of promotional activity.

Promotion is one element of the strategic marketing mix and the choice of promotional strategy is intertwined with your choice of target demographic and the other mix elements.

It is also a mistake to think of promotion in terms of a single channel.  I see this with many small firms who incorrectly view their promotional activity solely in terms of social media.  Digital marketing and social media marketing is not an easy or cheap option.  You may have to use more energy and resources to develop a digital marketing campaign than on more traditional promotional techniques.  Social media marketing often relies on the development of ‘viral’ content.  There are no guarantees that content will develop a viral status proportional to the resources applied to it.  Digital and social media marketing is not a cheap fix and marketing academics are still struggling to define appropriate success metrics for the digital channel.

I was out for a walk yesterday and passed a local carpet shop.  In the shop window was a large sign proudly displaying the shops Trustpilot rating.  But ask yourself, who buys carpets over the internet?  You need to see the carpets up close and you need to supply accurate room measurements.  To buy carpets you need to visit a shop or have a sales representative visit your home with samples. I would be interested to see what proportion of that shops sales are through digital channels.  I suspect not very many.

Of course there will be demographic groups where digital marketing takes a more prominent part in your promotional mix, e.g. selling fashion to teenagers. But in other markets, such as selling stair lifts to the elderly, traditional promotional channels are still required.

So you need to develop a promotional mix using a variety of digital and traditional tactics.  These can include print and television advertising, radio, product placement, digital and Public Relations.

Public relations often gets a bad rap.  It is associated with dubious individuals such as the sex offender Max Clifford, who made a career out of selling kiss and tell stories to the tabloid press.  However, public relations have an important part to play in marketing communications.

Public relations are properly defined as the management of communications and relationships to establish goodwill between an organisation and its publics.  PR is the management and maintenance of your corporate reputation through both intended and unintended messages.

PR messages have a wider focus than pure marketing messages. Whereas marketing communications are focused on consumers of your product, public relations messages are to a wider cohort of stakeholders such as media organisations, government and finance providers.

The objectives of public relations include:

  1.  Prestige and reputation management:  to sell products, attract good employees and to promote community and government relations.
  2. Promotion of products: Build consumer desire through the use of press articles and product placement
  3. Dealing with issues and opportunities: Using social and community issues to create mutual benefit for your organisation and other stakeholders
  4. Developing customer goodwill: Treating customer issues fairly accurately and speedily.
  5. Developing goodwill with employees: Ensuring that employees identify with your organisation and share its values.  Overcoming the misconceptions of staff which may do damage to the organisation.
  6. Developing goodwill with suppliers and distributor:  Being a good customer to your suppliers and a good supplier to your distributors.
  7. Developing goodwill with government:  Influencing the opinions of public officials and politicians.
  8. Dealing with unfavourable press coverage:  Reacting quickly, accurately and effectively to negative press coverage.

There are two basic models of public relations:

  1. One-way Public Information Model – through the use of press releases and press conferences.
  2. Two-way Communication Model –  Where a conversation develops between an organisation and its stakeholders.   This model operates in two modes; symmetric where the balance of power is equal and communication reciprocal and  asymmetric; where the power balance is not equal and where the organisation affects stakeholder behaviour through persuasion.

These two modes tend to co-exist.

Public relations includes activities such as corporate advertising, event sponsorship and lobbying but for SMEs, probably the most prominent PR activity is media relations.

Media relations is the use of news stories in both tradition and electronic media to promote an organisation and its products without paying for advertising space.  However, it must be remembered that there are costs to the development of media relations. It is not free marketing.

The most common form of media relations is the use of the press release.

I have prepared many press releases over the years and was taught to write them by an experienced journalist and editor.  I have also seen managers and business owners who are terrible at providing written information to the press.  Here are a few tips which will help you prepare press statements which will catch the eye of editors and journalists:

  1.  Your content must be newsworthy:  A press statement must have something to say.  it is not solely an attempt to get free advertising.  It must have some meet on its bones. The fact you are having a sale is not newsworthy.  The fact you are donating a percentage of your profits to a local charity most likely is.  Potentially newsworthy topics include the launch of new products, new business investments, business expansions, significant changes to the marketing mix e.g. product rebranding, Productivity records, promotions and employee recruitment, capital investments, financial statements, acquisitions, big export orders, training awards, achievements of staff, visits by famous people, conferences, significant anniversaries.
  2. You have to be media savvy.  News of a manager being promoted may be of interest to the trade press but it probably will be spiked by a national newspaper (unless it is the CEO of a major bank).  Also be savvy about the timing of your release.  Be aware of slow news days and times when news is scarce e.g. during the summer parliamentary recess.
  3. Your message has to be of high credibility:  Higher than advertising.  It will be written up by a professional journalist, an expert in investigating and questioning statements not your in-house copywriter.  You will lose control of publication. When you buy advertising you pay for a particular position in a paper or magazine.  But a newspaper editor will decide where to place a news story in the paper.  You could end up on page thirty ‘below the fold’.
  4. Writing News Releases:  You have to keep press releases short.  You are not writing the article you are providing information to a journalist who will do the writing.  Keep the press release to one page at most.  Even better, keep it to two or three paragraphs.  If there are statistics or there is complex information to impart, provide bullet pointed Notes for Editors alongside the press release.  I have seen press releases which are little more than management reports and which go on for page after page.  These generally will end up spiked.  Remember newspapers and magazines have style guides for layout and grammar.  Only provide an pre-written article if requested to do so and ask for advice on style.
  5. Content:  Your headline must be factual.  leave flowery writing and puns to professional subeditors.  Your headlines task is to provide a brief introduction to your story.  Your first paragraph should summarise the story and provide all the critical detail.  It provides  the essential message of your story and it must catch an editor’s attention.  Your copy should also be factual and be backed up with evidence such as statistical data.  Include a ‘sparkling quote or even better two as it helps personalise the story and give it gravitas
  6. Layout: Use double spacing and leave significant margins.  This allows editors to mark the story for publication, to add information and make proofing amendments.  If the press release goes over the page (it shouldn’t) put “(MORE) at the bottom of the page on the right margin and number the pages.
  7. Embargoes and contact details: If there is an embargo only after which a story can be published, make sure it is in bold below the headline to the article.  Always include contact details so that editors can get further information.

Editors may receive hundreds of press releases in a single day.  To get yours published it must be professional and stand out from the crowd.