Writing Your Own Press Releases The Do It Yourself Guide
Apr 03, 2011
Writing your own press releases: the do-it-yourself guide
By Jim Farrell
I occasionally hear business owners lament that they don’t have much luck “getting announcements into the papers.”
If that has been your experience, you’re missing out on some excellent marketing opportunities! The use of the media to promote your business news (in the form of press releases and articles) is a great way to amplify your company’s visibility and showcase its credibility.
Some people refer to public relations as “free advertising.” While there is some truth to that, no editor will ever agree to that characterization. Newspapers and magazines aren’t in the habit of giving away free advertising space, but they will print legitimate business news. That’s where your marketing efforts should be aimed. And, PR is very valuable advertising.
So, let’s say that you fancy yourself “the next Hemingway” and want to write your own press release. First of all, what are the kinds of topics that papers will print? Here are a few legitimate opportunities for press.
1. New hires: Everyone from your new administrative assistant to that well-known CFO that you just hired away from the competition represents a PR opportunity. And, the new hire needn’t have just joined your firm two weeks ago to qualify. “Recently” covers a wide range in business news.
2. Promotions: If your staff accountant is promoted to Senior Accountant, that’s news. Tell the world (or at least your press audience).
3. New products: If your company manufactures energy saving devices and you’ve just unveiled a new widget, that’s the kind of information business writers and editors love to see.
4. New divisions: If you own a real estate firm and have recently added property management services to your list of skills, a press release announcing the opening of your Property Management Division should be favorably received.
5. Awards: Have you won a Chamber award? Received recognition from a trade organization?
6. Unusual/eyecatching events: Did your firm recently host a group of executives from another state or country?
7. Seminars/speaking engagements: Did you, or someone from your company, recently attend a seminar? Did you lead one? Did you speak before the Chamber of Commerce? Any of these events are fair game for press releases.
8. New clients/case studies: If you’re an engineering firm and you were just engaged by the Commonwealth of MA to provide a feasibility study for widening Route 24, tell anyone who will listen or read the news It will let others know the scope of your firm’s abilities.
9. Did you recently open a new location?
10. Have you helped a charitable cause lately? An auto rental company donates a used vehicle to a local driving school. It’s a great act of charity, and a wonderful news opportunity – especially accompanied by a picture of the driving school owner and the auto company owner.
Any legitimate news about your company should be included in your PR plan. And news releases (also called press releases) should ideally be sent out every two to three weeks, so that your business is always in the news somewhere. So first, before we address how to write one of these press releases, let’s look at who should receive it:
- Any daily or weekly newspapers that are based in the same community as your business.
- Any daily or weekly newspapers that are based elsewhere but cover your community.
- Business publications (Boston Business Journal, Worcester Business Journal, for examples)
- High tech publications – if your company is a high-tech organization
- Industry or trade journals and newsletters
Do it yourself?
There are certain skills that should never be attempted by amateurs. Heart surgery is one example that springs to mind immediately. Flying a 747 is probably another. However, assuming you have some sense of news and a reasonable ability to write a sentence, you may have some success in writing your own press announcements.
There’s no law that only PR agencies can write press releases. So, if you’re feeling inclined to try it on your own, here are a few guidelines.
1. Keep it simple and straightforward. A press release should range between 200 and 500 words. It should get to the point very quickly and very factually.
2. Remember the 5W’s – “Who, What, Where, When and Why” in your writing. Be certain that your lead tells the story succinctly. Don’t make people guess why you are writing the story.
3. Your first paragraph should summarize the reason for the announcement. You promoted someone, your hired someone, you launched a new product or division, or you won an award. Write in the third person (that is to say, you are writing about yourself or your company as though someone else were writing it). For example: ABC Company today announced the promotion of John Smith of Middleboro, MA to the position of Controller.” Here’s another: “ABC Company today announced that it is the 2005 recipient of the Boston Business Journal’s “Best Place to Work” award.
4. Don’t be overly flowery in writing. In fact, don’t be flowery at all. Use simple, quickly understood words. Remember that most of society thinks in soundbites and goes for that “tell me quickly” strategy. If your company president has been given the Chamber of Commerce Humanitarian Award for the year, avoid something like “The award was presented to Mr. Smith in front of a cheering crowd.” Just say, “Alton Smith, president of XYZ Manufacturing, is a 2005 recipient of the Chamber of Commerce Humanitarian Award.” Then explain the criteria for the award, and finish with a general description of your company – and a phone number/web site for additional information.
5. Remember that newspaper and magazine editors are the ultimate gatekeepers. They have the power to print or not print what you send them, and unlike the court system, there is no appeal of their decision. Think like an editor. If you were reading the document you just wrote and sent, would you print it?
6. When referring to individuals, use the newspaper style of mentioning first and last name, and every subsequent reference last name only. For example: “Jim Farrell, President of PR First, recently addressed an organization of business executives on how to promote their companies through PR. Farrell, who has been in the business 12 years…” Yes, it sounds unfriendly. But the key to success with media is writing as close to their style as you can, so that they are not applying a “red pen” or the “track changes” to every line. Editors are the gatekeepers, but they are human. If it’s easily understood, it stands a better chance of being published.
7. Include contact information. Someone at your company should be readily available to answer questions in case an editor or reporter wants to call and ask (quick callbacks are key).
8. Remember that you are writing news, not an advertisement. Your goal is to inform, not to sell.
9. Where appropriate, include a picture. If it’s a new hire or new promotion, a good head-and-shoulders photograph.
10. Check with the papers that will receive your press release as to their preference for format. Many like e-mail, but not with attachments (fear of viruses!). Some like fax transmissions; a few of the old-timers (or, to be charitable, “traditionalists”) still prefer snail mail.
11. The law of frequency regarding sending out press releases is this: No more than once every other week, unless your company is finding cures for fatal illnesses on a daily basis. Too frequent distribution will wear out the welcome mat for you and lead to the increased likelihood of less coverage.
Success at PR is more about consistency than magic. Well-written news releases that address topics of interest to editors should yield favorable results. Good luck, and good publicity!
(Editor’s note: Jim Farrell is the president of PR First, a public relations/marketing company, with offices at 2048 Washington Street, Hanover, MA 02339. PR First handles publicity for a variety of clients in the, environmental, service, and business-to-business community. For additional information, call (781) 681-6616, or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.)