A press release is your gateway to the media world. It is any company’s prime tool for gaining exposure in print, radio, TV, or even from bloggers. A well written release can generate magnificent results, while a poorly worded one can land you on The Smoking Gun or TMZ. In addition, journalists see hundreds of press releases a day, literally thousands every month. How can you position your press release to stand out, while avoiding the common pitfalls that swallow up 95% of pitches?
Follow these simple and proven rules to grab the attention of any reporter, in any industry:
1. Press Release, Know Thyself! Understand what a press release really is, and what purpose it serves. It is a pseudo-news story, written in the third person, which establishes the newsworthiness of your product, event, service, or person. It is NOT a chance to:
· Tell one of your favorite anecdotes or jokes
· Convince people to buy your 1977 Chevy Malibu
· Criticize a company or public figure
2. Think Like A Reporter: Journalists are not interested in helping you sell your product or driving visitors to your website. Reporters only care if you provide something that makes their job easier, i.e., a great story they can sell to their editor. This means you need to:
· Separate real news about your story from promotional jargon
· Develop story angles from a news perspective, not a business’s bottom line
· Avoid including the yearbook picture where you looked really hot
3. Hook Them With A Compelling Headline: Use bold caps, and take a page from Jeopardy! to write your header in the form of a question. Or step on over to Fox News, and see how they turn a provocative claim or outrageous statement into an attention grabbing headline. The goal is to pique interest, so “Senator Discovered With Pants Around Ankles” is better than “Local Congressman Caught Unawares By Tough Question.”
4. Choose Your Sub-Header Wisely: This is your chance to flesh out the bold question or statement that you have titled your release, and to put a spin on your headline that can make all the difference. For instance the sub-header, “Public Questions Civic Leader About Night Out With Teenage Girl”, is better than, “Community Concerned How Local Representative Spends His Workdays.”
5. Don’t Botch The Lead! This is your opening paragraph, and should contain all the information you hope to convey, i.e. the 5 W’s: Who, What, Where, When, and Why. DON’T bury your most crucial data 7 paragraphs down – put it all up front, clearly and succinctly. Most press releases do not get read entirely, and if you can’t intrigue the reporter with the header and first paragraph, your battleship is already sunk.
6. Use The Rest For Expert Quotes, Statistics, And Story Angles: The body of the release should back up the claims made in the header, and offer journalists easy ways to turn it into a story of their own. Add quotes from experts, the public, and especially your target demographic. Mention different perspectives on the content which would appeal to a wider crowd. Finally, try to link your story to a broader trend, so it has a possibility of reaching a national audience. And remember what Homer Simpson says, “Aww, statistics can prove anything. 24% of all people know that!”
7. Perfect Your Boilerplate: The last paragraph should be your ‘boilerplate’, which is the overall description of the company or outfit distributing the press release, and it can be used over and over again without change. Make sure it has been reviewed by a legal department or expert, and keep it relatively short, around 2-4 sentences. Not a good place to mention how much $ you lost with Bernie Madoff – try your local barkeep instead.
8. Off With Her Head! In other words, keep it brief. If at all possible, limit your press release to one page. If it needs at least two pages that’s fine, but remove any unnecessary language that is bulking it up. Keep in mind anything on the 2nd or 3rd pages is unlikely to be read, by anybody.
9. The Fine Print: End your release with a centered ###, which officially marks the end of the document. Below that include contact information along the lines of, “If you would like more information about this topic, or to schedule an interview with Pat Brown, please contact John Smith at 212.555.1234, or John.Smith@broadband.net.” And ouila! Your officially have a news worthy press release with a good chance of being picked up by local and national media. Unless you used to play Screech on Saved By The Bell, at which point even a press release about a porn movie you starred in is likely to be ignored.