The humble (but powerful) press release

With all sorts of dazzling technology and so many ways to disseminate information, it’s easy to overlook the ordinary press release. But that humble publicity tool can be one of the most economical ways to deliver your message to a wider audience.

If you’re not familiar with the concept, a press release is essentially a brief article that details some kind of news or information about your company. Someone within your organization develops the press release, and you subsequently distribute it to media that may have an interest in what you have to say.

Press releases offer something that advertising doesn’t: the halo of third-party credibility. While an ad is a paid attempt to sell something, press releases usually show up as small articles or parts of larger ones, and carry the appearance of independent coverage of your organization. That makes them more subtle and believable.

The downside is that there’s no guarantee that an editor will use your press release, while an ad for which you’ve paid will definitely appear. (However, even if an editor doesn’t use it, you’ve reminded him or her that you’re out there.)

“Your goal is not to be clever or literary, but to provide information in a clear, compelling way.”

You can distribute your press release by snail mail, but most editors prefer to receive them by email (in a common file format such as Microsoft Word). There are also services that will electronically distribute your press release to media in locations or industries you prefer.

Your goal is not to be clever or literary, but to provide information in a clear, compelling way. Your headline should be a quick summary of what the release is about: “New Veeblefetzer Cores Radishes in Half the Time,” rather than “How Much Free Time Will Your New Veeblefetzer Create?” Your opening paragraph should provide the basic information you want to share, with the subsequent paragraphs adding detail.

Always include contact information (ideally, both phone and email) for someone in your organization who can respond to questions from the media and who can actually be reached. Few things frustrate editors more than someone who doesn’t return a call about a very simple question, and those press releases tend to find their way into the trash.

Trade magazines or small publications in which you advertise may be eager to print your press release as a gesture of appreciation for providing income. However, it’s never a good idea to demand that a publication print your press release because you’re an advertiser. At many magazines and newspapers, an imaginary wall separates the advertising and editorial staffs, and the folks in the editorial department take exception to pressure from advertisers. They may begrudgingly publish your press release this time, but the next time they’re working on a story for which you may be a great information source, they’ll skip down to the next name on the list. (Like you, editors prefer people who are friendly and don’t waste their time.)

Keep in mind that nobody thinks your news is as important as you do. An editor may have received fifty press releases on a given day. In deciding which to run, he or she determines which will be most informative and meaningful to his or her readers.

One way to dramatically increase the possibility that your press release will be used is to hire a professional to write it. Coming from a writer, that may sound like a blatant sales pitch, but there are three solid reasons that it’s true. First, a professional will be able to offer an objective opinion of whether the release will have genuine news and interest value. Second, a professional writer will be able to frame the story in a structure that’s more likely to catch an editor’s eye when he or she is scanning through dozens of press releases. Finally, editors are busy people, and they’re more likely to use a press release that’s well-written and requires minimal editing.