Press Release Toolkit

The essentials for writing an eye-catching and news-making press release.

Press releases are one of the most basic and essential tools that a public relation professional uses to increase awareness of organizations, people, events, and ideas. Press releases are what PR practitioners primarily use in order to connect with the…you guessed it…press. They’re a way to spread information and facts to news and media outlets capable of reaching the audiences organizations are eager to connect with.

Tool #1: Your Mailing List

One of the first determinations you need to make when it comes to press releases: who needs this information and who would be interested in spreading this information? For example, if you’re promoting a book signing event for a cookbook author, perhaps the best audience is not the gaming community. Certainly there would be gamers who might be interested, but the most important audience to reach would be those who already enjoy cooking and those who are interested in becoming more accomplished chefs. It’s important to be discriminating with your mailing list. Ed Zitron’s prank shows why you should be careful in your selection of journalists and media outlets. Using a generated CES list of contacts is sloppy, lazy, and overall, inefficient. Instead, focus on forming a few great connections with your local media and journalists. These are the people who will be able to give you constructive criticism about your ideas, who know how to spread your message, and who have the most insight about the audiences you’re trying to reach through them. Be polite, be considerate, and most of all, don’t push your press releases. Keep them informative, honest, and essential. Choose the outlets you send them to carefully, and be respectful of your colleagues in the media, never forget to say your please’s and your thank-you’s.

Tool #2: The Format

So you’ve decided where you need to send your press release and you’ve got your forward list already to go. Now it’s time to actually craft the thing. The biggest piece of advice? Keep it simple. There’s no need for your gorgeous but complicated photoshop template in this realm. Whatever it is you’re trying to raise awareness about should be able to stand on its own and do the work for you. If your organization, event, etc., has been well thought-out and your campaign is thoroughly researched and prepared, your concept should speak for itself. Let the press release stand as a quick summary of your great idea. Keep the adjectives in the thesaurus, and be honest. Your press release should be simple, easy to follow, and contain only the most important and essential need-to-know facts. No fancy fonts and always re-read your draft and edit for any typos or grammatical errors before pressing send. If your press release includes images (which can, in some cases, be a great idea), be sure that the image is of high quality and professional grade. Dan Hennes, photography director at PR Newswire, shares his tips with Entrepreneur for how to include images with press releases.

Tool #3: What to Include

To summarize thus far: press releases must be simple and targeted thoughtfully. So what should be included in a press release?

  1. A Unique Headline: Always have a headline for your press release. It’s important to make sure the headline is relevant, but also get creative. This will be the first thing a journalist sees while sorting through a pile of press releases, so you want it to be clear, but also interesting. It’s best to keep the headline short, and some search engine research will be the best way to make sure that you’re optimizing every possible outlet with your phrasing and word choice.
  2. The Basics: You’ll want to include if this is for immediate or embargoed (delayed) release, as well as the location (country, state, city, or town, depending on who your audience is), the month, the day and the year.
  3. Paragraph One and Done: If you’ve ever taken a media or journalism class, you should be familiar with the inverted pyramid theory: the most news-worthy information should be first, followed by important details, and finally background and general information. This applies to press releases as well. Your first paragraph should give a journalist the most essential information of who, what, where, why, and how. The why and how should be kept just as basic and concise as the other three.
  4. Details and Quotes: Include one or two relevant and interesting quotes from consumers, experts, or employees. This will give a journalist more to work with, in terms of selecting a pitch that’s newsworthy and colorful. Also include any statistics, research, or interesting facts that make your announcement unique. Once again, don’t get too caught up in getting every tidbit out there. Pick the most important and most interesting highlights to include.
  5. To Cap It All Off: Most press releases include a quick “about” blurb. This is typically a sentence or two long expressing the reasons, goals, or values of the organization. It might include a slogan, or even a website where an interested party could easily find more information.
  6. Last But Not Least: Include your contact information of name, title, email, and phone number. Press releases typically conclude with three pound signs (###) at the very end of the page.

Tool #4: When to Create a Press Release

As with any form of coverage or media, it’s important not to overuse a tool or else it gets worn out and isn’t as effective. Make sure you’re considerate when sending a press release. A minor update or change isn’t going to be newsworthy, and you’ll annoy outlets by inundating them with pitches every time something minor happens with your organization.

Instead, use press releases to your advantage by using them to announce the most exciting and relevant news to your publics. Some of these times include event announcements, product launches, big organizational changes, new opportunities, or innovative work. This way, media outlets will trust that when you send a release, it’s worth considering and your publics won’t get sick of you.

Tool #5: Keeping Track

You may think you’re done once you’ve sent the releases, your news has been published, and you’re on to the next thing. This isn’t true. Instead, carefully monitor the progress of your press release. Always bee sure to say thank you to those who covered your announcement. Keep track of what works and what doesn’t. You can also create a second wave of interest by creating new content and linking it back to your release. The publication of a press release is only the beginning. From there, you can make the biggest impact by thanking your audience, creating social media buzz, and always learning from reactions to your latest release to make your next one even better.

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