Anyone who’s had even the briefest contact with the world of public relations or journalism will have come across a press release: a word-processed document outlining product or service news, announcing an upcoming event, responding to breaking industry news and so on.
Easy to get wrong, this deceptively simple document has been in use for decades. Some people have called out the press release for being out of place in the current media world. But, created with skill and deployed with care as part of a well planned communications strategy, the not-so-humble press release continues to play an important role in PR.
What is a press release?
A press release is a cornerstone tool in the PR toolkit. It’s a factual document that conveys information. A good press release succinctly captures detailed information and packages it into an easily digested format which is delivered in a timely manner.
Press releases are sent to reporters, news agencies, bloggers, and other influential people with the aim of generating interest in the subject matter. They provide the reporter with all the critical information about a current topic, presented to appeal to the writer and their readers.
Moving with the times
As technology has moved on, so too has the press release. Gone are the days of laboriously typing out a release then standing over a temperamental fax machine, meticulously scanning each page – one member of Team Absolute has never even seen a fax machine.
Press releases can now reach the furthest corners of the globe in milliseconds at the click of a mouse or touchscreen. We can share more information, with more people, more quickly, which is great news. But the ease of the process has given rise to lazy and ‘spammy’ behaviour. Reporters can receive floods of press releases every day that aren’t relevant to them (see US reporter Zach Schonfeld’s painful experience).
Numbers of on-the-ground reporters have sharply declined in recent years, especially in regional media. If a busy journalist can trim their inbox by weeding out seemingly irrelevant subject lines, poor writing and over-exaggerated claims, they won’t hesitate. And can we blame them?
If you’re unlucky enough to be behind one of these unfortunate releases, the damage is done. Your story hasn’t been read and your brand missed out on valuable media coverage. But worse may follow. The reporter’s impression of your organisation has been shaped by their encounter with the press release you sent them. Will they give the next one the benefit of the doubt or will it swiftly be consigned to the trash folder?
Quality over quantity
High levels of email traffic mean that capturing a reporter’s attention is not just a case of cutting through the noise in their inbox. It’s about making their life easier. It means quality is paramount:
Quality content – above all a press release has to be newsworthy. It must be of interest to the reporter, their editor, and their readers. A press release should explain the who, what, where, why and when of your story. It should anticipate and satisfy follow-up questions. Beyond that, the rules are yours to create. Illustrate your story with quotes from credible people, bullet points, images, videos, research statistics, and testimonials. Add value to your content by offering interviews with key spokespeople, arranging site visits from the media, or offering an exclusive story to a single outlet.
Quality writing – good writing helps busy reporters by clearly presenting topical and relevant information in an accessible format. A punchy headline ensures you instantly grab the journalist’s attention. Good writing flows well and guides the reader. It’s easily understood by someone who doesn’t know all about your company or industry. It is thoroughly checked for spelling and grammar – by a person, not just a spellchecker.
Quality writing also caters for the occasion. Sometimes succinct factual information is needed to help a reporter to develop the story. Sometimes a press release will present the full story, styled for the target outlet, ready to use with little editing. Judging what is called for requires knowledge of your media, the needs of their readers and the ability to flex your style to meet their needs.
Quality relationships – if a reporter is receiving hundreds of press releases every day, a scattergun email sent to a generic mailing list won’t get you noticed. As PRs, relationships are at the heart of what we do to find the right journalists for every story. When we understand what ‘beat’ a journalist covers, what type of stories their publication covers, what information they need and want, and how they prefer to receive it, we can shape your company’s news to meet the needs of your target media.
The changing world of media means that we have to adapt the way we use press releases. As PR professionals, it’s our job to ensure our press releases do their job, which means great content, carefully crafted and precisely targeted.
To find out more about how Absolute PR & Marketing can get your business featured in the national, regional and industry media, or for some free advice call us today on 01392 680740.
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