Press releases are often eclipsed by new and exciting digital tools, but remain a solid way for brands and businesses of all shapes and sizes to get a message out. The dawn of digital has also had a profound effect upon their creation and distribution – effectively lowering the bar for accessibility in creating and distributing releases. However, as a side-effect – the competition to get releases in front of the eyeballs that matter has increased exponentially. So how can you navigate the perils of press releases and prevent yours from being drowned out?
Many newcomers to press releases try to run before they can walk and this can have disastrous effects on the visibility of the end product. Before you even consider putting pen to paper, you’ll want to spend a significant amount of time planning your strategy. Fortunately, there’s more and more companies springing up that can help you in this regard and the growing availability of free (or low-cost) online repositories has made outsourcing, creating and distributing your message easier than ever.
The first tenet of marketing is to be where you customers are – thus choosing the target demographic and consequently, the publications they read must be your first step. The types of publications you’ll target and the sort of interest you want to generate will largely inform the topic you opt to cover, so it’s also well worth doing some research in this regard.
The topic of your press release is one of the most important elements, so spending some time looking into this will pay dividends later on. Doing some investigating into what has worked (and failed) for your competitors and counterparts in this regard is a really good step – although you’re likely to be somewhat constrained by the products or services your business deals with.
In broad terms, you’re likely to cover one of the following: company growth, promotions and research (or thought leadership). There’s a right way and a wrong way to handle all of these topics and the way you go about this will largely determine how successful your release is likely to be. For instance, taking on new staff could be a good option for appealing to local or regional business publications (particularly if there’s some benefit to the local economy). However, covering the same topic with a view of ‘we’ve taken on three new IT staff’ is unlikely to garner much interest.
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Similarly, a well-done and informative piece of research can be a boon for those looking to position themselves as a thought leader in their sector – but when drowned out by overly-promotional corporate babble or focused on an uninteresting subject, can be highly ineffective.
Perils and Pitfalls
In medium and larger companies, the interesting aspects of a press release are often ironed out or decreased as it’s batted around for approval and revisions. Smaller businesses are at an advantage in that they can forsake this design-by-committee approach and take control (although this carries its own risks). Outsourcing or consulting with a specialist is a good idea for those who can afford it, but for those that can’t – further research is the key.
One exercise I often recommend is to compare a full release to a finished article that covers it and see what information is retained. You’re bound to notice that any promotional copy is expunged, while only the key, interesting facts remain. Journalists have a mandate to capture their reader’s interests so you have to be realistic about the type of coverage your press release will generate. You’ll have much less control than in a traditional advert, but if handled right the results can be significant. When putting together your piece, consider the following:
Interesting facts first: Journalistic writing tends to follow an inverted pyramid, with interesting information higher up and contextual data lower down. So when creating your release, make sure you lead with interesting facts and follow with promotion. For example, ‘Tax experts Smith and Jones reveal contractor’s ideal working conditions’ would be better presented with a nugget of key data, such as ‘Half of self-employed workers demand flexible hours’.
Summaries and biting quotes: Journalists, like people, tend to be inherently lazy – so presenting a summarised version of your research, growth milestone or promotion that is easily skim-able is well-advised. Similarly, leading with a quote that you can really sink your teeth into presents writers with a great potential lead for an article.
Integration: In the digital age, there’s no excuse for failing to link your press release to your blog, social media and online marketing efforts. By marrying these disciplines and playing to the strengths of each, you’ll have much more success than you would approaching them in isolation.
There’s no silver bullet for creating the perfect press release, but by empathising with your target audience and journalist intermediaries, you’ll be able to craft a piece that stands out from your unadventurous competitors and counterparts.
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