If you’re trying to get publicity from traditional media, occasionally you may need to write a press release.

Yes, you read that right, occasionally.

Many PR firms and other marketers do rely heavily on press releases, but I’ve found they’re not the best tool for getting the quality and quantity of coverage we promise our clients.

However, press releases are great for announcing basic news, such as upcoming events, winning an award, or reaching a milestone. There is a chance your release will catch the interest of a reporter or editor who then decides to interview you and write a story, but the odds aren’t great. That’s why we at EMSI don’t use press releases as part of our standard operating procedure.

But that’s not to say a press release is never appropriate, so everyone should know how to write one and when to use it.

You can boost your chances of securing at least a mention in a newspaper or online news site by sending it to the editor of an appropriate listing. Many local and regional newspapers, even some national magazines, run lists of events, brief news items about promotions and business awards, and other such announcements. Being included in such a list will likely mean you’ll also be included in the publication’s list online, which adds to your visibility.

To increase your chances for success, you’ve got to do your homework: Check your local and regional publications and learn what types of lists they run and to whom you should send your announcement. For events, be sure you know on what days the list runs and send your release in plenty of time for it to publish before your event.

Here are some other tips for writing a press release:

  • Get the facts up front – don’t beat around the bush! Put the basics in the first one to two sentences. For an event, you might start with “Frannie’s Flower Shop is offering a free floral arrangement workshop from 2 to 4 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 14. Follow that with the rest of the “five W’s” – who, what when, where and why. Editors and reporters don’t read press releases for entertainment, so a flowery first paragraph of prose will not make them want to read more. It just might make them throw it away! They want to get the pertinent information quickly so they can decide if, how and where to use it, and the less rewriting they have to do, the better.
  • If you believe your announcement is newsworthy, say so in the first paragraph. An editor or reporter might decide this will make a good story if you provide a news hook. That’s not always possible, but don’t overlook the obvious! If Frannie is planning her floral arrangement workshop because local wildflowers will be at their peak in mid-August, or because she’s noted an uptick in the number of brides-to-be visiting her shop, that would make a great news hook! Her press release might look like this, instead: “With fields of lavender approaching their peak bloom time in mid-August, Frannie’s Flower Shop is offering a free floral arrangement workshop.”
  • Put the contact’s name, phone number and email in the upper left-hand corner. The contact information is vital, and it’s easier to see when it’s not buried in the text of your release. Ideally, include a phone number that you can access after hours, and an email you check on a regular basis. It might look like this:

CONTACT: Frannie Pani, CEO
(555) 222-1212

  • Add the boilerplate – or short bio – describing your company or you. At the end of the release, share the basics about you or your company. Keep it brief! If the bio is about you, describe who you are, what you do, and what sets you apart, including credentials (but remember, this is not a resume!). If you’re describing your company, detail what the business produces or the service it provides, how long it has been in business, and any other relevant information. Include your website!

Before you send your release, carefully read back over it. Is it more than 400 or 500 words? If so, it may be too long. Is all the relevant information provided right up front? Is it correct? Did you remember to include contact information?

Then let it sail!

That’s it in a nutshell!

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