Whether you’re running for office, making a big announcement for your business, or trying to attract some attention to a pet cause or project, press releases can be one of your most effective tools for getting the word out. Unfortunately, though, most people who write them don’t really understand whom their audience is. They write press releases as though they’re writing for readers (or radio hosts and TV viewers). This is a HUGE mistake!
The primary audience of a press release is reporters. They are the gate keepers. They are the ones who get to decide whether the public hears your message at all, much less whether they hear it exactly as you want them to hear it.
So, how do you write your press releases accordingly? There are four basic rules for writing PRs that you should follow each time you write one.
- Learn the proper format– You must get this right. It presents you as a professional and makes it easy for reporters to see what you’re telling them about. That’s the format they use. If you don’t use it, you don’t get covered. It’s that simple. (Reporters are lazy. They won’t go through the trouble of trying to figure out what’s in an improperly formatted PR. They’ll toss it.)
- Establish yourself as an expert– If you’re the CEO of your business, even if you’re the sole employee, you’re the expert on anything related to it. You’re not posting your resume, but you do want at least one or two sentences that say who you are and why they should care about what you have to say. “President of (company name)” or “owner and operator of (company name)” followed by a brief description of what your business or organization does is sufficient. If there’s a stat that you can brag about, great! If not, that’s okay.
- Write something they can use– If you’re commenting on a timely issue, such as a piece of legislation that’s being debated, put yourself in the shoes of a reporter. What can you say that they can put directly into a larger piece about the topic? You effectively want soundbites, phrases and sentences that speak clearly and would, by themselves, fit their story like a glove. For political candidates or organization, think about this: (You), who’s running for the (party) nomination for (office), spoke out forcefully against the plan. (One sentence with a direct quote that includes your position and a maximum 15 word description of why). You’re writing part of a reporter’s story for him. (Remember, they’re lazy. They’ll love that.)
Writing a press release on something completely out of the blue, like a new service that your small business is offering, can be more difficult. In this case, you’re looking for a reporter to write a new story that stems from your press release, typically with an interview involved. If you’re doing this, you must emphasize the problem that you’re solving. Make it crystal clear how whatever you’re announcing will make the lives of those in the area better. Reporters’ audiences are their readers/listeners, so they need content that’s highly relevant to them. Show them how your story meets that criterion.
- Get them to call you– If possible, try to include a sentence in each of your press releases that includes a line that piques the curiosity of reporters. There’s an art to this, because you need to do it in such a way that your reasoning remains sound and the quote still makes perfect sense by itself. You need to be careful that your quote doesn’t sound silly when taken out of context. The type of question that you want to generate here is along the lines of, “What exactly did you mean when you said “x”?” Assuming that you’ve already included the clear statement in #3 by giving them something they can use already, there’s a good chance that this will generate some follow up calls and interviews. When you get those, your chances of getting quoted (or possibly even a story written about your project depending on the circumstances) rise considerably.