Press releases are the bread and butter of public relations. There is a methodology to it, and this involves content, timing, and distribution. Most growing companies need to reach new audiences, and that’s why public relations focuses as a cornerstone on press relations, of which press releases are the main weapon.
Context, context, & the spokesperson
The first thing to look at is the content of the release. No journalist wants to read a brochure, financial statement, or a piece of legalese. Most companies end up sending journalists a combination of what the managing director or the CEO wants to send modified by what the legal team wants to say and then with a little bit of gloss or polish from the public relations team who tried to soften it. This is the safe way to do public relations in press releases, but it’s not the most effective way. Content from a press release should be going into the journalist’s inbox and should come out of them as a story. The first point of call in writing a press release is, why is your company issuing this press release? Is there a new product? Is it a new market? Is it a new person? Is it an innovation? Why should it matter to anyone outside of your own company? It has to be important to somebody else like potential customers, and it also has to be important enough for the journalist to want to pick up and write about it.
The second element of press releases is context, or writing about a particular industry, market, or whatever it may be. How does the product make a difference to that market? Too often, companies issue press releases because they’ve invented something. That’s interesting to them, but how is it interesting to anybody else? What’s the context? What business problem or industry problem or environmental problem was solved? Ideally, there are facts and figures from having done research on websites like Statista, which offers lots of statistics on different topics. There are companies like Gartner, Forrester, OECD, local governments, and many other bodies out there that will provide proof points or validation for the context of a product or service.
The next aspect of a press release is the choice of a spokesperson. Stories on their own need to have somebody be their evangelist, somebody who is going to be their spokesperson. Companies will usually have the CEO do it, but actually, they may not always be the right person to do it. They might be running the company, but the most appropriate person to speak on behalf of the company could be the product specialist, because consumers trust technical experts. So, within an organization or within a marketplace, who can give credibility to the pitch and make people believe that the product or service will add value to them? Who can demonstrate to the journalist that this is a problem worth writing about? Keep in mind that most stories in the media will only impact two-thirds of the readership. This is a good way to look at it if you’re writing a press release or asking someone to do it for you. How is it going to impact two-thirds of the readership of that publication?
For international companies, it’s also important to find a local hero, because people buy from people, and if people are reading about someone who’s a long way away telling them that this is a good product or service, they’re less likely to want to read the story, and they’re less likely to believe that it’s relevant to them. When issuing an international press release, ideally, the statistics and the context are local. The spokesperson could be a local country manager or a foreigner who speaks the local language as long as they understand the product well enough to represent it.
How to catch a journalist’s attention
In terms of graphics and information, the truth is that the media would like to have as much of the story made for them as possible, because they’re all pressed for time, but at the same time, the media do not want to publish a brochure. That’s not their job, and they compromise their editorial integrity if they do that. That’s why they’re never asked to publish things that essentially are publicity. Thankfully, a useful innovation in the recent years has been the infographic which is the combination of information and a picture. It allows you to embed the market context with the product solution.
Companies will try and issue press releases with an infographic from their internal sales presentations that a salesperson gives to key accounts, but that’s completely impractical, and the graphics are sometimes poorly done and thus, not visually appealing or eye-catching. However, infographics made using Visme or Canva can give the journalist a story within a picture. They say a picture is worth a thousand words. Well, an infographic may be worth 5,000 words, because if you embed industry statistics, company facts, and a proposition, then you’ve told the whole story. Also, it’s almost impossible for the journalist to edit that out, so you can embed some of your own key messages into an industry trend story represented by an infographic. There was a trend for a while where links and hyperlinks could be embedded, but now that the media are relying on page views being on their own website, they’re cleansing releases of what used to be called rich media, so it needs to get to the point quickly.
Aside from press releases needing great content, appropriate context, and the right spokesperson, it also needs a third party. If it’s possible to get a quote from an industry expert, a customer, or anybody that says that your announcement isn’t just about you, then that adds a lot of value and credibility. Photographs of the spokesperson can also be included in the press release. A tip is to give the file name of the pictures just as you would like to have it written, rather than just leave it as "Photo_123.jpg." If you could put the name of the person as the file name, it helps with SEO, but also for the journalists or publishers, it makes archiving easier, because you can imagine how many pictures they have.
It’s all in the timing
Reports from Cision say that journalists have up to 1,000 press releases sent to them every week and up to 100 stories pitched. They these are busy, busy people, so every press release needs a great headline that gets to the point very quickly and sells the journalist on why they should read it and publish it. One also needs to consider when to send it out. By and large, Monday morning is not the best time. Tuesday around 10 till 12 is a good time, and so are Wednesday or Thursday. The best time to send a press release to journalists is after they’ve had a morning rush of emails before they spend their afternoons writing. On Friday, most journalists will either be too tired or will have a deadline, so it’s best to avoid reaching out to journalists on a Friday. Another important thing is that people have come to recognize that a global release going out at one time all around the world no longer makes sense and that it’s better to send out press releases to people within their work times.
The next thing is the follow up. It’s quite possible that press releases will end up in Spam, and it’s not necessarily possible to follow up with all media, so choose a target tier-one media and without trying to annoy them, ring and make sure they’ve received the press release. Another aspect of this is to ensure that the releases are personalized. It’s possible to do that with some of these big platforms like Prowly and Cision. It’s essential, because otherwise, it’s just a, "Dear editor," "Dear journalist," "Dear sir/ madam." No one likes to receive blanket press releases or blanket emails that way, so why should a busy journalist? Try and insert something you know about their media that would find this story particularly interesting. You could tailor the top 5-10 press releases for those journalists, because they don’t all write the same story. Making decisions about which media are really important and which ones are tier-two or newsworthy allows you to focus on personalization. Remember, it’s going to be a person getting it at the other end of the email, and it should hopefully lead to a pitch.
A press release isn’t an end in itself. It’s great for SEO, and many websites, again, have as much of two-thirds of their content created from content syndication. The content comes from press release distribution with the end goal of getting interviews or editorial opportunities for longer-form stories. The press release really is written to give a taster for the main story, and that’s what the phone call is for and why there’s a spokesperson mentioned in the press release. All in all, press releases are definitely the mainstay of public relations and they are an essential part of the process for anyone who wants to make their new product or service more known.
Cover Photo from Disc Makers Blog