What to Expect
When written and
designed effectively, a press release can help you increase your
sales, give your business greater public exposure, and enhance your
company or product image. This module will take you step-by-step
through the creation of a press release from how to make your
message newsworthy and writing a headline to how your press release
should look when it's finished and who it should be mailed to.
You Should Know Before Getting Started
Process of Creating and Executing Your Press Release
You Should Know Before Getting Started
the Purpose of a Press Release?
what's new, different, and exciting about your business or product.
Think of a press release as a story, one that is dedicated to
highlighting all the unique features and benefits of your business or product.
It gets media
people interested in writing about your product or business. A press
release is the accepted and standard form of communicating
information to the media. The media has to know about you before they
can write about you.
awareness for your company and product. Media coverage can expose
your product and/or business name to hundreds, thousands, even
millions of potential customers.
Kind of Media Coverage is Generated By Using a Press Release?
The answer is
publicity and it can take various forms:
Feature news articles.
A feature article can be an in-depth article in a newspaper or
magazine devoted solely to the subject of your product or business.
Or, you might be mentioned in an article on a specific topic that
your business or product is related to.
Your product or service can be talked about on a broadcast program or
you or someone representing your organization might be interviewed.
Newspapers and magazines frequently print columns spotlighting new
products that might interest or benefit their readers.
is a Press Release Different From a Paid Advertisement?
Advertising is a
tightly controlled message and a press release is not. The greatest
distinction between the two is that the publicity generated by the
media from a press release is not paid, therefore it is more credible
and often impacts on the reader or viewer more significantly than an advertisement.
One of the
greatest benefits of a press release is that it can generate sales
and interest and it's much lower in cost to produce than other sales
materials or an advertisement.
Popular Myths Concerning Press Releases
The purpose of
a press release is to give the media information they can reprint
word-for-word in their publication.
newspapers and magazines will never take the information on your
press release and simply reprint it. The purpose of a press release
is to entice them into reporting, in their own words, about your
company or product.
A press release
can never be longer than one page.
Not true. A press
release can be as long as three pages or even longer if that's what
it takes to tell your story in a compelling fashion. You can't always
flesh out a story and make it interesting in one page. One page press
releases are fine to announce new employees and straightforward
business news, but a press release will usually be two to three pages
depending on the subject.
A press release
should only be distributed to the media.
No. The basic
function of a press release is to disseminate information. Press
releases can be effective marketing tools when distributed at trade
shows, mailed to associations, or released at speaking engagements.
Anyone who is a potential customer is a candidate to receive your
Process Of Creating And Executing Your Press Release
executing your press release will follow these three stages:
Before you begin
writing your press release take a few minutes and answer the
What am I trying
to accomplish with my press release?
What is my
marketing message and is it newsworthy?
Who should receive
my press release?
1. Determine Your
Goals: Before you begin writing your press release, you need to know
what you hope to accomplish with it. Do you have a new product to
introduce or have you improved upon an existing one? Do you want to
increase your visibility in a new market? Having a clear
understanding of your goals will help you focus the text of your
press release to meet those expectations.
2. Make Sure Your
Goals Are Realistic. Many people have unrealistic expectations in
terms of what they think a press release will accomplish. Chances are
your sales aren't going to triple overnight just because you wrote
and mailed a press release. A press release is one part of an overall
public relations campaign and it can be highly effective sales tool
but often, you won't see immediate results. Yes, there are amazing
media success stories, but most businesses never fall into this
category. Depending on the story your press release will tell, ten
phone calls from journalists will be terrific, other times two will
3. Determine Your
Marketing Message: Often referred to by journalists and PR
professionals as a "hook" or "angle, " your
marketing message should make your press release newsworthy. It
should be describing what's special about your company's product or
service and focusing a great deal of attention on it.
Three Questions Will Help You Establish Your Hook:
How is my product
or service really different, special, unusual from my competitors'?
has my company pioneered in our field?
What would make
people want to read or hear about us?
Write down what is
most unique about your product or service, what it does that none of
your competitors can do:
Watch Out For ...
Remember reporters, editors, columnists, producers, and reviewers
receive hundreds of press releases a week. You should write and
execute a press release campaign only if you can answer the above
questions in a compelling, meaningful fashion. Don't waste the
media's valuable time or your own.
Some examples of
how to approach your "hook" to make it newsworthy:
or Service Attribute Angle:
A press release
detailing a new delicious low-fat yogurt called "Yogurt
Dream" is not news. Even if it really is delicious, the market
is saturated with delicious yogurt products. However, a press release
describing a delicious low-fat yogurt that helps you burn calories
and lose weight while you eat is news. It's your hook because it's
different. It's news because it's unusual. It's news because
consumers will really want to learn about this product.
A press release
detailing a new discount travel service, Campus Travelers, is not
news because discount travel companies are nothing new. However, a
press release describing a unique travel service that specializes in
helping students enrolled in prep schools, colleges, or universities
find exclusive student discount fares is news. Again, it's news if no
one else is doing it or if it's the sign of a new, emerging trend.
General Interest Angle:
Suppose our yogurt
product doesn't have the significant attribute of burning fat. That
doesn't mean you can't pioneer a public relations campaign and write
an effective press release that will generate media interest. It just
means you have to work harder to create your hook. If there's no
specific attribute that's unique to discuss about your product or
service, consider a human interest angle.
"Yogurt Dream" is so delicious that people will go to great
lengths to acquire it like driving 30 miles out of their way
to stop at the only yogurt stand or store in the area to sell it. If
you know of at least three or four people who are willing to be
interviewed and described in a press release, this is a workable
angle. Or, if you discovered the mayor of your city or someone else
with celebrity/name recognition insisted upon eating Yogurt Dream
every day. That's another angle.
Success Story Angle:
are nice. However, failure stories are much better because they are
newsworthy and interesting to the media. The media appreciates when a
company is willing to admit the mistakes they made and share the
story of how they corrected those mistakes.
Watch Out For ...
When formulating your "hook," don't ever exaggerate to the
point of making false claims or creating expectations that can't be
met. The media will discover the truth (it's their job!), you won't
generate any media coverage, and worse, you run the risk of exposing
yourself to unfavorable coverage.
Tying Into a Topic
Currently In the News or Trend:
A major, national
newspaper features a story about the rising cost of college tuition.
Other newspapers follow with other angles (the media follows one
another) around the same subject. You mail a press release announcing
that your company, Campus Travelers, can reduce the cost of air
travel for students by 50%, thereby significantly reducing the total
cost of a college education for many students.
4. Determine Who
Should Receive Your Press Release: Whoever would realistically be
most interested in the information outlined in your press release
should receive a copy. For example, the fat-burning yogurt with a new
breakthrough ingredient is likely to pique the interest of many
different kinds of media people at newspapers, magazines, television,
and radio. Food editors, health and fitness writers, lifestyle
editors, and science editors (they'll want to know about the secret
ingredient) are all good candidates to be on your mailing list.
You should tailor
your press release to interest your main target group. If, you mail a
press release about Yogurt Dream to food editors you want to
highlight taste and nutrition. Lifestyle editors will seize on the
trendy aspect of wanting to lose weight. Science editors will be more
interested in learning about the special chemical compounds your
Watch Out For ...
Even if you were going to mail your press release to a technically
oriented publication or editor, you cannot be guaranteed that the
person who initially reads it has the same technical expertise as
you. Also, editors and reporters tend to share information with their
colleagues so a science editor may pass your press release along to a
business editor. Therefore, avoid highly technical language and
detail except when absolutely necessary.
5. Before You
Write, Research. One of the best ways to determine if it's possible
and likely to generate coverage for yourself in the pages of The New
York Times, Good Housekeeping Magazine, or Popular Mechanics is to
read these publications. You can visit your local library and get
several back issues of newspapers and magazines. Doing this will
increase your understanding of the media and save you from mailing
press releases unnecessarily. It will also give you a better sense of
the journalistic style you should write to the media.
As you read
various publications, pay careful attention to the following:
The other types
of similar products or services that have been reported on.
seem to regularly cover your business or product area and the style
they report in are they strictly hard news or is their writing humorous?
headlines that attract your attention and write them down. Copy or
clip articles in a similar subject area that you find interesting and
Your Press Release
There are seven
basic elements that every press release should have in terms of
content and how it appears:
RELEASE: These words appear in the upper left hand margin, just under
your letter head. You can place them on the right if that fits in
more easily with the positioning of your letterhead, but placement on
the left side is more traditional. To make the statement stand out,
always boldface and capitalize every letter and make it a slightly
larger font size.
Information: Skip a line or two after release statement and list the
name, title, telephone, and fax numbers of your company spokesperson
(the person with the most information). It is important to give your
home number since reporters often work on deadlines and may not be
available until after hours.
Headline: Skip two
lines after contact information and list in boldface type your main headline.
Dateline: The city
your press release is issued from and the date you are mailing your
release will begin your first sentence.
The first paragraph needs to grab the readers attention but also
quickly impart the relevant information key to your message such as
the five Ws ... who, what, when, where, why.
Text: The main
body of your press release should thoroughly develop your angle.
At the bottom left hand corner of your last page restate your
products specifications, highlight a product release date, and
indicate if a free sample or review copy is available to the media.
Don't forget to list your booth number if you'll be attending a trade show.
further the more complex elements of how to write a headline, the
lead paragraph, and the text.
Headlines: If you
have a strong headline, chances are the media will read your press
release, at least through the first paragraph. That's why a headline
is such a critical element to the overall success of your press
release. Remember these points when creating your headline:
never be longer than a sentence. Reading headlines in newspapers and
magazines will help you determine length.
work for press release headlines. "Yummy Yogurt Will Make Your
Waistline Yippee," is not an effective headline because it isn't
telling the reader what is really unique about this product. While
humor and a light tone may prove effective for the text of some press
releases, it isn't right for the headline and should be avoided.
Remember to focus on your marketing hook, your product or service's
A better headline:
While You Eat."
An even better headline:
Researchers Confirm: New
Calories While You Eat."
Show Yogurt Product Actually
Take a moment
right now to write your headline:
Now compare your
headlines to the ones you noted during your earlier research. Will it
grab the reader's attention and make them want to read the text? Is
it stating the most noteworthy benefit immediately?
paragraph is the most important paragraph. It must quickly convey in
two or three sentences, the purpose of the entire release: who, what,
when, where, why (known to journalists as the 5 Ws).
at the FDA confirmed that Yogurt Dream, a dairy product with a new
chemical compound, actually burns fat tissue while it's being eaten.
The startling news was announced yesterday by Mary Dream, founder and
president of Yogurt Dream, at the company's headquarters in Radnor, Pennsylvania.
If your angle is
more human interest, your lead should still grab the reader's
attention and encompass as many of your 5 Ws as possible.
rising cost of a college education means many families won't get to
spend Christmas with their children. But thanks to Campus Travelers,
a discount travel service aimed at students, many college students
can cut the cost of air travel in half.
Write down the
five Ws of your story:
1. Who: ___________________________________________________
2. What: __________________________________________________
3. When: __________________________________________________
4. Where: _________________________________________________
5. Why: ___________________________________________________
Now write your
lead paragraph: ________________________________________________________________________________________
The main body of
your text. If the text of your press release is providing all of the
necessary, relevant information, it will clearly explain:
product name, including type.
product or company is different from the competition's.
reporter's readers will benefit by reading or hearing about your product.
and how your product is available.
version of your company's positioning statement should be woven into
the text, preferably into the lead. For example: Yogurt Dream, a
family owned company that specializes in making delicious yogurt
products that incorporate new weight loss chemicals, announced today
quotes whenever possible to provide relevant details. Quotes are
effective in press releases because they offer credibility,
especially if the person quoted is considered an expert or a direct
user of the product or service.
it wasn't for Campus Travelers, I would have missed Christmas with my
family," said Brenda Smith, a sophomore at the University of
Texas. "I wouldn't have been able to afford to fly home."
Use bullets to
highlight relevant information when you can. This is useful when
you're listing specific product attributes or explaining how
something works. It will quicken the pace of your press release plus
spotlight important information.
On the last page
of your press release you can have a separate heading called company
background and write a short paragraph that gives a more detailed
history of the product or business.
Take a few minutes
to compare your press release to the articles you clipped or saved
during your research. Now answer the following questions:
1. Is my press
release written in a similar journalistic style?
2. Does my press
release convey the same kind of information?
3. Would I read
this if it appeared on my desk?
having trouble answering any of the above questions review the following:
to Remember When Writing Your Press Release:
Read the text
of your press release a loud. Is the pace fast? It should be. Avoid
highly technical language and quotes longer than two sentence at a
time. They slow reading.
Use the present
tense whenever possible, especially when you're describing specific
product attributes: Campus Travelers saves students money rather than
Campus Travelers saved students money.
paragraphs short, no more than three or four sentences to each.
Watch Out For ...
Have a co-worker or friend carefully proofread the text of your press
release for spelling errors, grammar mistakes, or typos. Remember
editors are trained to spot them!
How to Format Your
Use 8½ x
11 inch company letterhead.
bond white or off-white paper.
Use 1½ or
spaces for new paragraphs or skip two lines between each paragraph
and flush left.
Use italics or
bold to make key words stand out (but be careful not to over use).
Text should be
on one side of the paper only.
Do not number
the first page, but number subsequent pages. Shorten your headline
and use that in the upper left hand corner before the page number.
Example: Fat Burning Yogurt/2.
centered on the bottom of the page to alert reader there's another
page to follow.
number symbols ### or 30 to indicate the end of the press release.
paper clip the pages of your press release together.
The following is a
template for a Press Release:
Letterhead and Address
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
YOUR HEADLINE WILL
City, State, Date
Begin your lead paragraph here.
1. Who _______________________________________________________________
2. What ______________________________________________________________
3. When ______________________________________________________________
5. Why _______________________________________________________________
The main body of
your text continues:
product information Benefits ____________________________________
At the bottom of
(The top of the
Your abbreviated headline/2
Continue with your
text until you've told your story.
information after your last paragraph):
information or a sample copy, contact: Your name, address, phone numbers.
paragraph if you feel that more background information is necessary)
Summarize pertinent information in a short paragraph.
### (indicates PR
Following is a
sample Press Release:
YOGURT DREAM, INCORPORATED
555 Dairy Road East
Radnor, PA 19084
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
CONTACT: Mary Dream
RESEARCHERS CONFIRM: NEW YOGURT BURNS CALORIES WHILE YOU EAT
September 15, 1994
Officials at the FDA confirmed today that Yogurt Dream, a
dairy product containing a man-made enzyme called Hypermet, burns fat
in human tissue during consumption. The startling news was announced
by the FDA and Mary Dream, founder and president of Yogurt Dream, at
the company's headquarters in Radnor, Pennsylvania.
excited here. We knew our yogurt burned calories," says Dream,
"but we had to wait for the FDA's approval before we could tell
the press and our customers." Dream explains that her company's
yogurt product, available in 10 varieties for $.99 per 10 ounce
container, has already been on the market for four years. "Of
course, it was difficult being quiet about it. I mean we have a
product here that not only tastes great, it actually burns fat!"
Yogurt Dream's principal food scientist, Kevin Hricko, the company
didn't set out to create a dairy product that would revolutionize the
food industry. "We were looking to create a really great
tasting, low-fat yogurt product," says Hricko. "We
discovered that in order to satisfy consumer demand for healthier,
low-fat foods, we would have to sacrifice taste."
The idea to
experiment with a synthetic, fat-degrading enzyme began early in
1989. "Our premise was to work with the body's own natural
chemistry to burn fat," Hricko explains. "Then we could
market a food product that could contain fat to make it richer
tasting, but one that eliminated the negative effects of eating such
a food product."
The result was
Hypermet a man-made enzyme that stimulates the body's own
natural fat-burning mechanisms. "We ran our initial tests and
discovered that not only did it work, but there was enough
fat-burning action left after the metabolizing the yogurt's fat to
burn an additional amount of residual body fat." Hricko
indicates that about 0.9 grams of fat in an average human being is
burned during consumption.
does offer a fat-burning benefit to human beings," says John
Maltz, senior FDA spokesperson, "and it's perfectly safe."
Both he and Mary Dream caution that consuming large amounts of Yogurt
Dream won't make anybody thin. "It appears that no matter how
much Yogurt Dream a person eats, one will only burn a maximum of 1.80
grams of fat per day," says Maltz.
Why Yogurt Dream
has a limited fat benefit is one of the questions the FDA is now,
with the cooperation of the Yogurt Dream science staff, looking into
it. "Whether it's .90 grams of fat or 9, the implications to the
food industry are huge," says Hricko. "Within the next ten
years, Americans could be eating an entirely different diet thanks to Hypermet."
consumer demand has already tripled since just this morning,"
Dream says. "We've added another production shift, but I'm not
going to rush it. I've worked too long and hard creating a quality
dairy product. I'm not going to ruin my reputation now. My long-time,
local retailers will get their orders filled first."
her commitment to cooperating fully with the FDA. "Our patent on
Hypermet is pending, but I realize that the benefit of what we have
here is important for all Americans to share in. We owe it to the
public to find out as much as we can about this terrific compound now
and how we can use it to it's fullest potential."
Mary Dream founded
Yogurt Dream in 1992. "My father was a chemist and my mother
grew-up on a Dairy farm in Wisconsin," she says. "I guess I
owe my success to both of them."
that the company is now developing a soft ice-cream product using
Hypermet. "It should be ready to launch this spring," she
says, "and the taste will knock your socks off!"
and her staff are back to eating about five containers of Yogurt
Dream a day, mostly for quality control purposes. "Believe
me," says Dream, "For awhile there I was eating 20
containers myself trying to lose weight." As for expanding the
fat burning benefit Dream says, "Don't worry, we're working on
it! But for now, Dream is clearly satisfied. "Let's face it,
1.80 grams of fat is 1.80 less grams of fat on all of us."
YOGURT DREAM is
available directly from Yogurt Dream Inc., by the case (30
containers) for $75.00. Call 800-555-4200 to place your order.
Keep it simple
and stick to the format. A sales brochure and other promotional
materials are designed to be visually appealing. A press release does
not have the same purpose as a sales brochure and should not look
like one. Press releases should be neat and formatted correctly.
Using graphics and slicks or colored paper will not attract reporters
looking for serious, newsworthy information.
Watch Out For ...
Don't try to save money copying your press release on your office
machine unless the copy quality is very good. You never want your
press release to look like a copy.
Your Press Release
Now your press
release is written, but before you send your press release to your
local printer for copying you need to decide how many media people
you will mail it to.
How Large Should
Your Mailing List Be? It depends. There are some PR professionals who
will tell you to get your message out to as many media people as
possible. However, a mass mailing of 2,000 press releases may not be
a realistic option for you at this time. Your media list simply may
not be that large and complex. Plus, the time and expense of
executing a mailing of that size may overburden you.
Even more PR
professionals will recommend a smaller, more focused mailing. In
fact, you can often garner the same sales effect from a carefully
planned, targeted, and highly focused mailing of 200 press releases
than with a mass approach.
Creating Your Mailing List: There are many media directories on the
market and now there are many companies selling media lists already
on disk. The directories are less expensive ($100-$200) compared with
computer software ($500-$1,000) and sometimes are even available in
libraries. The advantage of software is that the contact names and
addresses are more up-to-date than directories.
You can contact
your local chapter of the Public Relations Society of America for
names of companies selling directories and software or consult with
the source list at the end of this module.
Set parameters and
adjust as you go. You can for instance, create your mailing list by
identifying 100 lifestyle editors at newspapers and magazines with a
circulation of 100,000 or more and local and national television and
radio programs. Don't forget about your local newspapers and other
community publications. They will often report on you or your product
just for the local angle.
Once you have your
list on your computer, work on keeping it current and build on it so
it will be ready to use for your next mailing.
If it's at all
possible, try to print media names directly on the envelope rather
than on a mailing label. It has a more personal appearance and may
get opened before other mail.
Mail or Fax?
Again, PR professionals are divided into two camps. Some believe you
should only mail, some believe your should only fax your press
release. First, faxing may not even be a practical option. Faxing
300-500 press releases could take days, not to mention the expense.
Second, many editors and producers hate to see their fax machines
tied up with anything other than late breaking, really important news.
Unless your news
can't possibly wait, you should mail your press release. You may want
to pick a limited number of major media like The Wall Street Journal,
USA Today, The New York Times and send those press releases via a
private mail carrier. Yes it is more expensive, but it increases your
chances that the journalist will actually receive your press release
and open it. If you do decide to fax, follow it with a copy in the mail.
Response. What's a
good response from a press release mailing? Since press releases are
not a science, there's no set answer. It would be nice if you
received 50 calls from the media, but for most press releases that's
not going to happen.
A rule of thumb
for responses to use is that for every fifty press release you mail,
at least two media persons should contact you for additional
information. But remember, just because you were contacted doesn't
give you a guarantee that a journalist will actually do a story on
you or your business.
If you feel your
response is low from your initial mailing, try increasing it to
include another 100 newspapers and magazines with a circulation of
50,000. Add another group of subject editors. If they don't respond,
try another group of editors.
If you still don't
get an adequate response, you may need to rethink your angle and try
another approach. You must be willing to test the waters and adjust
as you go.
You may want to
follow-up via telephone to your press release. Often this is what
separates those who get publicity from those who don't. In many
cases, your press release may be sitting in a pile of 200 and you
have to telephone to get it noticed. A phone call may at least prompt
the media person to read and remember your press release.
personally telephone every person on your mailing list. Pick the top
ten or twenty major journalists from your list and try contacting
them via telephone. Remember that the media works on tight deadlines
and may not have time to speak with you.
Watch Out For ...
Annoying a reporter or editor on the telephone can be all it takes to
assure you'll never get any coverage from that publication ever.
If you get an
editor or reporter on the phone, use these guidelines:
if it's a good time for a quick conversation. If not, find out what a
better time would be. If they will talk, promise to be brief.
Don't leave too
many messages. Voice mail is a good opportunity to leave a detailed
message but don't leave ten. It would be annoying to the journalist.
Never start the
conversation by asking: "Did you read my press release. I sent
it to you last week."
familiar with the journalist's work or that producer's particular
radio or television show. A good way to start a conversation would
be: "I noticed the article you did last month on the rising cost
of a college education. I thought your readers might be interested to
learn there's a way they can cut down on part of the overall expense
... Did you know traveling back and forth from home to college can
add over $5,000 to the average cost of a college education ... "
Even if you get
turned down by the media once, don't be afraid to try again with a
___ Have you
established your goals?
___ Are they realistic?
___ What is your
hook? Is it newsworthy?
___ Have you
researched the media?
___ Do you have
the seven basic elements?
___ Do you have a
headline that will get attention?
___ Does your lead
paragraph encompass the 5 Ws?
___ Is the main
body of your text conveying the relevant product benefits or most
interesting story details?
___ Are you using
the proper format?
___ Is your
mailing list the right size?
___ Have you used
all the best possible sources to create your mailing list?
___ Are you
keeping your mailing list up-to-date?
___ Have you
determined if you will mail or fax?
___ Have you
evaluated your response? Do you need to increase your mailing? Change
Yale, David, The
Publicity Handbook, NTC
Business Books, 1991
Bly, Robert, The
Copywriter's Handbook, Holt,
Bivins, Tom, Handbook
for Public Relations Writing, NTC
Business Books, 1991.
Borden, Kay, Bulletproof
News Releases, Available
through Ad-Lib Publications, Fairfield, IA, 800-669-0773
by JIAN Tools For Sales, Los Altos, CA 415-941-9191
by Desktop Innovations, Berkley, CA 800-669-6757
Publicity Blitz by
Bradley Communications, 800-989-1400
Checker for Newspapers, Magazines, Radio/TV, 332 S. Michigan Avenue,
Chicago, IL 60604, 800-621-0561
Publisher Yearbook, 11 W. 19th Street, New York, NY 10011, 212-675-4380
of Magazines and Newsletters, 150 5th Avenue, Suite 636, New York, NY
Lists/Software and Labels
Communications, Lansdowne, PA, 1-800-989-1400
Publications, Fairfield, IA, 800-669-0773
Information Services, 800-621-0561
Association of Business Communicators, 1 Hallidie Plaza, Suite 600,
San Francisco, CA 94102
Society of America, 33 Irving Place, New York, NY 10003