A Beginner's Guide to Press Releases
Are you looking to get some publicity for your small business or start-up?
Thinking about contacting a journalist or two to get a nice piece in the press or online?
If you’re gearing up for some PR action but aren’t sure how to proceed, then this article is for you.
First of all, you need a strategy. Journalists aren’t on tap, ready to cover your story (sadly); they’re generally inundated with stories. In fact, they have so much incoming that on average they spend less than one minute reading press releases. If you want to grab their attention, you need to make an immediate impact.
I’ve jumped through these hoops many times here at Red Ruby, delivering print and online PR. I’ve gained coverage in local, national, industry and online press, boosting clients’ profiles by giving journalists top quality content. Here’s how you can do the same for yourself:
Do your research
The process of getting press coverage starts before you type a single word. First, work out which publications you want to target. This might be obvious for your business, maybe you read them already. Buy the newspapers or magazines you want to pitch to. Bookmark your target websites and put some time into reading through the content. You don’t need to read every word (you’ll be there for days!), but read enough to get an idea for what sort of stories they tend to cover.
Find an angle
What’s your hook? If you’re pitching a story about a new service or product, avoid simply listing its features. The journalist wants an angle that is unusual, different and, of course, new! There’s always a place for traditional business stories (e.g. new director appointment, a merger or relocation), but it’s good practice to consider what makes your story different to the others out there. Top tip: running a unique survey and promoting the results can boost your PR efforts, potentially getting you into national press too.
Identify the right journalist
Before you pick up the phone to dial, make sure you’re calling the right person; look at the staff list – some publications and websites provide direct numbers. Or use a PR database such as PRMax or Cision. As you do your media research jot down the names of writers who seem to cover your key areas.
Write the press release
First, draft an outline and structure for your story – it’ll help you create a snappy release. In fact, this technique is a bit of a copywriting secret; it saves the writer loads of time (not to mention sweat and tears) later in the editing process.
The first paragraph needs to summarise the whole story in two or three short sentences, and aim to cover the ‘Big Six’: what, where, when, who, why and how. In the body of the release expand on the story. Include a quote to bring it to life, and add your contact details and web address at the end. The release must be written clearly and ideally kept to one page, and make the headline attention-grabbing and punchy.
Pitch to the journalist
When the journalist takes your call be professional and direct – they’ll appreciate it! Use the first paragraph of your press release as the basis for your pitch. Explain why your story is relevant to the publication or website, and mention you’re available for an interview (if you’re comfortable with that idea). And, if relevant, invite a press photographer to take some shots. If you’re PR-ing an event that has already taken place, offer high quality photos to the reporter. Just after the conversation, email the press release and image to the journalist while it’s still fresh in their mind.
If you have no response it could be that the reporter is covering your story but simply hasn’t had time to tell you or sometimes a major breaking story nudges other news off the page. But it’s always worth chasing up, but don’t overdo the calls or you’ll risk damaging what could be a valuable, professional relationship.
One more small tip: Remember, the only time press coverage is guaranteed is when you pay for an advert or advertorial. If your story isn’t covered this time, don’t lose hope. This is the starting point of building important relationships, raising your profile among your target press. And it’s these relationships that drive a successful and sustainable PR strategy; every email and phone conversation counts.
If you need any help or advice on getting into the press, get in touch with for a chat: 07738 004670.