PR 101: The Press Release
By Jane Mazur
The 3 “S’s” of Success
Before jumping straight into the “dos and don’ts” of press release writing, let me summarize what we covered in the SOSV PR 101 blogs over the past few months.
We agreed that the whole concept of public relations is to create, promote and maintain goodwill and a favorable image among the public towards an institution or public body. If managed thoughtfully, PR can positively and cost effectively catalyze the success of a fledgling startup.
Next, we identified that the key component of a rock solid PR plan is knowing your target audience, developing core messaging and building relationships. Today, we will look at one of the tools or communications vehicles that allow you to tell your compelling story to a wide audience in a fast and cost effective way: The Press Release
Why write a press release?
A press release is an important tool in your “PR toolbox”. Press releases deliver news. They spotlight a company, its products, its partnerships and create awareness of its place in the market. They invite members of the media and their readers to find out more about the company. When positively received, press announcements can have a huge impact on a company’s success. Good publicity can very often generate a surge in demand for the company’s products and services. It can also attract the right attention from investors seeking high potential startups to invest in.
But here’s the thing: thousands of press releases are issued daily via newswire services, direct emails and social media outlets, and most are completely ignored by the intended recipients. Frankly, who can blame those poor members of the influencer chain (editors, reporters and analysts)? They are inundated with hundreds of releases all making the same old, superlative claims: “The first….” “The only provider of…” “The world’s greatest…” which are, most often, not of any relevance to their readership.
Yawn, yawn, yawn!
So how do you rise above the noise and capture the attention of the key influencers? Those critical few who hold the keys to your company’s success?
It’s all about the 3 S’s: Subject, Structure, Style
Subject criteria: For Immediate Release. Really?
When a company believes it has ‘news’ to share, several questions should be answered before proceeding with an official press release.
Things to consider would be:
- What is the impact of this news on the industry?
- How important is the news to your customer base?
- Who will care about this news?
Let’s look at what the basic subject criteria should be before you even consider blowing your proverbial trumpet. Press releases should only be used to publicize mission-critical company news such as:
- Company Launch
- Product Launch
- Program Launch
- Announce Earnings/Sales
- Strategic Alliance/Partnership
- New Employee (Executive level)
If you passed the ‘newsworthy’ litmus test above .. proceed.
Press releases have a standard format or structure. Just like writing a letter, they have a beginning, middle and an end. In the case of a press release, the format is:
a headline, a subhead, dateline, lead paragraph, quotes and company boilerplate.
The basic structure of the release should be as follows:
- HEADLINE — A brief statement of “what” you are announcing.
- SUB-HEADLINE — An expansion of the headline with added details.
- LEAD PARAGRAPH — Tell what it is you are announcing. This should have all the key information points you want to relay.
- PARAGRAPH II (QUOTE) — Explain the main customer benefit of what you are announcing. You could use a quote from a customer or ‘tried and true’ user of the service.
- PARAGRAPH III — Discuss an important element of the announcement.
- COMPANY BOILERPLATE — This is a high-level overview of your company and what you do. Once you get it right, this remains the same and is used as a company description in all publicity outreach. You usually place it as the last paragraph of the announcement.
- CONTACT — In case a journalist has any further questions or would like to reach someone for comment, provide a media contact person at the bottom of the release. Name, position, phone, email.
In general, a press release should provide a journalist with enough information to write an accurate account of what is being announced. It should be clear and well-written. Avoid too much technical jargon that only a handful of coders or engineers could possibly understand. Think features and benefits. The more succinct the benefits, the better!
Style and Format Guidelines
- Double-space your release.
- Paragraphs should be short and easy to read.
- No more than 3 pages (the shorter the better).
Note: It takes time to write a good, solid press announcement. It may take two or three revs to get it right. Keep it clear and understandable. Spell check. Grammar check. Leave enough time to gets quotes approved and finally, have your legal department review before you distribute it on the wire or to individual media outlets.
May the ‘PR force’… be with you!
Originally published at sosv.com on July 9, 2014.