Since the invention of the press release in the early 1900s by Ivy Lee, it has largely remained the principal method for PR practitioners get news to the media – to generate editorial that is read by the target audience we wish to reach and influence.
In the age of social media where companies and individuals use facebook, twitter, instagram and LinkedIn to share news, the question about the relevance of the press release continues to be raised. Nowadays, social media lets us instantaneously share news with our target audiences, via live tweeting that ensures news and images are shared in real-time, by using facebook news posts to help to drive conversations about the news and via blogs and Linkedin groups to target niche interests.
Provided they are written correctly, press releases are still a great way to gain media exposure – for organisations, their products and services, their events, their issues and their people. They are an effective PR tool because they add credibility to news we read, see and hear in the media, since the coverage has been vetted by journalists who deliver only what they consider relevant and newsworthy to their readers.
When it comes to news and social media many organisations are still simply posting press releases on their social media pages, mistakenly assuming that friends and followers will share them. This is generally wishful thinking, as a formal press release is not something most people consider a worthwhile share. Remember that press releases are written for the media in its traditional guide, not the relatively new phenomenon of social media. Instead of posting a press release on social media, consider sharing selected information in the press release that is in keeping with the style and tone of your social media voice.
So in the age of social media, the fundamentals of a great press release still hold true. A great press release must…
…have a purpose
They must grab the attention of the journalist or the editor by containing news that is relevant to the publications’ readers. Press releases must make the journalist want to know more about the news and get in touch with you. Ultimately the purpose of a press release is to generate headlines and column inches in your target media.
…have a strong news angle
The news must be apparent on first reading and found in the headline or the first paragraph. It must have passed the ‘who cares’ test to determine if readers would be interested in what it has to say. Press releases issued to satisfy the CEO’s ego will fail to generate credible media coverage every time.
…have headlines that grab attention
The headline is what sets your press release apart from the other 500 in the journalist’s inbox. The headline must be written in a ‘news-style’ headline as you would find written in a newspaper or magazine front cover. Grabbing the journalist’s attention with the headline is as important as grabbing the attention of the journalist’s readers with your news.
…get to the point
Journalists and editors don’t have time to digest your press release to understand it. They must immediately see what the news is, what the facts are and who is quoted. Press releases with flowing, flowery writing will only serve to annoy the journalist and end up in the trash.
Strong news should always be supported by details – facts, numbers, figures, what has changed, what is different, what is new and what has failed. Journalists need these details for their editorial. Often the best way to provide them is in bullet format (this is especially true for investor relations when reporting financial results). Important details include relevant quotes by credible spokespersons on a subject that is relevant to the news and not just organisational marketing spin.
…be written for journalists and editors
The best press releases are those that let the journalist cut and paste into their editorial. They are written in a journalistic register and incorporate appropriate quotes in an inverted pyramid fashion. When writing the release, think like a reporter or journalists and ask why would the readers care. Pose yourself the question: ‘Could the journalist cut and paste the first two paragraphs and quote into the publication?’ If the answer is yes, then it is a great release.
…be based on messages
All public relations activities are built upon messages and the press release is no different. Your messages should be woven into the release content and in particular the quotes.
Remember that even the best-written press releases are useless without a targeted press list and strong media relationships. Press releases are about getting the news to relevant journalists first. They are your allies in communicating to those you wish to reach and influence.
Do you have any additional suggestions on what makes a great press release, or any thoughts on the impact social media have on the press release format? If so, I’d love to hear them.