Good public relations are essential for any business, but especially so, for small and start-up businesses. If you can persuade editors to run a story about your business, it’s worth a dozen adverts or mailshots. And there’s also the huge added benefit of it not costing you anything!
However, writing a press release isn’t as simple as dashing off a letter to the editor of your local paper. For it to work, your release needs to be carefully crafted and put together.
Here we look at how you should structure your press releases to grab editors’ attention and maximise your chances of getting that elusive, but highly-prized free press coverage.
The 4 essentials of a Press Release
To create successful copy, you need to focus your mind on four essentials of a Press Release:
Your purpose in creating news releases is to supply news and information in an easy-to-use form to the media in which you want it published.
The primary target audience for your PR is not the general public, but editors and journalists. They are the human channels through which you reach your various audiences; you must aim to serve their professional needs.
Getting ahead of the other releases
Your material will be competing with material from other companies. It follows that you must present your copy in an acceptable professional format.
If you want to be noticed and taken seriously, always send press releases on company letterheads.
Don’t clutter your letterheads with irrelevant information; keep it simple. Anything more than 50mm deep is wasting valuable space. All you need is the name of your company, logo, address, telephone and fax numbers. Some of this detailed information can look neater at the foot of the page.
At the top, identify the contents with a clear, bold title, such as; ‘News release’, ‘Press information’, or ‘News from…’ (followed by the name of your organisation).
Bear in mind that your copy could be going to TV and radio stations, as well as to the print media. ‘News release’ covers both.
Leave 4cm between the title and your story headline – the gap enables the editor to make notes on where and how to use the story. The headline itself should be a single line of type – short, sweet and to the point. Don’t try to be clever; it’s highly unlikely your headline will be used. You just need to get their attention.
Time sensitive material
An ’embargo’ requests an editor not to publish until a certain date and time. Use it only if you have a really good reason. Put ‘EMBARGO’ above your main headline, briefly give the reason, and the date for publication. Editors will usually co-operate, but don’t be surprised if they ignore it; it’s not binding.
Some public relations people also use a ‘catchline’. This helps to identify a specific story, and is the word or short phrase used when referring to it. Put the catchline in the top left hand corner of each page. If your story is about a new range of Smith’s Professional Tools, your catchline might be simply: ‘Smith’s tools’.
Use double-spacing, and use only one side of each sheet. Don’t indent the first paragraph, but indent all the others.
Break up your copy
If your copy is long, use ‘subheads’ (a mini headline) to break it into logical sections; this will make it easier for the editor to read.
If you need to carry copy over to the next page, don’t break up a sentence or a paragraph. Start each new page with a complete sentence. Don’t use a subhead within three lines of the foot of a page.
Number all continuation pages at the top right-hand corner. Put the story’s catchline at the top left-hand corner.
If your release runs to more than a single page, type ‘More follows’ at the foot of every page on which your copy is carried over and ‘Ends’ at the end of a story, below the final line of copy.
At the end of the story, date the release, though some people put the date at the top.
Give a name and telephone number of someone for editors to contact if they want more information or a discussion. If there is a picture with the story, call the editor’s attention to it. If it does not accompany the release, invite editors to send for it.
If there is a lot of technical detail to your story, put it on a separate sheet headed ‘Technical information’, or ‘Technical notes for editors’. This avoids cluttering your story proper, which should be as ‘newsy’ as possible.
In the information section at the foot of the main story, indicate that this technical information is attached or enclosed.
In writing up your story for readers, the editor may include some or all of the technical information. In separating technical data from news, you offer the editor the opportunity to add, rather than delete. It’s more positive.
Likewise, instead of cluttering your news with background information on your company or product range, attach an extra sheet headed ‘Note to editors’, or ‘Background information’.
Use plain language
One of the biggest failings in business today is the ever-increasing use of jargon. If you want to get your message across, keep it simple.
The current buzzword in business is “Plain Language”. Sounds like a good idea – but does anybody really know what it means? There are a lot of misconceptions going around about what is acceptable plain language and what isn’t.
Plain language is simply a reader-friendly way of doing business. You say what you mean. The reader understands what you have said. The result is, everybody is on the same wavelength and things get done right… the first time.
Don’t use jargon
Plain language uses words and expressions that are familiar to the readers. It presents information in a logical order using a straightforward writing style. It is good, standard English, written with the needs of the reader in mind.
It does not use jargon of any description. You may think that jargon makes you sound clever and knowledgeable, but the reader, particularly editors, will simply lose interest, get bored, and turn off. It might even make them angry. Remember, your news release is competing with hundreds of others. Don’t make it easy to bin yours.
Short attention span
We have become a society with a short attention span. People don’t read as much any more, and TV has led us to expect instant sound bites.
If a paragraph is longer than eight lines, we turn off and skim to the next paragraph. If a sentence is more than 25 words, we don’t retain the information that comes AFTER the 25 words. Keep it plain and simple, short and to the point.
Here are a couple of pointers to help you make your news releases a little more reader-friendly. First, remember that plain language is easily understood by the audience for whom it is intended. So bear in mind who is going to read it, and write to that person or that audience.
Secondly, imagine you are telling someone something verbally – it makes it easier to keep your writing simple and to the point. But be careful not to litter your correspondence with colloquialisms and incomplete sentences.
More on getting PR to work for your business
These other guides bring you even more tips and tricks on effective PR for your business;
- The 5 unbreakable rules of free publicity
- 21 killer ideas to get free publicity for your small business
- How to write an eye-catching press release
- The 3 big mistakes that stop your press release from being published
You can also use social media to spread the word about your business, and these guides will help you to get started;
- How to use Facebook to grow your small business
- Marketing your small business through YouTube – The 4 essential steps to success
- 5 steps to building an online fan base for your business
- What benefits can Twitter offer my small business?
- How to get started with Twitter
- 5 ways to maximise your business with social media