10 Tips For Better Press Releases

Posted on January 14, 2000

by B.L. Ochman,

FIRST YOU'LL HAVE TO GET PAST THE BULL**** DETECTOR. Journalists, in self defense, quickly develop what Ernest Hemingway called "the bull**** detector." With so many (mostly mediocre) publicists calling, emailing and faxing every minute of the day, this is purely necessary.

Because you are so close to your business it is hard to maintain journalistic perspective. The world at large is not going to find your triumphs and struggles captivating. And if you cry wolf too often, all of your releases will be zapped without being read.

If you are a software company (not Microsoft) don't count on getting top coverage of your version 2.0. Extolling theoretical benefits puts editors to sleep. They want to hear assessments and results from industry insiders or installed users. Cosmetic changes to your web site aren't even worth a media alert.

If your news sounds like an advertising pitch it is destined to be discarded.

Here are 10 Tips to help you get coverage:

1. Think big.
Sadly, the fact that your company exists is not news. What is newsworthy is how your business will effect and help a lot of other people.

Unless you are really the first, or you actually stand a chance of displacing the first or front runner, getting press won't be simple. Think how your business will affect other businesses, spur trends, change the way people do things.

2. Keep it short
Most press releases should be one page. Two are acceptable. If an editor is interested, he or she will ask for more info.

3. Follow journalistic style
Write in the third person. Use last names, not first names on the second reference to a person. "John said," is not acceptable. "Smith said," is.

Tell the story in the headline and the first paragraph. When your release is sent out on some news services only the headline and first paragraph are shown. If they don't make editors want to see more, your whole effort is for naught.

Keep sentences and paragraphs short. Don't editorialize (offer opinions) in a release, i.e., don't say "this is the best, most amazing service...." Tell us, in simple terms, what makes it great. We'll decide if it is amazing.

Get yourself an Associated Press Stylebook, available from Amazon for $12. Learn to properly abbreviate words and numbers and the correct way to refer to formal names. The University of California, Irvine has an online guide to writing for the press that isn't as detailed, but has the basics. http://www.communications.uci.edu/style/style1.html

4. Post photos and art on a web page
You'll pay a hefty price for a BusinessWire "Smart Release" which includes a photo. Instead, embed a special url into the press release and post your release, photos and art on that page.

You'll have a way to track results because only journalists will have the url for that page.

5. Don't call to ask did ya get it?
Editors hate PR people who call to ask Did You Get It? However, you simply must call if you want to get placement. It is a good idea to hold some information out of the release so you can call with additional information.

6.Ask yourself 'who cares?'
Before you send out your release, boil the idea down to one sentence and ask yourself "Who Cares?"

If the topic relates to a lot of people, is timely and genuinely helpful, you're likely to get a good response when you e-mail or call the appropriate editor (assignment, financial, home editor, etc.) at an online or traditional print or broadcast medium

7. Spend the money for an online clipping service
It is a waste of money and effort to send out a release and not use a clipping service. If you send your release out on BusinessWire you can get First Alert clipping service through Luce for only $150 on a month to month basis.

Do not assume that editors will call you if they are running your story. An announcement, a description of a service and the majority of other releases don't require an interview. Many times the story will run without anyone telling you about it. Don't be penny wise and pound foolish.

8. Use more than one online distribution service
When budget allows, use BusinessWire and Internet News Bureau or another distribution service. Each service has its own way of presenting your story. It's worth the extra money to have another shot at being noticed.

9. Know to whom to send it, not just where.
If you are making your own list, find out the name (and spelling!) of the editor or reporter who covers the section where you want your release to appear. Don't just send to "Business Editor" with no name. Your results go up incrementally when your list is up to date and your spelling is correct.

10. Be able to pitch the idea in one sentence
Editors are busy people. Decide how you will explain your story in 30 seconds or less before you call. I once pitched a story about three women who had been on welfare and were now each the owners of successful companies. I said I was calling about three "Cinderella entrepreneurs." You just can't expect to have an editor who gets 100 PR calls a day to listen to a long-winded pitch.

Here are some guidelines for what IS news:

  • A story needs a hook. It should contain some drama, sense of importance, appeal to human interest, local pride or connection with a celebrity.

  • Embrace what is topical by focusing on something that is already prominent in the news. For example, connect to an important trend, a congressional controversy, a holiday or an important event.

  • Conduct a survey and issue a report. You need a respectable sample (generally 1,000 or more people) and a topic of broad interest.

  • Buck a trend. If everyone in your industry is jumping on the same bandwagon, go the opposite route. But be sure you can back up what you say you are doing. An online fad has an average life of only weeks, so editors will be happy to give a voice to someone with a valid different opinion.

    B.L.Ochman is an award-winning marketer who creates dynamic positioning, branding and promotional campaigns for online and traditional businesses. Subscribe to WHAT'S NEXT ONLINE, her bi-weekly marketing techniques newsletter at
    Phone 212.385.2200.


    blog comments powered by Disqus