How, when and why to write a press release and what to expect if you do


How

A press release has a standard format and should be as brief and to the point as possible. Think of how long it takes you to decide whether to read an e-mail or not. That’s about how long an editor will give your press release before deciding what to do with it.

Your press release should be written on your company letterhead if it is typed and should be double-spaced. The sentences should be short, and the word count should be no more than 300-500.

At the top of the page center the words “News Release.” Under that center the words: “For Immediate Release,” unless there is a restriction on when you want the information to be made public, in which case you may say “Release After_______.” Most press releases are for immediate release.

Following the release information is the most important line: your headline. Use this to grab the attention of an editor in a short, factual and interesting way.

The first paragraph should answer these basic questions of any news story:

Who
What
Where
When
How

Expand on this information in the following two or three paragraphs. It is helpful and it adds interest if you can build a quotation into your story.

Conclude with your own contact information.

Accurate contact information is very important. In the words of an experienced journalist, “I can’t tell you how many times I’ve called the number provided to get a voice mail that says the person is on vacation. A little planning would prevent that.”.

The article should be able to stand alone where ever it happens to be cut, after the first, second, third or fourth paragraphs. So say whatever you think is the most important early in the article. Embellish later.

At the end, type ###, centered after the final paragraph.

Sounds easy, doesn’t it? The only way to get good at it is to practice, practice and then practice more. It’s surprisingly difficult to write in a simple style and to say what’s most important first. Practicing will automatically improve your skills in writing attention grabbing book descriptions though.

Whatever you write, have someone read it before you submit it. If that person thinks it’s blah, it probably is. Go back and rewrite, eliminating as many words as you can. Be sure you haven’t hidden your most important points somewhere deep within the article.

However, since editors don’t necessarily expect every press release to be professionally written, don’t hesitate to send some of your practice efforts off to the media if they are accurate, in the correct format and about something you want to publicize. You may be pleased with the results. Media need content more than they need perfectly written material. They can handle rewrites. That’s part of the job.

I edit and write a quarterly newsletter, The Downtown Beat, for Downtown New Bedford, Inc., a non-profit organization, and most of the articles we receive are not professionally written. That’s OK with us. We want the downtown news in whatever shape we can get it. We know that it takes many people three paragraphs to work up to making their most important points. We can live with that and edit accordingly.

The Boston Globe has a list of dos and don’ts for their calendar items and a format that they request that people use to submit them electronically. Using their format would give you practice at the essentials. You can find it at: http://www.boston.com/cgi-bin/globe_events.cgi .

Who & Where

Before you write the press release, you need to develop a media list, which means calling or e-mailing the outlets where you intend to send the release to find out whom to send it to, what format they require and how far ahead of your intended publication date they need to have the release. You can usually find the right contact person by locating the publication on-line and consulting the ‘about us’ section. Even if you call the general information number, they will be helpful about directing you to the right department.

Press releases are usually delivered by first class mail, by fax, or electronically, although many places will not accept press releases by fax.

A journalist writing for an on-line publication says, “I prefer to get press releases via e-mail. I tell people never to fax me. I don’t get faxes quickly enough.”

If you submit your releases on-line, it is considered bad manners to include attachments. Say everything you need to say in the release itself. Although follow-up is the norm in almost every other business activity, it is not necessarily the case when it comes to press releases. If you call to find out if your release has been received and/or read, you may be considered a pest.

You can, of course, pay to have press releases written and released for you, but it seems worthwhile to spend some time trying to see what you can do on your own first.

If you expect to be issuing a number of press releases, it might be a good idea to invest in The Associated Press Stylebook or a similar publication.

If you are an on-line business only, you may wonder what good press releases can do you and where you can submit them. You can submit them to any trade publication. You can also post them to your own web site, although you might rewrite them a bit to make them more personal and informal. Don’t overlook your local community newspapers, even the weeklies. If you have a specialty business, they may eventually want to write a feature story about you, and the link to that story can be posted on your own web site.
When

Write a press release for any kind of announcement you want to make. You are sponsoring an event. You have changed a business affiliation. You have moved. You have added a new line of books. You have made an important discovery. You have earned a new designation. You have been nationally published or recognized in some way. You can cure a common problem.

What & What you can expect

Write press releases as a part of your overall marketing program, which may also include your own web site, print and on-line newsletters, discounts for repeat customers, workshops, etc.

News releases are effective but not terribly efficient. You may send out many with only a few published in entirety. The few that are published may reach thousands of recipients, but few will respond. It is a sort of dandelion seed effect. Many seeds are released, but most do not result in plants, and yet the dandelion is a very successful plant. The effort of writing and issuing press releases is never wasted according to Laura LaTour, publicity director for Baker Books, an independent community book store in Dartmouth, Massachusetts.

Baker Books hosts two monthly writing groups and sponsors at least three other monthly events, sometimes more. Each event requires a press release. That’s a lot of press releases in the course of a year. As a book lover, I read or scan most of them. And yet I have responded directly to only one, attending a book signing for Jon Vaughan’s self published book of photographs,Coastal Effects. I bought two books at the signing and later visited Jon’s shop in Chatham, Mass.

Laura says this low rate of direct response to a press release is fairly typical. The average event draws an attendance of 15 to 20 people, although a few draw many more. Only one or two may attend because they read about it in the newspaper. More are attending because of the store’s web-site calendar, the calendar posted in the entryway, or the weekly e-mail newsletter. (For ideas on how to write your newsletter see the last issue of The Standard http://www.ioba.org/newsletter/V10/ownnewsletter.php .

The indirect response to press releases is probably larger but more difficult to measure. Weeks after an author signing, for example, a customer may buy a signed book and saying, “I read about this in the newspaper.”

The cumulative response is larger still. Our community newspaper, the Standard-Times, publishes many book related human interest stories and a number of them originate with press releases from Baker Books.

What to do if a writer/editor calls

Your reason for writing press releases is to get publicity. If a writer calls, it’s a stop everything moment. Talk to the caller on the spot, or return the call quickly. When I write The Downtown Beat, I am always surprised at my success in getting people to talk to me or return my calls or make time in a busy schedule for me to interview them. After all, the Downtown Beat is a pretty tiny publication, with a very small circulation, and it’s only quarterly.

If you hear the keys clicking as you speak, it’s a sign that your press release and comments are on target and that your publicity efforts are becoming successful.

The Standard: The Journal of the Independent Online Booksellers Association

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