Using a Press Release to Get Free Media Exposure

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A press release is a popular way of letting the media know about your business and important things that are happening in it. They are a great way to get publicity for virtually no cost - if you know what you're doing.

When you send out a press release and it successfully catches the attention of the media, you can expect it to:

1.  Improve the public's overall view of your business.

2. Produce greater exposure for your company that, if taken advantage of, can lead to higher profits and bigger deals.

3. Increase the number of sales you make.

Of course, because press releases are such a potentially powerful way to get free publicity for your business, there are an awful lot of people sending them out!
Every day, reporters' desks are swamped with stacks of press releases issued by hopeful businesses angling to capture some free publicity through media coverage.

This means that, depending on who you're contacting and where you want your story to be released, there can be quite a bit of competition to deal with.. So if you want to ensure that your press release doesn't simply end up in a trash bin, there are some clear rules - and some clever tricks - that you should know.

Let’s discuss the various rules for creating and distributing a press release that captures the attention of reporters while adhering to professional industry standards of etiquette and format.

When is a press release appropriate?

A press release is not something that you issue whenever the mood should strike. It is a marketing tool that should be used only when you have something truly newsworthy to announce.

If you send a reporter a press release every time you change the color of your packaging, they are going to start ignoring you. So when you really do have a big story or event to share, they'll never even know because they will automatically stop reading when they see your company name.

As far as I’m concerned, the BEST reason to NOT send out trivial press releases is that they are a waste of time. Why put hours of work into something that is simply going to be thrown immediately into the garbage bin! You’ll want to spend your time putting a press release together ONLY when it is appropriate.

Here are a few examples of instances when a press release would be appropriate:

1.    When you are making a controversial statement, especially if it is at odds with another organization in your field. This could be as simple as disagreeing with the market predictions of another company, or arguing the importance or lack of importance of some new legislation related to your industry.

2.    Official announcements that have a large impact on your business. Things such as new or unique products, mergers, or a joint venture with a large organization are appropriate things to issue a press release about.

3.    Special events or offers that are related to a particular theme or season. These offers should be more than simply sales ... perhaps you will donate a percentage of the proceeds of each sale to charity.

Different media work on different timelines. An e-zine or online newsletter might use press release material the day after it’s received. Newspapers prefer at least a week to prepare a story, although they might use it sooner. Magazines work at least three months ahead, so if you don't have your Halloween-linked story to them by mid-July, forget it. Contact the media on your list to find out their lead times.

Reporters will be among the first to tell you that most people's idea of what constitutes a "newsworthy" event varies drastically from theirs. So before you risk looking foolish and mining future opportunities for publicity, seriously consider whether or not what you're announcing will be of interest to others. Would you read an article on the same topic about a company in an unrelated industry?

Your story and angle must be both compelling and unique. If it passes the test, then go for it. The publicity that you can get as the result of a well-timed press release is probably the best free advertising you can get. If not, settle down and wait until you really DO have something newsworthy to announce.

Formatting your press release to industry standards

Imagine for a moment that you are a reporter. You're busy, you're stressed, and you've probably been up since the crack of dawn. Now imagine that you're sorting through yet another stack of press releases.

The first one you pick up is 10+ pages long. You skim over the first page and discover the writer has launched into a blow-by-blow account of their company's four-year history.

You see no headline and no contact information - so there's no point in reading it! You toss it in the trash.

The next paper you pick up is a florescent orange color (quite offensive, considering you have yet to drink your first cup of coffee) and the ornate font makes it nearly impossible to read. So it gets trashed as well.

The next one looks a little more promising. At least the writer was considerate enough to adhere to industry standards of formatting, making it easy to read. So you do.

The fact is - if you want your press release to be noticed, you must obey certain formatting rules. If you are mailing your press release the first thing you must be certain you do is use plain, boring normal-sized A4 white paper. There is absolutely no need to try to "jazz things up" with colorful paper. This will only make you look unprofessional and reduce the validity of your statement. After all, if your press release is actually newsworthy, there shouldn't be any need for visual embellishment.

In the top left-hand corner of the page, you should include a heading that contains your company name, address, phone number, email address, URL, and the personal contact information of the individual who will be acting as the liaison between your company and the media.

It's important that you be sure to include an actual person's name, because if you don't, the majority of reporters won't even bother to look at the rest of your release. Further, you should keep the number of contact people to a maximum of two otherwise it can get confusing.

Underneath your heading, you should write: "FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE." This lets the reporter know that you are giving them the freedom to choose when they publish your story. If your press release is date-sensitive, perhaps because it is related to a specific holiday or event, you should write: "FOR RELEASE ON OR BEFORE [date}."

It is unwise to place too many restrictions on when your story can be published because this will reduce the chance it will receive coverage if other, more interesting news comes up.

Under your release statement, you should include your headline typed in all upper case so that it will be easily noticed and recognized. Your headline should be something that will grab the attention of the reporter.

For example, a headline that reads “MANY PARENTS UNHAPPY WITH DAY-CARE" is pretty weak, while "PARENTS LIVID OVER INCOMPETENCE OF DAY-CARE WORKERS" makes the same article sound much more interesting.

Next you should begin the body of your press release with the town or city that your message is coming from, as well as the date of your announcement.

For instance, you might start off with: "Chicago, March 17th 2011. Gizmo

Technologies announced today the release of Gimmick Version 2.0… This immediately gives people a "time" and a "place” to relate the rest of your article to. Once this has been established, you can begin writing the body of your press release.

As a basic rule of thumb, you should write your article with the most important information first. This is so your press release will grab the attention of whoever is reading it and give them the information they want straight away. (Note that newspaper articles are written in this format, with the most important details revealed first).

Remember to give your reader the "who, what, when, where, why, and how" as soon and as briefly as possible. There is no reason for you to go on and on with pages of irrelevant or secondary details. Include a short summary of your business that includes more than just your company name and industry, but don't get carried away and write a comprehensive description of all your achievements!

Stick to details like how large your company is, what it sells, develops, how long you have been in business, and any other pertinent information that relates directly to your story.

If you are comfortable doing so, sharing your financial information can be a good way of lending credence to the importance of your press release. Reporters can look at your information and see for themselves that you have a solid track record and business plan.

Make sure that you keep your press release to no more than two pages - though one page is much better. If you do have two pages, be certain to place the word ‘more’ at the bottom of your first page, so that there isn't any confusion as to whether your press release continues. Also remember to number your pages if there is more than one.

Whether your press release is one or two pages you should be absolutely certain to double-space.

If you don't, your material will look too dense and it is unlikely to be looked at!

Once you have completed the body of your press release, drop down a few lines and type "#” or "¬30-" in the centre of the page. This is a traditional way of saying that your piece is finished.

Above all, keep your message nice and simple and make sure that your writing is clear! If there are complex concepts that require explanation, keep the clarification to one or two sentences. Have some friends read it over first to make sure that your message isn't confusing.

Reporters will appreciate it when your article gets to the point and stays there. The more you deviate from your declared topic, the more likely it will be that they get annoyed and stop reading.

Don't make the mistake of thinking that if you follow these formatting rules too closely, your press release will just disappear among the others. The truth is, it will give you the professional appearance that will increase the likelihood that a busy reporter will take the time to examine your statement.

Here is a simple template for designing your press release:

*******Beginning of Template********
From: Your company name
Contact: Your contact person
The contact email address
The contact phone number
Web site URL

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

HEADLINE IN ALL CAPITALS
Opening paragraph: town, city, date and specifics [Who, What, When, Where, Why, How]. Main paragraphs; Elaboration on points outlined in opening paragraph. Keep them short and sweet.
Pertinent quote (if appropriate and available).
Brief description of your company: This Is not an advertisement. Give information on when it was founded, size, number of employees, product niche etc.
Quick close that might reiterate your main point (don’t overdo it)
Thank you for your consideration
******End of Template*******

The best way to see how a press release should be formatted is to browse through a few of them yourself in the media and get an idea of the sort of thing that is published.

Choosing an angle that grabs reporters' attention

Unless you're a multi-million dollar corporation new packaging or hiring a new marketing manager will NOT be considered newsworthy. Reporters receive an endless stream of these announcements every day and yours is almost guaranteed to land where the rest of them do - in the bin!

You need to think creatively when approaching the media and consider such angles as:
Popular trends

There are always new hot things on the horizon that capture the public's imagination. If you can somehow link your message to an upcoming fad or trend, you are far more likely to get media coverage.

Human interest stories

People love stories of success, failure, heroism, charity etc ... so if you can somehow angle your story to generate a strong emotional response, you are more likely to capture a reporter's interest.

Is your company involved in some kind of charity work? Are you participating in a food drive? Are you making a significant contribution to society in some way?

If you are, you may be able to create publicity for your business around one of these angles.

Controversial statements

I don't recommend you intentionally create an uproar by making a scandalous announcement; however, you can grab people's attention very quickly with strongly worded statements about your company's view of recent media occurrences.

Reporter’s favorite topics

Everyone has a favorite topic, and reporters are no exception. If you have noticed that a certain reporter has a habit of focusing on a particular aspect of business or society, try to craft your message to cater to this topic. You will greatly increase the chance that you will be published by doing so.

This also goes for specific publications that you are sending your press release to. If they are focused on a particular topic, you should tailor your message so that it is directly relevant to their readers.

For instance, if you were issuing a press release to sporting publications, you would want to explain how your new shoelaces are an important contribution to the industry.

Compelling visuals that augment your story can increase your chances of getting your news published. If you are going to provide publications with visuals related to your press release, it is a good idea to send actual photos rather than just negatives (although it is a good idea to send those as well). This reduces the amount of work that the reporter will have to do, and thus increases the odds that you will see your photos in the publication.

You are best to send pictures in an 8x10 glossy, black and white format. Or if you don't want to send photos, simply let the reporter know that photographs are "Available upon request”.

Critical mistakes that you absolutely must avoid

Anger or annoy reporters and you’ll ruin your chances of profiting from this powerful form of free publicity. They're busy people who will appreciate it if you avoid wasting their time with the following mistakes:

Following up

You should follow up with a prospective employer after an interview. You should follow up with potential customers. But under no circumstance should you follow up with a reporter or editor.

Although a follow-up message is a useful tool when advertising to potential customers, when it comes to press releases, sending a follow-up message is a definite mistake.

Reporters and editors are very, very busy people, and they will not take kindly to any suggestion that they need a "reminder" to make up their minds. Even if they were originally considering your press release, harassing them with follow-up letters, phone calls or emails can result in you being stonewalled.

Send them your first respectful press release and nothing more. If they think that your story is newsworthy, they will contact you.

Sending your press release to everyone

This is a sure-fire way of annoying the media, and word will get around. Focus on your niche!

It is not only a waste of your time to send your press release to organizations with absolutely no interest in your business, you also risk alienating reporters who might have otherwise considered running your story.

If they hear that you are sending your message to everyone, they won't even bother looking at it!

Using meaningless buzzwords

Buzzwords are words that have been picked up in general "business speak” and while they may have meant something at some point their overuse has left them almost meaningless.

These are words such as "paradigm" (instead of "concept" or notion), or "cyberspace." There will be times when using one of these words may be necessary. However as a general rule, you should avoid them - especially in the headline of your press release.
These words cease to have any real meaning when they become used too frequently, and reporters who hear them dozens of times each day will likely be sick and tired of this "non- speak."

Making spelling and grammar mistakes

This may seem like a minor point, but take it seriously! If your press release is riddled with errors, it will be laughed at.

If you can't take the time to run a simple spell check and proof read your work to make it appear professional, why should a reporter bother wasting their valuable time reading it?
It takes very little time to check your spelling and grammar, and it really can make the difference between lots of free publicity and your press release getting thrown into the bin. Once you've spellchecked and proof read it yourself, hand it off to a friend or family member and let them take a look at it as well.

Where should you send your press release?

It doesn't matter how much time you spend crafting your press release - if you don't send it to publications and reporters who have a direct interest in your industry, it will hit the bin and of your effort will be wasted.

As with your product or service, you should not be trying to "sell" your press release to every reporter under the sun. You’ll look far more professional- and be far more likely to have your story covered - if you focus your efforts on media outlets and journalists who have a direct interest in your topic.

Before sending your press release off to ANY publication, you should ask yourself the following questions:

1.  Is the publication interested in your market?

2.  Does the publication care about organizations of your size?

3.   Is there a lot of competition for space in the publication?

4.  Will the publication generate a reasonable amount of publicity for you?

Of course, with that said, you still need to find the right publications and people to report your story. Here are your options:

Online press release services

Your first option for "getting the word out" is to hire a press release service. The obvious benefit of hiring a service like this is that you don't need to do the work yourself, leaving you free to focus on other aspects of your marketing strategy.

The downside, besides the extra expense, is that you are really the best person to decide which publications to target and which to avoid. A service might do a good job, but you could do it better.

There are a number of free online services that promise to submit your press release to hundreds ¬, even thousands - of media contacts. Avoid these services entirety. Not only is their contact information often outdated - your press release may end up getting submitted to entirely the wrong person or department and you'll end up looking extremely unprofessional.

Doing your own legwork

I highly recommend that you make a point of sending your press releases yourself.

While it might seem like more work, the long-term benefits will likely outweigh the initial investment of time that your first press release will require. Because you know your business better than anyone else does, you are the best person to decide which publications and reporters are best suited to release your story.

And if you are planning to issue numerous press releases over the next couple of years, doing it yourself will be far less expensive than hiring a press release service, which generally charge several hundred dollars per release!

Plus, once you've made the initial contact with reporters and developed a relationship with them, it will be far easier to get your next newsworthy event into the spotlight. Remember that it can often be who you know that makes the difference!

Beware of media lists “for sale”

If you decide to send your press release yourself, you might think that you can save yourself a lot of trouble by buying a media list that provides you with the addresses and phone numbers of various media contacts.

Our advice is to be careful when using these kinds of sources. Often they are outdated or only provide a little bit of information about each media outlet. This can lead to your press release being sent to the wrong person or to an address or fax number that no longer relates to your business at all.

If you are going to use a media list, you should know:

1.  How much address info is included? (Will it include email addresses, postal addresses, names, phone numbers, fax numbers, etc.)

2. When the list was last updated.

3. Whether the addresses are valid for sending press releases to. You don't want to be sending your press release to the wrong address.

4.  How the list is broken down. Is it by topic, alphabetical order, size of publication, or some other way?

5.  If a certain percentage of the list is out of date or incorrect at the time of purchase, will you be compensated?

6. Whether the source that compiled the list is biased. You should make sure that whoever set up the list is legitimate and honest about who is on the list.
Should you decide to purchase a media list like this, I would suggest that you simply use it as a guide and personally check to make sure the information is still current before sending the press release. This will help you to avoid embarrassing mistakes.

Good places to start

Below, I've provided you with a list of good places to start when searching for media contacts and distribution services. However, I would again like to emphasize the importance of contacting only those publications and reporters with a direct interest in your industry or areas of expertise.

If you don't you're wasting time, and I can almost guarantee that your hard work will simply end up in some frazzled reporter's rubbish bin!

Try the Easy Media List for media contacts

How to send your press release

Once you have the names of media contacts, you need to decide how you'll be sending your press release to them. While email is now considered to be the "standard" way of sending press releases, there are still some reporters who will prefer to receive them by fax or regular postal mail.

The easiest way to find out what a particular reporter prefers is simply by asking. You can make a phone call and find out for sure what the best method of delivery will be. This also gives you an opportunity to let them know that they will be receiving a press release from you.

This isn't the same as following up (which, as mentioned earlier, you shouldn't do), and people won't get annoyed so long as you don't start trying to convince them over the phone that your press release is a "must-read."

Should you decide to send your press release in email format, send it directly in the body of the email. Do not send attachments! Many people won't even bother opening them, and some email programs will delete them automatically.

If you are mailing your press release, don't fold the paper like it is a letter. Fold it so that the first thing the reporter will see is your heading and headline.

And should you decide that fax or snail mail is the best choice, make sure that you use a legible font. There is absolutely no need to use fancy, ornate fonts. Clear and easy-to-read lettering will be best.

Success Story: Keith Milsom of AnythingLeft-Handed.com

AnythingLeft-Handed.com
started out as a small shop in London selling left-handed items to left-handed people. By putting that business on the Internet saw them access to the world - and the world spent over $900,000 at Keith Milsom's store in 2011!

Writing and distributing information-packed press releases is one of the key strategies that Keith has utilized in building his brick-and-mortar business into a phenomenal online success.

Keith's, wife, Lauren, writes most of the press releases for their company, which highlight special events like their annual "Left-Hander's Day." new product releases, and details on their corporate profile - which is an ideal way to attract attention from magazines or Web sites that might want to do a spotlight article on their business.

One of the most effective press releases published by Keith and Lauren highlighted a survey they were taking of left-handed people. The story of the survey was picked up by such a wide variety of media sources - from hobby magazines to corporate newsletters - that their results were much more comprehensive and helpful than they could possibly have imagined.

In their experience you can be very successful with press releases if you ...

1. Keep a current list of media contacts

2. Only send relevant information to your media contacts

3. Write from the point of view of your customers

4. Write your press releases so the journalists can see that it would be easy for them to make a good news story out of it

5. Be concise and interesting

A well-written press release does a lot of the journalists' work for them by making it obvious why and how this story will appeal to their audience and making it easy for them to follow up.

So press releases can be an extremely powerful marketing tool but you need to be sure that you follow a few very important rules in order to ensure that your message has the best possible chance of catching a reporter's eye.

If you find yourself tempted to stray from these basic rules, take a moment to think about the over-tired overworked reporter who will be reading it. Their time is limited their patience is short, and their trash can is close at hand!

The very best way to guarantee that your press release has a chance of getting noticed is to follow the advice I've given you. Remember to strategically plan your angle so that it's interesting, unique and relevant to the audience. Then make sure that your message is short and to the point.

Do you have any further tips you can share about press releases? Please share them in our comment section below!