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By BRADLEY J. SUGARS
The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.Copyright © 2006 Bradley J. Sugars
All rights reserved.
Part 1 Press Releases
Charlie, the first thing we'll look at today is a marketing tool called a press release. Some call it a media release or a news release. It's the same thing. Got that?"
"Yeah, man. No worries. But isn't that something those fancy PR-types need to do?"
"Not really, Charlie. Once you know how, it's very easy. Not only that, they can be a really effective way of getting expensive publicity for your business, for free."
"Yes, I realize how powerful they can be. That's why I always assumed they need to be produced by expensive PR firms. And I never really had the money to pay for that."
"There are lots of businesses that have the same idea, Charlie. And that's why when you begin producing your own, you'll gain an important advantage over your opposition. So, let's get started, shall we?"
What Is a Successful Press Release?
Simply speaking, any press release that first gets published, and second leads to increased store traffic and sales, is successful. But press releases aren't just used to increase business. They play a very important role in helping to change perceptions or counter negative publicity a business may have suffered.
Used properly, press releases are incredibly powerful promotional tools, and every business should make use of them.
Your aim, when writing a press release, is to get free publicity. Whether you're moving to a new location or launching a new product, if you can generate free media coverage, it's well worth it.
You need to understand the value of free publicity. Unlike advertising, where you are paying to reach a skeptical public, the beauty of press releases is they rely on independent people to promote your business for you. That's right—they result in journalists giving you coverage in their media.
The people rely on these journalists to give them the facts. And because they are independent, they are seen credible as sources of information. If a journalist says your product is the best on the market, the public will believe it.
What Makes a Successful Press Release?
There are a number of key elements that combine to make a successful press release. The most important of these is its appeal or news angle. I'll be discussing this a little later on.
The headline needs to convey the message quickly. I'll show you how to write effective headlines shortly. I'll also show you which photographs to include for maximum impact and what angles earn the highest readership. You'll also discover which section of the publication your story should appear in, as well as the correct length and layout for your press release.
The Seven Steps to Writing Successful Press Releases
Step 1: Who Are You Targeting?
You need to consider whom it is you want to read the story or article when it is eventually published, and whom it is you want to read the press release.
Let's consider the first one. We are talking here about those who make up your target market. They are the people who do business with you now, as well as those you'd like to do business with in the future.
Understand this: If you don't know who the members of your target market are, it's almost impossible to attract them to your business. Imagine trying to get a date without knowing the gender you're interested in? You'd be taking a "let's see" approach. Unfortunately, the "let's see" approach tends to fail every time when it comes to generating publicity for your business. You won't see any results in the media, and you certainly won't see any new customers.
You really do need to know exactly who you are dealing with, what their interests are, and what's going to make them buy from you. If you don't, you're really just taking your chances.
So let's get specific. What people are most likely to be interested in your product or service? Here are some guidelines:
Age: How old are they? Don't just say all ages. I want to create a picture in your mind of your average customers. Think of an age that represents most of them.
Sex: Are they male or female? Half and half is too broad. Practically every business is split one way or the other. Give it some real thought. Who spends more and visits most often?
Income: How much do they earn? Do they make a great living (in which case quality would be an issue), or are they scraping for every dollar and always looking for the best deal? It's essential that you find this out.
Where do they live? Are they local, or do they come from miles around to deal with you? This will be important when deciding how to communicate with them.
What are their interests? This is important to know when writing a press release. If you don't know what interests them, how are you going to know what sort of article will interest them?
Now let's consider the other important target of your press release—the person who will be reading it. No, I don't mean the readers who make up your target market. I mean the person who'll read it way before the target market ever does. This is the journalist you want to make contact with to get your press release published. This is closely linked with Step 2, so consider this journalist part and parcel of the same topic.
To work out whom to address your press release to, call the publication or station that you want to target, and ask who looks after the relevant section or program. You'll find out more about how to go about contacting these people later on, but for now, you simply need to know who the journalist is.
Step 2: Where Should You Run Your Article?
Now that you've identified whom you want to target, you need to find a publication or station that reaches them. There may be a number of suitable options, so to find out which could work best for you, try them all, and test and measure the results.
Of course, there's no reason why you can't send your press release to anyone you think might run with it. Understand that you're not paying for this exposure. Regardless of how many people read the publication or listen to the station, it can still be very worthwhile. The only time you'll have to restrict whom you send your press release to is when you're offering a scoop, but more on that later.
Think about what radio stations that members of your target market listen to, what television stations they watch, and what they read. Then consider what sections of those publications or stations they prefer.
Newspapers are the most common recipients of press releases. Newspaper publicity can be quite effective, as people tend to hold onto the paper, and you can include more detail than you can with radio and television.
Here's a brief outline of the major types of publications best suited for press releases:
These are papers that are published six or seven days a week. Circulation figures can vary greatly from day to day. They have larger circulations than weekly papers and attract wealthier readers. If you sell expensive items, luxury services, or have a sale that lasts only a few days, then daily publications are more effective than weeklies.
These are published once a week and are usually delivered free of charge to homes. Because they are delivered to specific areas, they can be very effective for businesses that target low-income earners.
Because most magazines are national publications, they will generally not be interested in local news stories. You need to make sure your story has wide appeal to stand a chance here. Magazines offer one major advantage—they target people with specific interests. For example, a company that manufactures bull bars would send its press release to a 4WD magazine, and a hose manufacturer could target a gardening magazine.
These tend to have very low readership levels. They often rely on companies' sending in press releases, and in this way source information for articles. It's normally very easy to get coverage in these publications.
Schools, sporting groups, and other organizations may have newsletters that you can run articles in. Because of their low circulation and limited content, most will not be worth your time and effort. However, they can provide useful publicity, especially if you live in a small community or regional area or if the newsletter is popular with a specific industry.
You may be able to request when your story runs, as most radio stations have local news updates on a regular basis. Of course, if your story is big enough, there's no reason why it wouldn't get a mention during every update. Remember this: You're not paying for this publicity. How, where, and when your press release is used is purely at the discretion of the journalists involved.
When dealing with your local TV station, you're probably going to be limited as to when your story will be run. Most stations have only one or two hours allocated to local stories each evening.
Step 3: What Are You Going to Say?
There are probably many things you'd like to say to promote your business. But you need to remember the media are not there as your free advertising vehicle. If what you have to say isn't newsworthy, it won't be used.
To give you an idea of what I mean, let's look at a store that imports rugs. If the store is having a sale, it would probably like to say something like, "Huge sale, 70 percent off all rugs." The problem with this is it sounds like an ad. It doesn't have a news angle.
Now if they were to approach it from a different angle, it could get exceptional coverage. The store could say, "The decline of overseas currencies is killing small business." It could go on to say that because of the decline of the Asian dollar, cheap rugs are flooding the market. It could say it has had to reduce its top-quality stock by up to 70 percent, and if the current trend continues, many other local businesses could soon be feeling the pinch.
Notice how a different angle can change a story. You can still get your basic message across—that you are having a sale—only this time you give the impression that your stock is better and that buyers need to beware of cheaper, inferior products.
If a press release doesn't have a news angle, it won't get published. Don't even waste your time trying. You need to be saying something to your potential readers; there must be a strong story line to attract their interest. Any selling message you include must be subtle. It mustn't get in the way of the story. Remember, this kind of unpaid promotion is a great way to get your name out there in the marketplace. Try to find an important point of difference or unusual benefit for customers to deal with you, as well as a newsworthy angle.
Keep in mind that "news" must be just that. Writing a press release about a product that's been on the market for years just won't work. It needs to contain something new and interesting.
Let's consider what a newsworthy point of difference might be. Stop and think for a moment about the things that make your business unusual. Then ask yourself whether those differences are truly newsworthy. For example, if you want to promote a steak and seafood restaurant, you'd be hard pressed to stand out. But what if your steakhouse offered to drive patrons home, in their own cars, after they'd had too much to drink? That would certainly be worth promoting.
Try and find a human-interest angle. For example, if a real estate agent had sold 42 houses to a particular family over a 78-year period that covered three generations, the family could speak about the exceptional customer service that kept it coming back.
Perhaps you can find a newsworthy angle. Perhaps you've just opened a new room in your restaurant where customers get a massage before they dine. Perhaps you have an author coming to your restaurant for a book-signing session. You might have been given a prestigious award, or had one of your staff do something amazing for a customer. If something has happened that has genuine interest value, let people know about it. But remember, it must be newsworthy.
Step 4: How to Write Your Press Release
Now that we've covered the basics, it's time to get into the nuts and bolts of how to write a press release.
You need to understand that what you write will most probably get changed by the editor or journalist assigned to your article. Regardless, the idea is to include as much detail as possible. The easier you make the journalist's job, the greater your chance of success. So let's look at each component of a press release.
The most important part of the press release is the headline. This is where you either sell your idea to the journalist, or you have your article thrown in the bin. We'll cover more about writing effective headlines later on, but for the moment we'll stick to the basics.
Your headline needs to be big, and it needs to grab attention. If you've never written one before, look at a few newspapers and magazines to get a feel. If you're writing one for the broadcast media, you'll need to approach it slightly differently. However, the principles will be the same.
The typeface or font you use can also make a big difference.
Basically, there are two types: sans serif and serif fonts. Sans serif fonts don't have the little "feet" at the bottom of each letter. Studies have shown that people find these fonts far more difficult to read than serif fonts. Serif fonts have the little "feet," which appear to form a line under the words that your eye can follow.
If you want a journalist to read your press release, I suggest you use serif fonts.
The size of the font you use is referred to as the point size. Studies have shown readership doesn't drop off between 14 and 7 point size. But as a general rule, 10 point is ideal.
You should never highlight text in a press release. Don't use bold and never underline any part of it. And don't use all capitals. The only exception is in your headline, and then only if it's common practice for the publication you're sending it to.
To make the text easier to use, break it up into paragraphs, one thought to a paragraph. Block your first paragraph, and then indent subsequent ones.
Once again, a press release is completely different than a print advertisement. You should not use subheadlines in your press release. Stick to using standard paragraphs.
The lead paragraph is all-important. It's where your press release will succeed or fail. If you've written an effective headline, the editor or reporter who's looking over your work will normally make a decision based on this paragraph.
As I mentioned earlier, this paragraph should not be indented. It should be roughly 60 words or less in length. That's all. Because this isn't very long, you must make every word count. What an editor will normally be looking for is the backbone of your story. The editor will generally want to know who is doing what, why, and where the event will take place.
It's imperative that you cover these points in your opening paragraph. Once again, if you're unsure about how to go about writing your opening few lines, read a number of publications to get a better understanding of what they like. If you're writing for a broadcast medium, you need to make your opening statement "punchy" and to the point. Using a quote, which encompasses the "nuts and bolts" of your story, can help you get your story aired.
Most journalists will edit from the bottom up, therefore any points you want to get across should be packed into the first paragraph. By placing them near the top of your press release, there's a greater chance they'll get mentioned.
This is the part where you expand on your lead paragraph. But by expand, I don't mean ramble on. You need to stick to the facts and keep it interesting. In the body of your press release, you need to explain what's special or unique about your product or service.
Remember, it has to be something worthwhile. Just because something is important to you doesn't mean it's important to somebody else. If you're selling a new product, explain what it does for the users and how it operates. If it has any unusual features, then this is the time to mention them.
The body copy is also the place where you should use any quotes you may have. But only use quotes if they're relevant. Don't use them just because you liked what someone said about you unless it's important to the story.
Make sure that if you've quoted another source, you explain clearly who or what that source is and, if possible, how the editor can verify those facts. Newspapers will take a very dim view of anyone who "alters" the facts, particularly if it results in their getting sued. Always make sure you have a way of proving what you say.
Your press release should tell a story and be easy to read. When you finish writing it, get someone to look it over and critique it for you. Ask yourself seriously if anyone else would find it newsworthy.
Sending press releases to the media is not the sort of thing you should do week in and week out. If you send in too many uninteresting article ideas, chances are when you actually have a good one, it'll get ignored. So if it isn't honestly interesting, don't send it in.
Some Basic Considerations
Whenever you write a press release, there are seven fundamental rules you must follow.
1. Always type the words "PRESS RELEASE" across the top of the page. This makes it easier for members of the newsroom to identify what it is so they can work out who it should go to. Unlike the body of your press release, these words should be set in all caps.
Excerpted from INSTANT PROMOTIONS by BRADLEY J. SUGARS. Copyright © 2006 by Bradley J. Sugars. Excerpted by permission of The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc..
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