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Although press releases have evolved, they have not disappeared; they remain a core public relations tool for businesses of all sizes. Polished publicity releases can be especially effective for smaller businesses and local businesses that don’t have outsize marketing budgets.  

Besides distributing press releases to the media in the traditional fashion, businesses can place them on the company website, publicize them through social media, and distribute them to bloggers and other social media influencers. Owned media is a crucial distribution channel. Press releases posted on a company’s website can sometimes attract more traffic than media articles reporting the news.

Simply writing a press release about anything and distributing it helter-skelter to publishers is unlikely to produce meaningful results and may even backfire. Journalists will ignore it or even be annoyed. To be successful, press releases must be planned, written, illustrated and disseminated properly.

Before you distribute a press release, ask yourself the following questions.

Is it newsworthy? In other words, why should readers care? The release should be unique, new and informative or helpful for your audience. “New” is the biggest part of “news.” Quality releases tell a story; they are not advertisements or marketing pamphlets.

Who is your audience? Consider which markets interest your organization – and, just as importantly, which audiences are likely to be interested in your announcement. Is your audience comprised of consumers or business professionals? Will you target a geographic area, business topic or a certain type of professional? Defining your audience will help find relevant material and determine how best to distribute and promote the release. Aiming at specific audiences through targeted distribution, such as trade journals in your industry niche, is a basic requirement for press release success.

Is the news release optimized for search engines? Include keywords in the headline, subheads, anchor link text, and within the body of the text. Search engine optimization (SEO) is important to gain placement in search results, although Google’s algorithm punishes content mills that churn out releases filled with spammy, “unnatural” links. Follow Google’s rules about anchor text, and avoid stuffing the release with keywords by repeating them.

Is it well written? The best press releases are succinct, straightforward and free of clichés and industry buzzwords. Placing the hook in the headline and first sentence is the best way to win attention – especially from journalists or editors who will decide whether or not to publish the story. If distributing the release through email, make your key pitch point in your email cover note. Do not attach the news release file to the email. Use the email cover note to provide a link to the news release and its visuals. Also include your contact information.

Do you have a quote? A quote from a top executive or company expert can personalize and spice up the release. However, long-winded quotes filled with jargon and flowery praise for company products are likely to be deleted.

What visuals do you have? Research shows that most people including journalists tend to learn better through visuals and are more likely to interact with images, videos and audio. Editors are more likely the run stories that include interesting visuals. A Business Wire white paper recommends including color images rather than black and white ones, including audio, and combining words and images to improve the viewer’s comprehension.

How will you distribute the press release? Creating your own custom list of traditional and digital media outlets before you send the release will improve the quality of the release and its distribution. Most experienced PR folks now distribute their press releases directly to specific publications and journalists that they have worked with in the past or that would be interested in the story based on the content they typically cover.

Unless they have arranged an exclusive with a prominent publication, most PR pros also use a press release distribution service such as Business Wire to reach other news sources. In cases where they have granted an exclusive, they may also use a news release service to distribute a substantively different version of the story (different information, different angle, different people featured) a few weeks after the exclusive is published.

Where else can you use it? Repurposing the release can get more mileage out of the content. PR can modify and expand the release for a company blog or create a video interview based on the release.

How will you determine success of the press release? A media monitoring and measurement service can find where the story has appeared across all media, including social media mentions that can be just as important as traditional news media placements. The monitoring services often include customizable PR measurement dashboards that integrate results from print, online news, broadcast, social media and analytics from corporate and brand websites.

Bottom Line: Press releases remain a superb tool for spreading company news as long the business follows best practices while preparing and distributing them and tracks and measures their effectiveness. Addressing these questions will help produce effective and successful press releases that deliver measurable public relations results.