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A press release is a written statement issued to media outlets with information on a particular matter relating to your business. The goal is to have media outlets take the information provided in your press release and turn it into a news story for their publication or broadcast. Good press releases share the information in a succinct and compelling manner and are distributed to media outlets that reach your business’s target demographic.
If done correctly, press outreach can be a powerful marketing technique, allowing you to build brand awareness and control the narrative around your business.
“When launching into a new market, it is crucial for us to get local media coverage,” says Gene Caballero, cofounder of GreenPal, a platform for sourcing and hiring lawn care professionals. “Without a mention in the local newspaper or on a local television news station, it takes us six months longer to gain traction.”
If you’ve had trouble generating coverage for your business in the past, don’t worry! Press release writing is an acquired skill. We’ve created this step-by-step guide to explain when it is appropriate to send out a press release, the press release format you should follow, and how to distribute a release for maximum impact. Writing your small business’s press releases is one of the few things you can do at no charge whatsoever and still see a very big return on investment.
The goal of a press release is to have a media outlet share the information you provided with their readers, viewers, or listeners. In order for that to happen, the information in the press release has to be newsworthy. This means it’s about something that has happened or is going to happen, and it is of interest to people outside of your business. Hiring an intern or buying a new coffee machine for the office probably isn’t worthy of a press release, but here are some topics that are:
Sending a press release when your business has a new offering serves the dual purpose of generating media buzz and informing your customers about the new product or service.
When you hire someone for an important position, a press release can serve as a sort of advertisement to people in your industry, letting them know the caliber of talent your business is attracting.
Whether it’s a fundraiser, store opening, or speaking engagement, a press release could attract members of the media to your business’s event.
If you’ve won some kind of business award, or if your business was recognized in a major media outlet, you might decide to send a press release to share the good news.
If your business reached a certain sales milestone, won a litigation case, or filed a patent, you might consider announcing it via a press release.
If there is some kind of significant change to your business, such as a new store location, major holiday sale, or merger or acquisition, it is worth writing a press release about. Even negative changes, such as a key employee resigning, can sometimes be worthy of a press release, if for nothing else than to control the narrative around the story.
Partnerships with other organizations in your community, such as another business, charity organization, or the local government, are effective material for press releases because they appeal to a wider audience.
A press release format consists of seven parts: The release date and your contact information, the headline, the sub-headline, the opening paragraph, the body paragraphs, quotes, and the boilerplate copy. We’ll go through the process for writing each part. Rafe Gomez, co-owner of public relations firm VC Inc. Marketing, recommends sticking to the “three Cs” when writing your press release:
“Clarity, conciseness, and convincingness are essential components in your quest to capture the attention of an editor or journalist. Deviating from the three Cs will create confusion, annoyance, and disinterest on the part of the person you’re seeking to entice, and even if your news has merit, you’ll lose the opportunity to move the process forward.”
On the top line in the upper left margin of the document, you should include the phrasing “FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE” if it is okay for the media to report this news immediately, or “HOLD FOR RELEASE UNTIL [DATE]” if you want to place an embargo on this information for a period of time.
Below that you should include your business contact information, including phone number and email, so that journalists can follow up with further questions. If you’d prefer to use a template, PressReleaseTemplates.net offers 67 different press release templates that you can download, customize, and print for free.
The headline goes below the release date and contact information, and should be centered in the middle of the page. The purpose of the headline is to clearly communicate the news regarding your business in a compelling way.
Ideal headlines are between 30-100 characters, beginning with the name of your business. The headline is the most important part of the press release. If it does not grab the reader’s attention, they will probably not read further. Keeping the three Cs in mind, you should state the most important information as clearly as possible.
Here are some examples of good press release headlines:
While optional, the subheadline is a great opportunity to expand on information provided in the headline and create more engagement. This section should also be 30-100 characters long and provide additional background in the form of names, facts, figures, or answer anything that the headline doesn’t make clear. Here are the subheadings for the aforementioned example headlines:
Press releases follow what is known in journalism parlance as the inverted pyramid writing formula. This might sound complicated but it simply means the most important information needs to come first. Your opening paragraph should answer the who, what, where, when, and why of your story, as clearly as possible. It should also be no longer than 50 words. Further details can be saved for the body paragraphs.
Finally, the opening paragraph needs to be preceded by a dateline, which is a line at the beginning that shows the date and place of the writing. The viability of your press release depends on this opening statement. The reader must be compelled to learn more.
Danielle Gagon, owner of Elevate Virtual Marketing in New Hampshire, says she likes to put herself in her reader’s shoes when crafting her opening headline:
“Humans, by nature, are self-serving. In today’s age of information overload, if you want to grab a reader’s attention, you have to tell them why they should care and do it in the opening paragraph.”
The body paragraphs contain the rest of the information about your topic. Aim for three to five paragraphs and no more than 400 words, or enough so that the press release can fit on a single page. Again, focus on the three Cs, providing all relevant details without being too jargon-y or self-promotional. While you write, try to anticipate questions readers might have about your topic, and answer them in the body.
It can be useful to highlight several aspects or angles of your news story so that journalists have some variety when deciding how they want to cover it. Finally, edit your copy and proofread it.
Eric Johnson, who co-owns a wedding planning business called The Wedding Collective, stresses the importance of staying on topic when writing your press release:
“In a press release, you need to sacrifice an amazing line or paragraph in the interest of keeping on track to tell the best possible story. Many small business owners are so connected to their work that it’s challenging to separate from it enough to provide a bird’s eye view rather than a streetside view.”
All press releases should have at least one or two quotes, ideally from a major stakeholder in the business, such as the owner or CEO. Quotes lend personality and credibility to the press release, and also serve to break up the story. The quote should be incorporated as a standalone paragraph in the body of the press release, and considered part of the overall word count.
Journalists love a good quote, so you should strive to say something interesting or colorful, albeit without putting your brand at risk.
“Try to include two quotes that can act as great, tweetable sound bites,” says Deborah Sweeney, CEO of business formation service MyCorporation and Fundera contributor. “Generally in our press releases, these are quotes that I provide as a CEO, and another party, like a partner or customer, will chime in too.”
The last part of a press release is the boilerplate copy. This goes at the bottom of the page and includes a short description of your business and what it does. If the press release is about more than one business, as in the case of a partnership, there should be boilerplate copy for all businesses involved. To liven up the boilerplate copy, you can include a call to action, inviting the reader to interact with your brand in some way.
“It is not enough to tell people about your new business venture, product, or service. In order to be a successful marketing tool, you must tell readers what you want them to do with this information,” Gagon says. “Do you want them to visit your website or buy your product? Ask for what you want with a clear call to action and link to your website.”
Here are some other pieces of advice to help you write the best press release possible:
A professional sounding press release does not include “I,” “my,” “we,” or “us,” as this zaps credibility.
Including pictures relating to the topic of your press release makes the journalists’ job even easier. William Forshaw, who owns luxury fashion brand Maxwell-Scott, includes a Dropbox link with images and his company logo when sending a press release:
“Journalists are under enormous time constraints, so you want to make it as easy and uncomplicated as possible for them to publish a story.”
You can write an amazing press release, but if you don’t have a good distribution plan, all of your hard work will have been for naught. Depending on the type of news you are sharing, there are two main methods for distribution. Let’s take a look at each one:
Sending your press release directly to individual journalists and editors is a good approach for news items with more localized interest. This process can be fairly time consuming and requires a list of press contacts at the news agencies you are targeting. However, a personalized approach can maximize the impact of your press release.
To start, identify the news organizations that you want to share your press release with. They should be outlets that have a history of covering topics related to your business. If it is a smaller outlet, such as a local newspaper, you can usually contact an editor directly by finding their email on the outlet’s website. Larger publications typically have reporters dedicated to various beats. Look for the reporter who writes about topics relating to your business, and shoot them an email.
The subject line of the email should be the same as the title of your press release. In the body of the email, write a sentence or two explaining why you are reaching out. Try to personalize it by explaining how this news is similar to some of the previous topics they have written about. Your goal is to not only share your news but build a relationship with the reporter or editor so that they report on your business in the future. To do that, you need to show them that you understand what they cover and that you won’t waste their time with frivolous stories.
Next, attach your press release to the email and also paste it in the body. Some reporters have security measures that block attachments, so you want to make sure they see your release one way or another. If you have pictures, add them as an attachment and include them in the body, as well. Or include a link where they can download images from a third-party site like Dropbox.
Once the press release has been sent, it is advisable to follow up via email a few days after sending the release if you have not received a response.
Syndication services allow you to upload your press release for distribution to hundreds of news agencies. While not free, using a syndication service makes sense if you have major news to share that you believe will generate widespread interest. Some of the major players in the space include Cision, eReleases, PR.com, and BusinessWire. Prices depend on the level of distribution desired. eReleases, for example, charges $299 to post on 75 websites and $399 to post on 100 websites.
Lucas Horton, owner of Valeria Custom Jewelry in Dallas says he used a service called PressReleaseJet.com to announce the launch of his business’s new website. “The story was picked up by 20 outlets, giving me 20 quality backlinks as well as some good visibility,” he says.
Another method of distribution is to re-post your press release on various online forums. This is a good practice to do in tandem with other methods of distribution. Some places you should consider re-posting your press release are your company’s website, the publishing platform Medium (set up an account under your business’s name), Quora, Reddit, LinkedIn, and your business’s Facebook account. All of these platforms are free to use and bolster your chances that a reporter or editor will come across your press release organically.
Knowing how and when to send a press release is a necessary skill for small business owners to create publicity and drive sales. When you sit down to write your press release, try and be a storyteller. Journalists are flooded with hundreds of press inquiries, so a little creativity (and personalization) can make a big difference. Also remember that press outreach is a relationship-driven game, and forging a few media friendships could go a long way. If you follow the steps outlined in our guide, you’ll generate the exposure you need to thrive in no time.