Debunking Press Releases

newsiesAt the Tricks and Treats Workshop I talked about how to optimize press releases for the online public, and why you should write and send them consistently. What I did not explain as much, however, is what a press release is and how to write one.

After talking to a few people lately, I’ve realized not everyone gets it. For many, “press release” is synonymous with “article.” Others think it’s a sales pitch. Sometimes when I tell people what I do, they give me blank stares when the words “press” and “release” are repeated back-to-back in a sentence. They have no idea what a press release is.

So, in a nutshell, here’s my go at defining it. After all, it’s hard to optimize a press release if you don’t really know what one is in the first place.

My definition of press release: an announcement to the media and public about something newsworthy, written like a news story.

What does it mean to be “newsworthy?” If people want to read it, then it’s newsworthy. Basically, any announcement of something new with your business could probably be newsworthy. But that’s a whole other blog post.

Here’s what a press release is not:

1.       Marketing or sales copy

2.       An article

3.       A blog

4.       Promotional garbage

5.       Did I mention it’s not marketing or sales copy?

To write a press release, think of how a reporter (not a columnist) would write the story. If you don’t know how one writes, read some newspaper articles. Follow their example. Almost always, a reporter is trying to be non-biased, and tries to communicate the news or story as clearly and straightforward as possible.

Press releases can drive traffic to your site, increase organic search engine optimization, and can greatly enhance your company’s image and provide instant credibility — but only if reporters and bloggers publish your release or write a story from it. If you ever want a press release to be picked up by media and bloggers, write the way they would write it. They are likely never going to publish any exaggerated promotional material. They will publish something that their readers will want to read. Write it as if they could just take what you have and insert it into their publication.

Press releases should:

1.       Be non-biased

2.       Have no exaggerations

3.       Have no clichés

4.       Use quotes (from multiple people if you can)

5.       Contain the facts

6.       Contain the “Who,” “What,” “Where,” and “How” of the story

7.       Written in the Inverted Pyramid and AP style

8.       Be submitted to the right editor for publication

Editors and reporters are not paid to help you promote your business. They work long hours trying to fill up their sections of the paper and write stories and blog posts every day. That means they often depend on good releases to provide their audience content. If a press release is not written well, or it’s not written about something that a specific reporter covers, then it will be deleted as soon as it hits their inbox. If it is written well, and you write them consistently, you can generate buzz, both online and in the mainstream media, that can snowball quickly and bring positive exposure and website traffic that will boost your business.

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5 Comments

  1. Luke Hopkin says

    Thanks Dan, this helps a lot. I am wondering if there is a “rule of thumb” for the length of a press release. I suppose if they are too long they won’t even get read by the editors. But if they are two short they won’t provide enough material to be interesting.

  2. Dan says

    There are points to both short and long news releases. With more words, you can insert more links, which is of course better for SEO purposes. But, you’re right, if it’s too long, reporters won’t read it as much.

    I’d shoot for about 400-500 words. That way you can get 4 to 5 links without it being too wordy. Also, if you can’t get 400 words, then you probably don’t have enough newsworthy information to submit a press release in the first place. Just make sure all the important information is in the title, subtitle and first two paragraphs.

    Luke, since your a member, you can log on and view an old webinar we did that discusses more about optimizing and writing releases.

  3. rajesh says

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  4. Janet Thaeler says

    Dan,
    I’m a huge fan of online press releases because they can drive so much traffic and even sales. I just wrote a book about it called “I Need a Killer Press Release, Now What??” I spent an entire chapter in the book and on my DVD on being newsworthy. It’s a challenge for many.

    I’d look at news rooms of companies, search online news sites like PRWeb or Business Wire. They have search boxes that let you find news. Search on an industry term or topic and see what others have written. This can inspire you. Also subscribe to HARO http://www.helpareporter.com to get actual pitches from journalists and bloggers.

    More tips at http://www.onlineprbook.com/blog or @onlineprbook

    Janet

  5. Dan says

    Janet,

    Thanks for commenting. I listened to you recently in a Vocus Webinar, and of course, follow you on Twitter. Good advice. And, I agree, HARO is a fantastic resource — not just because it helps you pitch stories, but it also gives you an idea of story trends in the media.

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