Five Steps to a Successful Press Release

person using laptop keyboard

Part of my "Marketing Doesn't Have to Be Hard" series, in my recent post, Promote Your Business without Blowing your Budget, I provided examples of general press-worthy topics that can garner valuable publicity for your small to medium sized business without costing a dime. Once you have chosen your topic, promoting your news, events, and products is as easy as writing a press release.

As a newspaper and magazine editor for longer than I care to say, I have written hundreds and have read thousands of press releases. With all of this experience, I have concluded that the majority of press releases are far too long to spark the media’s attention—which is the primary objective. The result in each case is a lost opportunity for an essentially free advertising venue. These lost opportunities can easily be avoided by following the best practices for format, content, structure, and components.

Guidelines for format and content:

  • Press releases should always be on company letterhead. If you email your release, don’t embed it in the body of your email. Instead, send it as an attachment.
  • Press releases should be one page. The possibility of your release being read decreases as your number of pages increase. Editors don’t have time to read a three-page release.
  • “PRESS RELEASE” should appear at the top right with contact Information beneath it. Your contact person should be readily available and responsive in the days following the release. Include email and cell phone numbers so that editors can reach your contact with questions or for additional information.
  • Include a picture or visual that is relevant to the topic of the release. This may be a headshot of a new employee, a rendering of your new building, or a group picture for a charitable event. If you cannot source a picture or other visual, at the very least, include your company logo. Images garner eyeballs, and editors prefer to publish pieces they believe will generate attention and interest. Stay tuned for the next post in this series, which will explain how to take press-worthy pictures.

Structure and sequence of components:

  1. Headline: Keep your headline simple and under 50 characters with spaces. If you use Microsoft Word, highlight your text headline and click on the numbers of words at the bottom left of the screen to see how many characters it contains. Be concise and compelling! If you find it difficult to use an economy of words, combine a headline that conveys the main point with a subhead that provides support.
  2. Paragraph 1: Always start with the date and your city. I always liked the “DALLAS, TX (April 10, 2018)” format to start. Then explain the who, what, when, and where of your release. Keep it simple and factual. My first editor once told me that if you can’t prove it, you can’t print it. With that in mind, avoid subjectivity, especially all words that end in est. There is no room for superlatives like best, easiest, or smartest in a press release. It’s all about the facts.
  3. Paragraph 2 Quote: This is where you can inject a powerful emotional appeal with a quote from the boss, event organizer, or someone directly involved with the subject matter of your release. In this paragraph, you can be descriptive and even subjective, because you’re quoting someone who is a part of the story. While you, the writer, can’t state for a fact that the open house is going to be the greatest, you can quote an event organizer saying that “Our open house is going to be the greatest open house ever, with people attending from all over the state.” It’s your quote; use it to convey excitement.
  4. Third Paragraph: If a third paragraph is necessary, use it to wrap up the press release with any supporting details that weren’t included in the first and second paragraphs. This information could be supplied in an additional quote from a secondary person who is involved in the story.
  5. About Us: Conclude with this section, which should be separated with one or two additional spaces from the last paragraph of the release. Here, provide information about your company, its history, years in business, and locations. Include a general phone and website address. Editors will use that information as filler in stories, and may visit your website to see if they can find additional information or assets.

Once you have mastered the simple art of press releases, make a habit of sending them on a weekly or, at least, monthly basis to your local news outlets. These may include traditional broadcast and print media, as well as digital media. Not only are press releases a great way to garner free publicity, but they also establish your business as an industry leader. The next time a local editor is looking for a quote from someone in your industry, they may turn to your contact for an informed observation or opinion.

In my next post, I will discuss how you can apply content marketing strategies to turn a press release (or any article you generate) into at least four different types of social media posts. Send me a press release and maybe I’ll use yours as an example too.

Alicia Ellis

About the Author

Alicia Ellis is the Content Strategy & Operations Manager for ECI and has been with the company for more than five years. Prior to her content position, Alicia was the Field Marketing Manager for ECI's Distribution and Field Service Divisions. Alicia spent six years as the Director of Marketing & Communications for the Independent Office Products & Furniture Dealers Association (IOPFDA) and 12 years prior to that as editor in chief of many dealer trade publications including imageSource and Office World News. Alicia lives in Baltimore City with her husband of 30 years, Jeff, and is a tenor drummer for Shamrock & Thistle Pipe and Drum Marching Band.