by Cory Fetter
It was more than a century ago when Ivy Lee issued what many consider to be the first press release after the tragic 1906 Atlantic City train wreck. Lee convinced leadership at the Pennsylvania Railroad to immediately share key information with journalists, allowing him to control the story and prevent rumors and misinformation from running rampant. After so many years, companies large and small still leverage the power of a well-written press release. Why? Let’s explore that.
For the most part, a press release is the most common and straightforward way for companies to share information with media. Everything from the structure to the tone is designed for their consumption. A release also serves as a historical archive for your business. As Public Relations Manager, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve searched for Infusionsoft’s releases from three plus years ago to pull data or an anecdote for something I’m currently working on – it’s really a lifesaver given my inability to remember what restaurant I ate at last weekend, let alone a stat from three years ago!
Before we jump into how to write a press release that’ll actually get read, you need to know what media actually considers to be newsworthy.
Understanding what is newsworthy and what is not
I coauthored an e-book, “Get Your Business Noticed: An Introduction to PR for Small Business” that gets into this more deeply, but here’s the skinny.
Before investing precious time developing a release, make sure it’s actually newsworthy. (Tweet this!) Ask yourself, why will people care about what I have to say? Media commonly look for stories incorporating one or more of the seven elements below. Use this as a test to gauge whether or not it’s worth investing time in developing a release.
Is this news important or interesting to a large number of people in your community, state, country or the world? The broader the impact, the more newsworthy the story.
Local media crave local stories. If you’re hosting an event that might not be newsworthy for a national publication but could very likely be newsworthy to a community paper or local broadcast company.
This can be relative but typically, newsworthiness is increased when events are recent. If something important happened yesterday, don’t wait a week to share it.
Events involving well-known individuals or organizations can make something newsworthy.
The media loves controversies! Does your business stand for a cause or purpose? If you have a controversial perspective, you’ve just increased your newsworthiness.
Make note of the three “U’s”: unexpected, unusual and unorthodox. Would a fundraiser with a cocktail reception make news? Possibly — if it satisfies one of the seven elements — but let’s say you host an annual fundraiser to collect clothes for a nonprofit and everyone strips down to their underwear in public to celebrate the event? Believe it or not, it’s an actual event that gets plenty of local and national coverage.
7. Human Interest
This is the story where a man saves a puppy from a storm drain, or someone overcomes adversity to achieve his or her dreams. Are you doing anything that people would find entertaining or enlightening?
I commonly see small businesses rushing to develop a release without asking themselves if what they want to share is actually newsworthy. Make sure to keep these seven elements in mind if you’re hoping to attract media interest. Now that you have a solid understanding of what’s newsworthy and what’s not, let’s get down and dirty with how to write a release that actually gets read.
The ABC’s of writing a press release
Media are bombarded with press releases every day. The competition is tough, so it’s important your release stands out and is developed in a way the media like to consume information. I could spend time on going over how to format a release, but you can more or less model yours off one of Infusionsoft’s many releases here. Instead I’ll rather use this post to share some best practices.
1. It all comes down to the headline
Media spend just two seconds scanning headlines of releases to determine if they should continue reading. Remember, their inbox is flooded with releases every single day, so you have to do everything you can to make yours stick out.
Write a headline that emphasizes the most interesting element from the seven outlined above.
Here's an example: Former Intuit Executive Joins Infusionsoft as Chief Product Officer
An executive announcement alone may not appeal to media but the fact that this leader was a former executive at a large brand name company automatically adds interest. This checks the “prominence” box.
2. The inverted pyramid
Once you’ve crafted a solid headline, you now need to follow that up with the most important, relevant and interesting news you’ve got.
One of my favorite books, Made to Stick by Chip and Dan Heath, talks about how the inverted pyramid came about during the Civil War era. Reporters were using military telegraphs to transmit stories home, but ran the risk of being cut off at any moment. They could have been bumped by military personnel or the line could have been completely lost, which was common during battles. Never knowing how much time they had, they sent the most important information first.
So in just one to two sentences, note your most important, relevant and interesting news you’ve got! Everything thereafter should follow in order of decreasing importance. An example below is from a release we developed for a survey we did on small businesses. We lead with the most interesting finding from the survey that would make the media person even more engaged in what we had to share.
Here's an example: Sales and marketing activities are among the most challenging tasks for small business owners, according to Infusionsoft’s new Small Business Sales & Marketing Survey. Generating leads, getting new customers and gaining marketing expertise are some of the biggest challenges small businesses face today.
3. Keep it simple and short
Don’t overcomplicate, oversell or fill your release with complexities! What may seem obvious to you isn’t obvious to others sometimes, and it’d be a shame if you had something very newsworthy but it never got picked up because the media person couldn’t follow what you had to say.
Imagine you had to boil your news down to just a few sentences to explain it to your grandparents. Keep it simple and cut to the chase. Don’t over-glorify something if it’s not warranted, either. Don’t say something is revolutionary unless it’s truly revolutionary—do a quick pulse check and go to Google News and search the word “revolutionary” or “groundbreaking” to see what stories media actually consider to be revolutionary or groundbreaking.
Don’t fill your release with too much content, either. Give them the essential information and if they’re interested, they’ll reach out to you for more.
Now you know what’s newsworthy and what’s not. And you have the basics for writing a solid release that’ll actually get read! Now what? There’s a whole strategy for effective ways to share your release with the world, which is another blog post in and of itself. Fortunately, I have that handy e-book I mentioned earlier, which is packed full of information on how to build a media list to send your release to and how to craft the all mighty email pitch that’ll get someone to read your release.