The Startup’s Guide to Writing Press Releases

New press release daily newspaper headline

Despite the unending variety of seemingly different channels available to you as a startup to disseminate your message and get the word out about your products, there essentially only three types of marketing: paid media, owned media, and earned media. Paid media is when you pay for someone else to talk about you, owned media is when you talk about yourself, and earned media is when others talk about you–not because you’ve paid them–but simply because you’re worth talking about. Press releases are perhaps the most well-known, time-tested forms of communication that fall within this last category.

A “press release” is just what it sounds like–it’s a release of something to the press. You will typically write a press release when you release a product, form a partnership, hire a high-profile employee, engage in some kind of philanthropic endeavor, reach an unprecedented financial milestone, or anything that the journalists, bloggers, researchers, and professional organizations in your industry might find newsworthy.

Understanding what a press release is should give you insight into how it should be written. Your audience–at least directly–is not your customer. Your audience is the media. You should never write a press release like an advertisement, and it should never sound promotional. Write objectively, in third person. You aren’t trying to sell your product; you’re trying to sell your announcement. So write journalistically. You want those who come across it to see it as news and not propaganda.

So how do you write a press release? There are a variety of formats, and there is no right answer. Some people will tell you that there are certain formats that are more likely to be read and picked up. I am less certain. Journalists are smart, and they are trained to dig past the surface and go straight for the content. If there is one rule, it is this: state and describe your announcement clearly and plainly. Don’t make the reader work too hard to understand what you’re trying to say. Just say it.

If you’ve never written one before and feel as though you might need some direction, the following is an outline of things you’ll want to include in a press release and how you might go about presenting them:

  • Title. I cannot stress enough, that, you need to be direct, and the title is the most important part of the press release for doing it. If the title sounds like garbage, the body won’t be read. Here’s how to structure the title: “Your Company (Acme Restaurant) Verbs(Introduces/Reveals/Hires/Acquires/Receives/Changes/Grows/Joins) Something (An Exotic Menu Item/A Healthcare Initiative/A James Beard Award-Winning Chef/Restaurant X/Its Third Michelin Star/The Process for Sourcing Vegetables/Beyond Acme County/Restaurant Z in Community Project).” It’s as simple as that. Those are the kinds of titles that will get your release read.
  • Date and Location. This is fairly straightforward, but it is important because it gives credence to your announcement actually being a newsworthy event. If it happens in a certain time and place, it’s news.
  • Introduction. An introduction is merely an explanation of the title. It allows you to say what your company does (Acme Restaurant, a fine-dining Italian venue from Acme County specializing in gluten-free pasta, announced today that…) as well as what your announcement means to the general public (Because of this expansion, Acme will be hiring 80 new people from Acme County to fill its restaurants).
  • Quote. Getting a quote from someone in the business, a trusted commentator in the industry, or a customer of the business is important for two reasons. First, since it’s a quote, journalists cannot change it. It’s the one thing they have to reprint directly if they’re going to use it. More importantly, though, it adds credibility to the release. Get a quote from someone important explaining why the announcement does matter.
  • Exposition. After the quote, continue explaining the details of the release. Briefly list out the features of the products you are releasing, the professional history of the high-profile employee you are hiring, or details of your plan to revitalize the community with your non-profit partnership. If you have another quote, you can work it into the middle of your exposition–as long as the transition is seamless. But don’t make this section too long if you want it to be read.
  • Conclusion. The conclusion is usually just one sentence highlighting the next steps following the announcement. For example, “Acme Restaurant will finalize the details of the contract and begin sourcing its vegetables through Acme Farmers Cooperative next Tuesday.”
  • Media Contact. Give the name, title, phone number, and email address of the person who will be responsible for handling contact with the media in regards to the press release.
  • Boilerplate Statement. Essentially, this is your company bio. It will go on every press release that you write. Try not to use the same bio as you do from your website or other marketing material. Have a journalistically-themed one specific for your press releases.

The interesting thing about press releases in the age of the Internet and social media is that the audience is so much broader than it used to be. There are no longer only a few newspapers or televisions channels that control the distribution of news. In an era of countless bloggers, podcasters, and online video journalists, media has been democratized. So, as you’re writing for “the media,” remember that you aren’t just writing for Channel 7 or the Acme County Herald. You’re writing for anyone and everyone who might be interested in spreading your message.

It may be more beneficial for you to target smaller entities for your release. Connect with popular bloggers in your industry. Oftentimes, more low-profile online news sources will be more willing to spread your release. There are fewer barriers for them to overcome, and they are often more flexible in what they share than traditional news organizations. Moreover, the traditional news outlets often do online research to discover what bloggers are writing about in order to develop their stories.

However you decide to disseminate your release, remember to write clearly and straightforwardly. Be a journalist, not a marketer.

douglasrice
Douglas E Rice is The Small Business Storyteller, a digital media marketing consultant who helps small business people use the power of the web to tell their brand stories. He has a Bachelors of Science from the University of Kentucky and is currently earning his Masters of Business Administration at Youngstown State University. Doug blogs daily on social media, marketing, and small business concerns at http://www.douglaserice.com and hosts #StoryChat on Twitter Thursdays at 1opm EST.
douglasrice
douglasrice


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