20/01/2011

By Lyle Closs, AxiCom

Despite the massive growth of digital and social media there is still a place for the humble press release in any company’s communications programme. Press releases enable you to get a simple message across to important audiences, and can open doors for further media contact and coverage.

The challenge though is that the journalists you are trying to reach are incredibly busy these days, and have a strong sense of what they may and may not be interested in. So badly targeted and badly written press releases will go straight into the bin.

“But my news is really interesting and important!”

Well, it may be fascinating to you and your sales team, but that doesn’t mean it’s interesting to the editor of ‘Widget Daily’ or the publication’s readers. Publishers sell what readers want to read. If they provide high quality information in their publication, more people read it, their circulation grows, and then they can charge more for advertising. If they provide garbage for their readers, the circulation will decline, and so will advertising revenues. So garbage goes in the bin.

It is not unusual for a journalist to receive more than 200 press releases a day. Typically they will use from one to 10 of those stories. So, the press release has to be good, or it’s a waste of your time and money. But what makes a good press release?

A good angle

The main story being communicated by the press release must be interesting, and it must be summarised in the headline. "Gormleigh to employ 500 local people in new Slough HQ" may well interest a local journalist or editor. It probably won’t be of interest to any publications in the UK. You might get the Slough Observer interested, but nobody is interested in companies changing offices. However “Gormleigh to employ 500 local people in new Slough HQ” will interest a journalist or editor. People and jobs win out over dull offices every time.

Write them properly

The best way to understand how to write a press release is to read the news section of the magazines you want the story to go in. That’s how your release should be written. Note that words like ‘excellent’ and ‘leading’ do not appear anywhere in the news — so why write them? The ideal release is one that your target journalist would be comfortable to use without changing a word.

Target them properly

Only send releases to publications that are going to be interested in the story. The bane of every journalist’s life is receiving press releases that are inappropriate for their readership.

On the other hand, the better you can target your release, the more likely it is to be used. Multiple versions of a story, with each version closely targeting a particular sector, will achieve more than one generic article splashed out to as many people as possible.

Digital and social media creates separate challenges — some bloggers are happy to receive press releases on their specific subject, while others will not. It’s best to find out first rather than annoying people you want to keep on side.

The most frustrating comment heard by PRs is ‘anyone can write a press release and get coverage’. This is absolutely not true. Well-written releases prepared by people who understand the press and what they need will get used. Badly written releases with poor angles go straight to the Recycle bin.

Lyle Closs is Managing Director Europe of AxiCom — www.axicom.com