We’ve interviewed some of the industry’s leading PR firms to find out what works and what doesn’t when it comes to constructing a press release. Here’s what they came up with!
Q: What would be your best tip for constructing an effective press release for a startup business on a tight budget?
With all the changes that the PR industry has withstood over the past decade – brought on largely by the advent of digital and social media – I still think the basic press release is a useful tool.
A well written and concise press release provides you with the opportunity to begin a conversation with the media – whether it is the financial editor of The Times or a key industry blogger. In addition, a release serves to cement the agreement between you and your client on the exact USPs of the product or service, which is integral to effectively communicating with the media and/or other stakeholders.
When crafting a press release, basic rules still apply. The main elements include a pithy header, followed by a summation of why they should keep on reading – either in a subhead or in the first graph. The release should include other essential ingredients: what is the direct benefit to the customer, how is it different from its competitors (particularly relevant to a start-up), and how, when and where can you get it? Also, many an editor has complained that prices and images are not readily available, either within the press release or immediately upon contact with the PR.
A good release from a start-up should capture the imagination of the editor on how, when and why this new product or service can enhance or change the life of their readers. A great deal of passion and just the right level of detail; both are key!
Jeannine Wheeler, http://www.mobas.com/
My tip would be to cut the crap! Keep sales plugs to a minimum and concentrate on trimming the release down to the cold hard facts. Hit them with the wow-factor angle that you think will grab their attention. How do we do this at 10Yetis? We run every story idea through our “Pub-Factor-Angle-Checker”, in short, could you imagine you or your mates (or the mates of the target audience) chatting about your story down the pub? If the answer is no, step away from the keyboard and go have another think. I learned the hard way that most journo’s are not interested in the waffle around a story, they just want the cold hard facts.
That being said, the writing of the release is the easy bit, the toughie is the sell in… you gotta own that sell in “Like a boss”.
Andy Barr, 10 Yetis a leading Tech and PR Consumer Agency
Think of something that makes you stand out… Something that is newsworthy and interesting and just contact your local newspaper’s business desk.
Further afield, why not take advantage of the Internet and get in touch with online magazines, blogs or communities related to one’s target audience and offer to write an article for free? You could provide your expertise while subtly advertising your start-up. For example, if your start-up is about accounting, you could provide some business tips on finance.
Finally, as anyone can be a journalist these days, I would recommend some additional marketing through your own blog. Blogs can be extremely powerful at attracting potential customers as they provide more keywords and thus more chance for people to find you.
Katy Cowan, http://www.weareboomerang.com
Mosaic Media Training
My best advice to a start up would be to invest in some relevant training by PR professionals. We run small, powerful intensive training sessions which will equip delegates with all the skills they need to really have an impact on their shoestring marketing budgets. It’s like whether or not you buy a hungry man fish and chips and feed him once, or buy him a rod and reel and enable him to feed himself forever. Training
empowers people to make a positive impact on their organisation.
Lindsey Gray, http://www.mosaicmediatraining.co.uk
I think the biggest tip I could give to a startup business would be to be concise. Every detail that is included in a press release needs to be relevant so as not to bombard people with too much information.
Much like in any news story, the key details for startup businesses are who, what and where. Who are the company? What do they do? Where are they based? Every word has to count, so when reading it back you should be looking cut back anything you think is just waffle.
When adding the comment it needs to be able to be relevant and something that strikes with the people who will be reading it, making it quite personal. Very few press releases will be used if they don’t include a quote. You should only include quotes from people who are available for interviews for obvious reasons.
Even if the business is quite technical it needs be written so that it can be understood by everyone. I was always told when writing to read my work back ask myself, “would my parents understand it?” This is a good way make the story as easy to understand as possible.
Another good tip would be follow relevant journalists on Twitter to see the sort of stories that they are sharing and writing so that you can tailor your release to be more relevant to their media.
My colleague Lisa Kearney has written a blog post for our website on the ‘Top Ten Tips for Writing a Press Release’ which you can take a look at here: http://prohibitionpr.co.uk/top-ten-tips-for-writing-a-press-release/
Christian Lawley, http://prohibitionpr.co.uk/
Hawk and Feather
Pay attention to detail and be personal.
If a recipient gets any hint that a press release has not been sent specifically to them, it is invariably consigned to the bin.
Take the trouble to find out who the right person is, then send the press release directly. Always address them by name if possible, and of course, double check the document before sending”
Kev Metta – http://www.hawkandfeather.com/
My tip would be to work out the key messages for the release before you start writing, and then for each key message ask the question – so what does this actually mean for the audience I want to reach?
Take for example an IT support service launching. The key messages could include: New IT support service, 24/7 and free call out within 20 mile radius from Northampton. Now take each message and drill down to what it means to the person who you want to buy or engage with you. This can help you to identify the benefit that a reader may get from the news that you are announcing. For instance, a new IT support service could mean a useful resource if my PC breaks down; 24/7 service could be great for people who game into the night, have 24/7 businesses or shift workers; and 20 miles free call out means that the service is available to a wider range of people who may not have considered you before.
If you find that a key message doesn’t actually bring a customer benefit, it probably isn’t a key message or worth including!
Use this information to draft your release answering who, what, when, why and how questions.
Ranbir Sahota, http://www.vitispr.com
A press release is a tool that requires context. It has to carry a story that will resonate with the recipient at the time of arrival, otherwise it is just spam. Make sure you spend the time to identify the strongest angle available and test it. Would it interest someone without ties to your start-up? If you don’t have a strong enough angle, look for ways to tie your story to a wider trend or event and time your approach for maximum effect.
Joe Walton, http://www.real-pr.co.uk/
Smoking Gun PR
We all believe in our businesses but when it comes to PR, we need to be really honest with ourselves about what the genuine USP is – what offering does your start up have that you believe adds true value to the readers/listeners/viewers of your target media? Make sure this USP is new, edgy and exciting and that it tops your press release; journalists get hundreds of releases every day so you need to capture their attention from the off and make sure that they don’t have to dig for news, hand it to them!
Being on a budget means that you have to be creative with your assets – do you have someone within the organisation with a qualification that makes them a good media spokesperson? Be sure to quote them and add their job title within the body of the release – a quick fire way to add another branded facet to your media materials.
Journalists are so used to getting countless emails of PR’s press releases; we all believe in our brands and your start-up will have a USP, it’s just finding a way of creatively conveying this to your target media without it getting lost in a sea of emails. Why not mail hard-copies of your release to the journalists you want to get in touch with – people hardly use snail mail anymore so something that lands on a journos desk will likely standout more than another email.
Rick Cuttridge, Smoking Gun PR, A leading Consumer Tech PR company.
Whether for a start up business or a multi-million pound enterprise a press release needs to contain enough information for a journalist (and reader or viewer) to understand the story. In particular, you need to ensure that you focus on the really newsworthy and new aspects of your story.
Get all the facts across clearly and succinctly but remember a press release is not an advert, so make sure you’ve got some real news to share.
A busy journalist is only likely to read the headline and first paragraph of your release before deciding whether to cover the story, so the headline should be snappy and concise and the first paragraph should summarise your story. If it catches their attention, they will read on.
Include a quote from someone at your organisation and a high quality photo with your release whenever possible – it will help get coverage.
Also, don’t forget the importance of social media in your press release – so make sure you
include links to key websites, Twitter feeds and Facebook, if you have them.
Don’t forget to Include contact details in ‘Notes to Editor’ and details of who to contact if a
journalist wants more info/interviews or photographs.
And lastly, make sure you are available to answer any media enquiries resulting from your press release.
Ethos public relations, http://www.ethos-pr.com
PR Agency One
My advice would be to forget the press release and think about what message the start up wants to deliver first. It might be that a press release isn’t the best tactic to achieve their objectives and maybe they need a PR campaign instead. Also one press release isn’t really going to have much traction, so if a startup is only doing one then maybe I would recommend spending your time and money on some other activity instead.
If there was an urgent need to release a major news story then I would recommend finding a good local freelancer who could do a press release and charge by the hour. I would only recommend using a PR agency if the news is very important and the cost is commensurate with what the press release might achieve.
Don’t over complicate your story and know your audience.
Before putting pen to paper, it is essential that you consider the audience you are targeting and therefore the media you will be approaching. Think about what will be of interest to the publication’s readers, or listeners/viewers if you are approaching broadcast media too, and then develop a succinct news release which captures the who, what, where, why and how of the story in the opening paragraph.
Punch Communications is an integrated PR, social media and SEO agency, with an impressive portfolio of clients spanning the telecommunications, technology, financial services and tourism sectors.
Georgina Dunkley, http://www.punchcomms.com/
It is vital that you answer Who, What, Where and Why within the first paragraph of any press release. Also when sending out always make sure your subject line is engaging and attention grabbing. You will be 1 of hundreds of emails in their inbox so make sure your press release shines!
Also its good to note, do not send your press releases in PDF format. Sometimes press like to lift whole sentences or even paragraphs from releases if its in pdf they won’t be able to. When sending images never ever send high res keep all images, unless requested to an absolute minimum.
Make sure you have your URL and contact details on all releases and never, if you can help it go over 1 A4 page of copy.
Adele Woodthorpe, http://woodthorpecomms.com/
Click Into PR
There are many guides and ‘how to’ books and info on the web. However, I’d simply say focus on what the customers want to know and everything else will fall into place – headline, opening, detail and close. In the recent past the focus was on the editor as the gatekeeper to the media. Now we can be much more direct with the customer as more of the PR conversation takes place via the web.
Adrien Maguire, http://clickintopr.com/
Truthfully, the first question you should be asking yourself is whether or not a press release is really warranted. There are plenty of outreach and publicity efforts that startups can do without issuing a release (be it a traditional one, a social media release or otherwise).
But let’s say you have an announcement that passes the “newsworthy” test by a reasonable measure, at least for relevant audiences. Then by all means consider putting out a press release as it remains a useful vehicle for conveying the facts, providing context and sharing additional resources.
I helped run an online press release service for several years, during which time I saw releases of all shapes and sizes come through. The best tip I can offer is to cut to the chase and convey the key information in a simple, straightforward manner.
That doesn’t mean be boring – the release should be engaging, but leave the buzzwords and marketing speak behind and just give people the information they need.