The Author

An avid spinner and iced tea aficionado, Julie tackles association, nonprofit and small business communications challenges in this blog.  She's Senterline's Chief Problem Solver, able to overcome redundant databases and prickly politics with the greatest of ease.

Julie Senter's Social Media
Tuesday
Aug172010

Improving Your Press Releases – 5 Tips for Small Businesses and Associations

For many small businesses and associations with a small (if any) PR budget, press releases are the primary means of gaining any sort of media attention or exposure.

But without the expertise of an on-staff PR professional, how can you make sure your release gets the attention you need?  Here are five tips to improve the quality of your releases and get more media coverage.

1. Get to the point

I can’t tell you how many press releases I saw as a reporter that just rambled and rambled and rambled on. I often couldn’t tell what was happening until the middle or end of the release. Don’t make your reader dig for the good stuff. They won’t do it and your release will be trashed before you can say “For Immediate Release.” Your release’s headline should indicate (clearly and succinctly) why you are sending a release and the who, what, when and where should be in the first two paragraphs. The rest of the release can focus on the why and the how and provide further details.

2. Follow proper grammar rules and check spellings

This does NOT mean rely on your word processing software to point out misspellings and incorrect grammar. Just now when I typed “processing,” my software auto-corrected it to “procession.” Software is imperfect! Read your press release out loud from top to bottom, slowly, so that your eye picks up every word without skimming. Error-filled releases reflect poorly on your organization and will impact your future chances of getting a second look from reporters and assignment editors. Is this tip basic? Yes. But you’d be surprised at how many younger staff members (often the ones assigned to writing releases) need to hear it.

3. Include contact information

If you want reporters to call the CEO for an interview, include the CEO’s name and number in the release (along with a general quote from the CEO in the body of the release.) Don’t include the release writer’s information unless they are the person who will be fielding calls and answering questions. Reporters expect to be connected with someone they can quote when they call the number on a release, not to be transferred through a maze of voicemails or phone extensions.

NOTE: include a contact even if you believe you have provided all the necessary information. You never know how a news organization might use the content. Sometimes they won’t use it exactly as you sent it, but the release instead sparks an idea for another story. They’ll need someone to follow up with.

4. Include additional sources

Most reporters don’t write single-source stories. Make it easy (are you sensing a theme yet?) for them to locate additional sources for their piece by providing the sources in your release! Add these at the end of your release under the header “Additional Sources.” Include names, titles and phone numbers. (Be sure to notify and get approval from your additional sources so that they are prepared for incoming media calls and aren’t caught off guard. Send them the release and consider providing talking points.)

For example, if you are honoring an industry advocate at your next fundraising event, provide contact information for the advocate as well as the event coordinator or the chair of the event committee so they can explain, in their own words, why they singled out the advocate for the honor. The advocate can discuss the importance of the honor.

5. Include your organization’s elevator speech at the end

Don’t waste time in your the first few paragraphs explaining who your organization is or what it does. Sure, you can include a brief dependent clause after your organization’s name so the reader can put the release into context, but that’s it. The first few paragraphs are valuable space and should be devoted to the purpose of the release.

Instead, put your entire elevator speech at the very bottom of your release. Set it apart from the rest with the intro “About [your organization]:” and italicize the entire paragraph. Include your website address for more information.

Overall, keep your release simple, relevant and to the point. More tips on how to distribute your release later this week.

Photo credit: StarbuckGuy/Gene Wilburn

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Reader Comments (6)

Great explanation.
ERROR NOTE:
In the first line of number 5 there is a grammatical error
The words "your" and "the" are used when only one of the words should be used. "Don’t waste time in your the first few paragraphs explaining..."

January 31, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJLStack

Thanks, JLStack! Glad it helped, and I appreciate the error note!

January 31, 2011 | Registered CommenterJulie Senter

Hi Julie,

Ouch! Being called out online when in PR for a mistake...don't think I would have done that to you! In fact, I would definitely not.

I liked your tips. They are easy to read and understand which is important for folks not involved in PR. Writing a great release that gets attention is extremely difficult without the background. Even with all the resources out there, I think people should still find a PR pro to run it past before sending it out.

For those of you out there writing your own releases, you might hear the term "boilerplate" or "boiler plate" written both ways (depends on who is doing the writing). The boilerplate is the "About (your organization or business)" Julie speaks about in number five.

Thanks Julie for mentioning the additional sources in number four too. So important!

Great information indeed!

Kind regards,

Lynette Hoy
Public Relations and Media Liaison
For Caterina Rando, Women’s Business Growth Expert
and President of Thrive Publishing™
C: 415.694.3004
O: 510.814.8325
http://www.caterinarando.com
http://www.caterinaspeaks.com
http://www.THRIVEbooks.com
http://www.attractclientswithease.com
http://linkedin.com/in/lynettehoy

January 31, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLynette Hoy

I'm glad the tips were helpful for you, Lynette. And don't worry about the first comment. That's what blogging is all about. I appreciate it whenever anyone takes the time to offer constructive advice, whether in the form of another opinion or in pointing out a typo. Thanks for commenting!

January 31, 2011 | Registered CommenterJulie Senter

I found the press release tips very productive, however, as a veteran PR executive specializing in corporate and non-profit campaigns, I disagree with point number 4 “include additional sources.” The PR representative needs to be in control of the campaign and should coordinate interviews with the media relating to the press release. All experts involved with the press release campaign should be prepped by the PR executive and also informed that interviews will be pitched. The press release can conclude with “interviews are available upon request.”

January 31, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterFern Gillespie

Great points, Fern! I know a lot of PR pros agree with you. I come at it from a little different perspective. Shouldn’t we make a story as easy to cover as possible for the journalist when we can, especially if it’s a feature or non-breaking news that they don’t need to cover? (I’m talking small organizations, as in Bob’s Body Shop wanting local coverage for its United Way donation, not AAA seeking the national spotlight for a massive texting-while-driving study.) I've found gate keepers can turn off reporters who want to get the story reported and turned around as quickly as possible. Hold sources too close to the vest and you stay in control, but you also run the risk that the reporter will move on to an easier story. I completely agree that other sources need to be alerted and prepped in advance of the release going out, but don’t you think small organizations can include those contacts directly on the release and not institute another hurdle for reporters to clear to do their jobs? It makes the organization appear open and transparent and goes a long way toward establishing trust (and a long-term relationship) with a reporter.

Other thoughts?

February 1, 2011 | Registered CommenterJulie Senter

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