Written by: Rowena Figueroa
A crisis is no time to go dark. Our research shows that as people look for answers to unfamiliar business problems spurred by a disruptive event, they are as likely to search online for those answers as they are to ask colleagues and contacts. A period of uncertainty is a good time to get your answers in front of journalists. Earned media from trusted, authoritative publications is one of the most cost-effective ways to raise your firm’s profile, build credibility, and prompt readers to contact you.
One way to obtain earned media is to write a press release that is both newsworthy and suited to the journalists’ beat. Like any good story, a successful press release is as much about content as context. Here are tips to get both right.
Plan Your Message
Press releases are meant to be informative yet brief. This means content that solves a problem with fewer than 600 words. In fact, the shorter the content the better. Whether you’re announcing the results of your research or an exciting new alliance, think of your message as a solution to a problem. Then treat that problem as a question and your announcement as the answer to it.
Let’s say you’re announcing the results of research on post-COVID shifts in buyer behavior. Ask yourself the following:
- Is my announcement newsworthy? This will help keep you honest about whether your announcement delivers value to the journalists on your target list and their readers. If it doesn’t, you can either change your angle so it does or, if that fails, wait until you have an announcement that’s newsworthy.
- What key question does this press release answer? This will help you determine the one thing you want your readers to take away from your news. Is your question:
- What are the changes in buyer behavior since COVID hit?
- Why are sellers having trouble keeping and winning business since COVID hit?
- How can sellers keep and win business in the post-COVID marketplace?
No matter what question you center your press release on, having one will set boundaries on the scope of your piece, as well as map out a path for your piece to follow.
- What key facts will bolster or illustrate my answer? This will help you choose the strongest, most relevant information for your piece.
Having a plan for your message not only saves you time and money but also gives you more control of the narrative. Not all journalists will contact you before publishing any part of your news. Once you release your news to the digital ecosystem, journalists will do with it as they wish.
Write an Intriguing Headline
This is never easy. Headlines must grab attention without being gimmicky. It shouldn’t make promises that your content can’t deliver on. One question that might help you formulate your headline is: What striking or surprising information will the reader get out of reading the press release? Your answer to the question should:
- Be no more than 70 characters in length.
- Include eye-catching stats or a number when possible.
- Indicate or imply who your audience is.
Write down your answer knowing it will likely change once you’ve finished writing the entire release. Developing headlines is an iterative process that can take as much time as writing the piece itself. Few headlines survive the first round of edits.
Lead with What’s In It for Them
Your lead is your press release’s opening paragraph. Because few journalists read beyond it, it must encapsulate your main points in two or three sentences. Planning your message will have helped you think about the who, what, when, where, and why as they relate to your key question. Keep only the most important information, so you don’t overburden the reader, and allot the rest to later paragraphs.
Put Your Insight in Your Quote
The most memorable quotes convey insights. Craft one that shows the impact of your announcement on the industry, links it to trends, or both. Here’s an an example that connects the release to current events:
“In today’s crisis environment, potential hires want to know if prospective employers share their values, and recruiters are putting a premium on maintaining a healthy workplace culture,” says Lee Frederiksen, Managing Partner of Hinge Research Institute. “Companies should pay as much attention to their employer brand as they do to their financials. Their reputation as a workplace is crucial to attract and keep the people they need to deliver on their brand promise and get through any disruption.”
The quote’s reference to “today’s crisis” links it to current events. The suggestion that “companies should pay as much attention to their employer brand as they do to their financials” indicates the need for change in–and implies impact on–how businesses conduct themselves.
The source of your quote should be someone journalists will want to interview. Attribute your quote to the firm’s top executive or a visible expert on your team. If you’re announcing an alliance between yours and another organization, you’ll want both organizations’ top executives or their most recognized experts to issue quotes. Other alternative quote sources are board members and external experts whose testimonials would lend credibility to your announcement.
Whether you’re quoting internal or external sources, craft a quote ahead of time to ensure it fits into the press release and saves your source time. The last thing you need is a quote that requires you to rejig the press release.
Make the Journalist’s Job Easy
You’ve equipped your announcement with a compelling headline, a lead that makes the case to read further, and a memorable quote from a source journalists will want to interview. How do you keep a journalist who gets hundreds of pitches a day riveted to the end? First, serve up facts and information that will help them write a good article. Stats are helpful, but, on their own, won’t appeal to everyone. A good soundbite or infographic will help them appreciate and recall your stats. Third, only use words that matter. Strong action words make adjectives and adverbs dispensable. Resist the urge to use jargon or, worse, frankenwords. Your press release will not only be easy to read but be a good read.
Call Attention to Your Call to Action
What action do you want your reader to take? Purchase a report? Get more information on a new service? Accompany your call to action (CTA) with a hyperlink that takes them to the right page. You can amplify your CTA with an image. If you want readers to access a research report, include an image of the report. If you want them to learn more about a new service for setting up a drive-through COVID testing site, provide an image of a testing site you worked on.
Edit, Edit, then, Edit Some More
Never fall in love with your first draft. Or your second. Your press release is a mirror of your company and brand. Errors can put off journalists and mar their impression of your brand for good. So can a lackluster story. While you still have control of the release, make the changes to ensure your message is clear, powerful, and free of errors. Once your release goes public, what becomes of it will be out of your hands. If you don’t have a ruthless editor in-house, this is a task you’ll want to outsource.
Get it to the Right Audiences at the Right Time
Sending the right message to the right people at the right time cuts to the heart of context. There are several ways to share your press release–email, your website, social media, and a wire service. One of the most effective is to send a personalized email to media contacts whose beat covers the topic of your press release. Building a list of such contacts demands careful research. You can start by setting up a Google alert on the topic and conduct an online search in order to find out which journalists and bloggers write about it.
Your list will require maintenance. Five years ago, you might have been able to get away with yearly updates. Today, that frequency has risen to monthly. Consolidation and closures continue to hit cash-strapped publications, and writers often change their beat or publication or both.
When you share is just as important as how. The best time to catch journalists’ attention is before 9AM on a Monday. Each day past Monday presents fewer and fewer opportunities your release will be picked up. To be sure, a small number of journalists accept pitches throughout the week. But, if you want your news to reach them before others do, the start of the work week is your best bet.
In the coming year, brands will offer new services and new ways of operating as industries across the board transition from a post-COVID to a post-vaccine environment. Press releases will serve as a powerful format for getting messages out to the media, prospects, and clients. By applying these strategies, your press release will stand out from a crowded inbox and help businesses, including yours, get through this and future disruptions.