What is a press release, and do I really need one?

This experienced press release writer says ‘yes’ – and here’s why.

If you think press releases have gone out of style – along with mix tapes, vinyl and skinny jeans – that’s understandable. Back in the day when I had started work on a magazine, press releases were the way to raise your profile. But in those days we used to set aside three hours to send the finished layout to the printer – just in case the internet dropped out or failed or clocked off early or something – so heaven only knows how long Instagram would have taken to load. And in any case, it would have given poor old Betty in the editor’s office a heart attack, because she was still typing everything out on her Remington.

Now of course, it’s all social media and even the journalists pick up their stories from gossip sites, don’t they? So the press release must be dead.

Not so fast, cowboy.

I still write loads of press releases, and for very good reason. They work. Or at least, they work as part of a strategised approach to PR and marketing. Think about it; we live in the age of 24/7/365 news. Journalists want good information, and the press release is a great way of providing it.

That is, as long as it’s a good press release.

The benefits of great press release copywriting

As I mentioned above, the press release is a great complement to your overall PR/marketing activity. If you don’t have a PR/marketing/publicity strategy, a press release will be less effective, because you will be less known, and less likely to be trusted by journalists and readers. Credibility is very important when it comes to press coverage and brand value, and you don’t establish credibility by bunging out a couple of press releases every month – especially if those press releases contain information that interests nobody outside your organisation.

Because the first rule of press release club is that you must always put genuinely interesting information in your press release. Otherwise, don’t bother.

However, if you do have a strategised approach to these things and genuinely interesting things to say, a press release offers the following advantages:

Press releases are an effective way to open conversations and build productive relationships

Your goal is to become the organisation or individual that journalists call when they need an expert opinion, information or comment. If you can offer genuinely interesting stories (and as we have seen, you should never, ever, ever write a press release about anything that’s not genuinely interesting to your audiences) you’ll be well on your way.

Over time, press releases prove your value to the media: accurate and credible copy, along with an ability to provide intelligent comment and supporting data, are golden for journalists.

In this way, press releases can be helpful in both the short and long term. They have a short-term purpose – gaining coverage – but they are just as important as branding assets. A steady flow of relevant, interesting press releases will enhance your brand and position you as an authority in your market.

You can reach lots of people quickly, especially with SEO and multimedia elements

First off, some context. Your press release should be hosted online – ideally on your website – and this makes it as effective for search as your other content. So, a press release without SEO is a wasted opportunity.

Why is it important to host press releases online? Primarily because it makes them much easier for journalists to share and ensures they can be accessed from any location (lots of journalists work remotely). Also, because it improves your chances of the release being picked up by anyone looking online for content or background/supporting information and your website can give journalists lots of additional info about your organisation.

So if you’re currently sending out your press releases as PDFs by email, try sending them as links instead.

You will also be popular if you can supply high quality photography/video and a spokesperson – make sure somebody can give an interview at very short notice for at least the first 48 hours. Always put contact information on your press releases and allow access to imagery etc. via link (perhaps via a drop box or FTP).

When your press release goes live (or is about to), by all means email your journalist contacts with that information and connecting links. But don’t forget to announce it on your socials as well: lots of media reps use social media to get a heads up on breaking news.

At times of crisis, a press release can help to you to control the narrative

If (big, important if) you have established your brand as trustworthy and built relationships in the ways described above, press releases can be a godsend when the proverbial hits the fan. If you foresee trouble, an early press release indicates that you are in control and can stave off an awful lot of unhelpful speculation. It can also get your voice heard amidst a cacophony of other, less organised, voices.

Once again, however, this depends on your having a long-term, effective and conscious press strategy. Bunging out a press release after years of silence and hoping for the best almost never works.

What makes a good press release?

There are few universal rules in press release copywriting because much varies by sector and context. But guidelines include:

  • Tell the story and only the story. Press releases should be short, 400 to 600 words is ideal.
  • The headline should be snappy and summarise the story. Use headers wisely with SEO in mind.
  • Make sure the story is genuinely interesting to your audience. A new product, innovation or CEO might be interesting. Your new office carpet is not. Ask yourself one brutal question before starting to write – who cares? – and answer it honestly. You have as much to lose from publishing a clearly self-indulgent press release as you have to gain from a good one.
  • Include contact details and have good quality collateral (photography, video).
  • Use links, not PDFs.
  • Make sure the tone and content are in line with the rest of your branding.

Do I need a freelance press release writer?

But of course, and here’s how you can contact me! But seriously, you need whatever it takes to make your press releases fly.

If you have someone in house, fine, but if not then you might consider a freelance press release writer. However, that person needs to understand your business and your objectives very clearly, so it should be someone you work with regularly. Contacting an agency or a freelancer and asking, ‘how much for a press release?’ is rarely a great idea.

Sounds interesting, what should I do now to up my press release game?

If you think top-notch press release copywriting could help your brand, please give me a call today on 01442 251345, or email hello@catebickmore.co.uk.

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