I get hundreds of press releases every week - most of which I delete without opening.
Why? Because most of them are completely irrelevant to me. They are also often badly presented, with dull or obscure titles - or worse still - with ‘re:’ or ‘press release’ in the email subject header, giving me absolutely no incentive to open them.
Personally, I’d much rather get a short email or telephone pitch, outlining a story in a sentence or two. Most journalists I know say exactly the same.
And I think business and organisations - of all sizes - waste huge amounts of time and money writing press releases that will never get coverage.
So why do I think you should keep writing press releases? Read on and find out...
You'll get better at nailing your 'top line'
A press release is not a ‘story’. It is a form of communication that helps journalists decide whether or not they want to cover a story.
So while a press release is no guarantee of media coverage, the process of writing one can help you get clear about what you want to say about your business or organisation.
The first line of a press release should summarise - in around 15-20 words - your ‘top line’ i.e. the most important ‘bit’ of your announcement/story.
Selecting the most important information and getting it into a single sentence can be a challenge, but learning to do this well (and quickly) can help with all your communications: from writing a compelling ‘about’ page for your website, to crafting compelling social media updates or killer sales copy.
You'll get more regional news coverage
Many regional publications and programmes are produced by small teams, with minimal resources. So a well-written press release can make it into print - or on air - without you even speaking to a journalist.
But this is a scattergun approach to PR. So - unless you have a major news story on your hands (rare for most businesses or organisations) - send a tailored pitch to every journalist you contact and paste your press release in the body of the email below.
You'll feel more credible
While I personally have no problem with getting an informal email pitch from a ‘gmail’ or ‘hotmail’ address (in fact I rather like it), offering a story in a format that journalists are familiar with, does give you a certain level of legitimacy. Just don’t let not having one stop you from pitching stories to journalists.
I’ve seen far too many people (small business owners in particular) miss out on press coverage because they don’t have time to write a press release. If you think you’ve got something journalists will be interested in, just pick up the phone or dash off a quick email - they can always ask for more information if they need it.
You'll create versatile content
A press release can easily be turned into a news story for your website (although I think most people would rather read a news story with an attractive picture than a press release), copy for your newsletter or annual report. And, if nothing else, writing a weekly or monthly release is a way of documenting your news over the course of a year.
There’s a lot of debate on whether posting press releases online can help boost your SEO. But while it seems logical to assume that the more online content there is about your business, the better, if no one is likely to use search engines to find the content in your press releases (is anyone really going to be searching to find out about your new marketing director, for example?), I’d question the value of doing this.
For many people, a business blog with useful content that solves peoples’ problems (your ideal clients or target audience, that is) or makes their lives easier in some way is far more likely to send you soaring up the search engine rankings. And will probably save you time and money.
Journalists will love you for it (well, maybe just a little bit)
Most journalists like having a document they can refer to with key points, names and contacts - all in one place - particularly when they’re working to a tight deadline (and most journalists usually are).
You'll have lazer-sharp focus
When you’re busy running a business - or juggling a busy communications role - PR is often the thing that gets pushed to the bottom of your ‘to-do’ list. Setting yourself a target to write a fortnightly or monthly press release can keep you focused and spark creative story ideas - even when it feels like there’s nothing new to say.
Want more on this? Read: Eight things you can do to boost your press coverage when you don't have any news. And if you want to avoid the most common press release mistakes, read this and this.