At some stage in the life of your company, preferably earlier rather than later, it becomes vital to garner media coverage, in some form or another, in order to raise awareness about your products and services. Your business will have to learn how to work with and communicate with media houses and publishers as part of your overall marketing strategy in order to reach bigger and better audiences.
This is where the press release comes into play. It’s an incredibly powerful PR tool that can make the difference between ending up in mainstream news, growing like mad, becoming profitable, selling out and retiring… or not.
But because press releases can have such huge payoffs, journalists and news outlets are constantly bombarded with irrelevant or spammy info that simply gets ignored. Most companies use a technique called, “spray and pray” that adds to the huge volumes of mediocre content (i.e. hit thousands of sites with your PR message, and someone will publish it eventually) the news media has to deal with.
Against this background it’s important to understand just how difficult it can be to get decent coverage. That’s why it’s important to start out armed with the right press release that can be used for maximum benefit (if done properly).
What makes a press release work
Repeat after me, “it’s not about the press release.”
Sounds a bit odd, considering the point of this article is to share a press release template (one that won national media coverage). But it’s true. There’s far more that goes on behind the scenes of a successful press release than meets the eye.
Before I share the press release, here’s a step-by-step example of what I did in order to get national news media coverage for my site…
1. Come up with a compelling story
Not every business is intrinsically exciting. It can be harder to get media coverage working in accounting than it can in tabloid gossip. But, just because it is harder doesn’t make it impossible.
Be creative in the way you approach the ordinary aspects of your niche industry. Take your time thinking outside the box. Find something interesting to talk about – especially if it involves other people.
Don’t talk about yourself.
A story should be about your industry, and the players in it. Not about yourself. Anything that has even a hint of self-promotion will be duly ignored by almost every quality journo in the world. And, unless you have a big budget to pay for media coverage, this tactic simply won’t work.
For example, I spend a lot of time sharing small business ideas to help inspire and stimulate aspiring entrepreneurs. But there’s no point in writing a press release each time I post a new idea to this list. Journalists aren’t interested in what I’m doing. Yet.
But, there are other industry players who are doing newsworthy things that I can talk about at the same time. So I went out and created a list of the top 10 new business ideas from University entrepreneurs that highlighted the breadth of talent found in young entrepreneurs (crediting the entrepreneurial colleges nurturing them at the same time).
That was interesting for me to see the incredible ideas and startups coming out of U.S. colleges, it was an interesting article for my readers, and above all else, it was something newsworthy for mainstream media.
2. Identify journalists & editors who cover topically related stories
This step shouldn’t really be too much of a surprise. There is absolutely no point in sharing a story on the wrong news site. A business editor won’t publish a story about bird migration patterns, so why bombard them with irrelevant stuff?
Find the writers, editors, journos, bloggers and reporters who write about the same or similar topics. A good way to do this is to search for similar stories on Google and note the websites and writers responsible.
Build a permanent journalist contact list including their names, employer, email address, social media accounts, and other pertinent data.
Record all your interactions as it is very likely you are going to need to build a strong relationship with them going forward. A press release is never a one off thing. You’ll need those contacts again so it helps to keep them organized from the start.
3. Draft a press release template
A good press release has the following generic features:
- Subject: A punchy, interesting, clear and concise one liner. The subject line has to be catchy and of real interest to the reporter otherwise it’s unlikely your press release will be read.
- Date: A date is important because many news sites don’t want to cover something that is already stale.
- Media contact: Journalists and reporters must have someone they can contact about the press release in case they have questions about it.
- Teaser: One or two sentences. Think of it like an elevator pitch. Easy to read. Easy to understand. Compelling.
- Point of interest: It’s a nice idea to highlight one aspect of the news that is particularly noteworthy to that particular journalist. This can be adapted in the following step when tailoring the template for specific people.
- Motivation: One sentence about why people will care about this news. If you can’t think of one, you probably don’t have news worth reporting on.
- Credibility: Is there supporting and compelling 3rd party evidence to support this story? Unless the story talks about something that is plainly obvious in the public domain, you’ll need to establish some sort of credibility.
- About: Who are you to share this news? Establish some sort of personal or brand authority and trust.
In the case of my specific example, I sent the following press release to USA Today’s college section:
Press release: 24/04/16
Subject: Top 10 new business ideas from University entrepreneurs
The top 10 new business ideas by university entrepreneurs has been compiled and published. The full winners’ list complete with profiles on each business is available on SME Pals at:
The top 3 winners are:
1) RaptorMaps – MIT 100k Launch
2) Latitude – BYU Big Idea Pitch
3) Focus Foods – Harvard New Ventures
The list offers a fascinating selection of startups that highlight the creativity and energy of young entrepreneurs in colleges around the U.S. Please feel free to quote from the original article, use the media and screenshots as required. In addition, feel free to contact me for more information regarding this news.
How the winners were chosen:
The SME Pals team scoured university competition websites for two days gathering a list of possible candidates from winners, runners up, and other finalists over the previous couple of years. From that big list only those ideas that had moved from being an idea into a real startup were considered.
The winners were selected based on which were inherently unique, or offered elegant solutions to existing problems. The final rankings were chosen based on an assessment of how profitable (i.e. how much existing and potential demand there is in the market) each could be, what their growth potential is, and what possibilities there are for providing ever more and better add-on services/features as the businesses evolve.
About SME Pals
SME Pals (http://smepals.com) is a preferred free entrepreneurial resource with many great universities like Duke, Cornell, Boston, Emory, and more, because it offers an innovative and creative approach to generating business ideas; along with guides and advice to turn those ideas into successful startups.
And, not long after that, I was delighted to see that they had covered my story online:
4. Customize the press release
Once you have a draft press release statement it’s important to look at who you are sending it to and acknowledge that they might be interested in different aspects of the story. Not everyone is interested in the same thing, and being smart about who you are pitching to can make a huge difference.
For example, the same template was used as the basis for a new press release sent out to each of the colleges and universities that made it into the top 10 list. In this case, the focus was less about the list and more about the inclusion of their idea/startup into the list.
In addition, the modified template also included mention of the fact that the list has already garnered national media attention (to bolster the ‘credibility’ section). Again, it wasn’t long before the release made it onto the news feeds of top universities around the country:
Once you’ve successfully pitched a news outlet it often becomes easier on subsequent tries as there may (or may not) be some interaction with the journalist in order to complete the story. In this sense, an undeniably important aspect of writing successful press releases is the quality and number of existing media connections to which you have access.
Press release template
So, hopefully you’ve seen that having a great press release is only a small part of the equation. There’s a lot that goes into building a successful PR campaign using press releases. But, since we know this particular one has worked on a national level, here’s a blank outline for you to copy and paste into your email client to get started:
Press release: INSERT DATE
Subject: PUNCHY, COMPELLING ONE LINER
Source: YOUR NEWSWORTHY CONTENT/ARTICLE (LINK TO YOUR ARTICLE)
One-line elevator pitch: WITH A PROMINENT LINK TO THE SOURCE ARTICLE
Point of interest: TAILORED TO SPECIFIC AUDIENCE (ONE AT MOST TWO PARAGRAPHS)
Motivation: WHAT MAKES THIS STORY IMPORTANT (ONE AT MOST TWO PARAGRAPHS)
Credibility: IDEALLY LINKED TO RELIABLE EVIDENCE (ONE AT MOST TWO PARAGRAPHS)
About (ONE PARAGRAPH)
Above all else, it’s important that your press release makes life easy for the journalist involved. Keep it short and to the point, but include everything that is necessary for the journalist to verify and understand the story.
Have you used press releases to drive media coverage? What tips and techniques do you have to share about what works and what doesn’t? Share your thoughts in the comments.
David Mercer contributes to SME Pals, a blog dedicated to helping entrepreneurs and small business owners thrive online by turning creative business ideas into profitable startups. He is a tech entrepreneur and published author with programming and Web development books translated into over 13 languages worldwide.