When companies have a message to share with the world, they create a press release and distribute it to a wide variety of media outlets. Unfortunately, only 3 percent of journalists say they rely heavily on press releases. In fact, only 53 percent rely on them at all. But most still receive 100 or more per day.
With so much competition in the press release world these days, how can you make sure that your press release will be effective? Here are some tips from the PR experts we interviewed.
1. Make sure it's newsworthy.
When deciding whether to write a press release, it's important to think about the big picture: Are journalists going to find your news interesting enough to share with their readers, or is it only interesting to you and your company?
"The best way to create a press release that gets read is to make sure that what you are announcing is actually newsworthy," said Karolyn Raphael, president of Winger Marketing. "I know it sounds simple, but a surefire way to become ignored by the media is to send them press releases that are about news items that are only relevant to your business. While it may be important to the people in your company that Janet has her third work anniversary today, this is not newsworthy."
To avoid ending up in a reporter's trash folder, most PR professionals recommend saving press releases for major announcements, like new products or services, industry recognition, or special events. [Related: 7 Things Small Businesses Need to Know About PR]
2. Craft a short, interesting headline.
"As a rule of thumb, your press release headline should be able to fit into Twitter's character limit," Raphael said. "Reporters are bombarded by emails, but sending a link to your press release through Twitter and email increases the likelihood of having it read. Having it be short enough to be read on Twitter also broadens your audience."
Janet Falk, a PR professional who advises small business owners and nonprofit groups, suggests that you should start with the end in mind when creating a press release. "If you want a news story to be covered, remember that relevant content must be included in the press release. If a reporter does not have time to call you for an interview, and that information is not in the press release, it will be not be in the news story."
The subject line is very important, according to Sheri Wachenheim, a PR specialist at Mint Advertising in New Jersey. "If you want your press release to be read, your subject line should answer the question 'why should I care?' If you cannot convince a reader why they should care with your subject line, your press release will never be read."
3. Cover the basics.
The first lesson most journalists learn about news reporting is to cover the five W's: who, what, where, when and why. These basic pieces of information make up the core of a news story and get the facts across in a clear, concise way. While a reporter may spread the W's throughout the first few paragraphs of an article to make room for a catchy lead, your release should include them all upfront.
Journalists also say they just want the important facts. It helps to deliver the details in bullet-point form.
"Reporters don't have a lot of time to comb through a press release," said Mike Adorno, vice president of communications at Hot Paper Lantern. "They want to know 'what are the key takeaways that I need to come away with?' A very straightforward way to do that is to create a short bulleted list that has bite-sized, social media-ready information for any reporter or reader to quickly digest and utilize immediately." [Related: 10 DIY PR Solutions for Small Businesses]
4. Clean it up.
The fastest way to turn off a journalist is mistakes and inaccuracies. Make sure your press release is free from errors.
"When drafting a press release, writing copy that is grammatically correct is critical," said Durée Ross, president and CEO of Durée & Company. "Also, it is important to be concise and include real facts, a quote from an expert source, and a link to the brand's website and social media channels. This will ensure that the message is clearly relayed, as the press release can potentially be passed through to multiple editors and journalists."
Additional reporting by Nicole Fallon.