Thursday, August 4, 2011

Writing a Press Release That Gets Attention

As promised a little primer on writing a killer press release. They're really not that hard, but you can't just whip one out in 30 minutes. Well most of us can't anyway.

Press releases are often a daunting area for small business owners. Writing about yourself or your business is hard, not to mention the time it takes out of your already busy day and generally there’s little to no money available to hire someone else to do it for you. I get it, I’m guilty of neglecting press releases for myself in lieu of writing them for our paying clients. But I've see how powerful they can be time and time again, so I want to impress upon you their importance and give you a few tips to make them less scary.

The Basics

A press release should follow a basic format, be only one page in length and only be used when you have something of interest to share: an event, new product, or tie in to a current trend.

Well-written press releases will attract the attention of writers and editors. They may take your press release and turn it into a short story for their next publication or they may do a little more research and put you into a larger piece they're working on. Writers and editors always need story ideas so you're doing them a favor by giving them interesting news. The stories they then write are free advertising of the best kind. How many blog and newspaper links do you see shared on Facebook each day? I think you get the idea.

Being written about in the press also gives you credibility, broadens your audience, and reminds previous customers how wonderful you are. Plus it sparks other publications to pay attention to you. Nobody wants to miss out on talking about the hot new product, trend, business, etc. in town.

Just to give you an example of how this can work. Earlier this year I sent out a press release for a client of ours, Amy Ahlstrom. The next day I got an email from The Jealous Curator saying that she loved Amy’s work and would write about it the next day. A couple gracious sentences and a few photos was all the post contained, but that was all it took. The next day there were 4 more blogs that had posted something about Amy’s quilts. Mentions on other blogs continued for the next 3 days, 11 mentions in total and none of them except The Jealous Curator had been sent the press release.

I’m Convinced, But What Do I Say?

If your first instinct is to say, “What’s newsworthy about my business” or “Why would the press pay any attention to me?” Then you need a new perspective.

First try looking at your business from a customer’s point of view. What are you doing that benefits them? Do you solve a problem? Are you great with customer service? Does your product make people laugh or make them feel better?

Then look at your business in the larger context of current trends. Are you addressing a growing awareness or concern? Do you fit into a trend or buck a trend? Do you or your business have a connection to a country or issue that’s in the news? Or can you provide insight on a current news focus?

Be sure to think both National and Local when looking for your angle. Human interest is always a great focus, giving back to the community, helping an under served population, hosting a fundraiser, or simply beating the odds and doing something most wouldn’t.

Now Dig Deeper

After you’ve decided what the general angle or focus of the press release will be use as many details as you can to really target your message. Show that you know your audience by speaking to their needs, concerns and/or interests. My favorite analogy for this is dressing for an interview. I would guess that you would wear something very different to an interview at a bank than you would for an interview with a design start-up. Tailor (pardon the pun) your language accordingly. If you’re sending to DIY craft magazines you’ll have a different tone than if you’re sending to fine art publication or even a small business magazine.

However this doesn't mean you should fill your press release with industry jargon. Use plain language and lots of details that really speak to the readers of the publication you're sending to. Are they looking for light fluffy pieces on new products to buy or real problem solving tips to make their life easier?

I started this series by warning you that you should be sending out holiday pitches now, but be aware of the timing no matter what month you're in. Is there another holiday coming up that your news would be perfect for? Is one of your target publications doing a special issue on handmade or San Francisco? Also be aware of lead times. Blogs generally only need a few days, but giving them a few weeks with time sensitive information is a nice courtesy. On the other hand many newspapers and weeklies need 4-6 weeks lead time and national magazines can need as much as 9 months lead time. So plan ahead.

Next week I'll lay out some strategies for cultivating a list of contacts and reaching out to them. But for now start thinking about pitch angles.

I encourage comments directly to this post, but also feel free to email me directly with questions, reactions, struggles, etc.

If you're an Etsy seller in the San Francisco Bay Area, contact Jen from Mama's Magic Studio about joining SFEtsy!


Rachel J said...

This is wonderful information, thank you so much for posting it--it's something that I feel I always need to work better at.

Large Marge said...

Loved this! Thanks so much, and I can't wait for the next installment.

Jen (Mama's Magic Studio) said...

such great stuff to think about here! thanks as always for your clear and helpful and thought-provoking perspective on these daunting topics :-) especially love the domino effect that's possible as you describe after the JEalous Curator example. brilliant!

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