As writing professionals, a common request is “make me a press release that gets results.”
It’s the goal of every optimistic entrepreneur to want free exposure from a large audience, especially when they think they have a unique product, service or event. And of course, clients also should get credit for trying to manage their lack of time and weaker writing skills by outsourcing the word wizardry to you.
But unless we have our own publishing outlet, getting a press release published in traditional media isn’t necessarily up to the freelance writer – it’s up to an assignment editor, a staff writer, or maybe even the clerk who does the initial screening of the morning’s emails and snail mail.
Any of these may give your brilliant words a few seconds to wow them and want to know more, or more often, will move onto the next one in the stack.
So, while we can’t, or shouldn’t, promise our clients that our product will get the results they want, there are some tricks we can play to improve its odds of making it a little further. There are also some pitfalls that even longtime PR pros can fall into without realizing it.
Full disclosure – I’ve been in both spots – a marketing writer trying to ‘sell’ writers on coverage of an upcoming event or interesting story opportunity. I’ve been a reporter and an editor looking through recent submissions trying to find something to work on or assign the staff to look into. I was able to see common techniques that helped one release stand out over another, and I’ve seen more that fail the general interest standard.
If you’re new to freelance writing, or trying to hone your press release writing skills, my top suggestion is not to make it too general.
Some businesses make the mistake of blanketing all media outlets everywhere with the same release, which sounds like a sensible strategy at first. It may work to cross your fingers and contact a larger news or PR outlet with national reach, or for a site that posts interesting news about specialized topics from anywhere – in this case, your release could be perfect for their SEO.
But if you’re seeking coverage/publicity at the local media level, their staffs may first ask, “Why would our audience care about this?” before deciding to pursue. So a sensible way to prepare your release is to create slightly different versions for different regions or communities. Perhaps include a local tie- like an employee or customer from the readership, or at least a regional vice president who is available as a source for this or future topics.
Trying to find someone relevant and of local interest may take some extra work rather than just crafting a general national release or simply changing the introduction to something like “Denver audiences may enjoy ____” to “St. Louis residents may enjoy ___.” Instead, you or your clients can figure out ways to better narrow your focus and better target your message.
Joe B can’t count so well, so he can’t tell you how many misdirected and poorly written press releases he’s received in 20 years in the newspaper business. But it’s a lot.