Basic Business Cents: Press releases are means to convey business news
Paid advertising is a valuable marketing tool but there are other ways to get exposure for your business or non-profit organization.
Press releases are one way that is easy and free. Remember paid advertising is for selling your product or service and press releases are for announcing something of news value such as new hiring, promotions, etc.
Chances of getting it picked up by the media depend on many things, like absence or flooding of other news at that time. But chances of success can be dependent on presentation.
There are a number of acceptable ways to lay out in Associated Press style. Here's the advice a prominent public relations firm in the Twin Cities gave to me (but everyone in the public relations industry has his/her favorite approach!):
You can use plain white paper if you want, but typically you should use your letterhead. In the upper left-hand corner, put in boldface and all caps "for immediate release." Immediately below, type in the date you want it to be released.
In the upper right hand corner, put "contact:" and then list the contact person's name, company, and phone number (optional: you can also give the e-mail address).
Next, centered on the page in bold, clear easy-to-read type, put your headline. When you are trying to figure out what your headline should say, remember it should grab a reader's attention and make them choose to take the time to read this release above all the other hundreds of releases they receive each day.
Tips: 1) Imagine what headline a newspaper would create if they ran an article on your story. 2) Get the name of your organization or business in the headline. 3) The headline shouldn't be more than 10 words long. 4) If your headline doesn't grab their attention, the release may go in the garbage without being read.
Then, begin the first paragraph of your release with the city your organization is based in (in other words, where the release is originating) in capital letters. Generally the city name is followed by the state's abbreviation (not the postal two-letter abbreviations, but the longer ones we used to use, such as Minn. or Wisc.).
However, prominent cities don't need a state (if you're using Minneapolis, don't put Minn. after it). After the city and state, put a long dash, then your release date (again!), then another long dash, then begin your text. It should look something like this: Park Rapids-Jan. 21, 2000-text.
At the end of your press release, put three pound signs (###), centered on the line, to indicate to the reader that that is indeed the end (so they know they haven't lost a page!).
The lines of your text should be at least 1-1/2 spaced, or if possible double-spaced (easier for media to read quickly and take notes).
If your press release is longer than one page, then at the bottom of each page except the last, put "(more)," centered on the line, so the reader knows to look for more pages.
The flow of the text is important. The first sentence should say what your press release is about. Usually, you say, "Today xxx announces that yyy". That makes it pretty crystal clear.
The first paragraph should summarize in a nutshell your entire story in about two to four sentences maximum - for several reasons. If someone is short on time to read, they'll generally read just this paragraph to see if they're interested - it must say the main points. Plus, if someone has space in their publication for just one paragraph and they don't have time to do any editing, sometimes they will simply copy this paragraph.
Either way, you must write it in such a way that if someone reads only the first paragraph, you're confident they got the main nugget of what you want them to know.
Subsequent paragraphs are where you get into the details. Put your paragraphs in descending order of importance (or interest).
This is standard journalism style: a) If someone doesn't have time to read all the way to the end, you know that whatever they didn't read isn't as critical as what they did read. b) By putting the most interesting info first, you make them want to read the next paragraph, and then the next, etc.
The length of your release should be one to two pages long, not longer. Shorter is better, because people just don't have time to read and they'll throw it out.
The last paragraph is called the "boilerplate," containing two or three sentences that explain what the company or organization does, perhaps gives a mission sentence, gives a phone number people can call if they're interested in more info (this would be a number that could be printed in a newspaper), and gives the Web site address.
This paragraph might be printed, so it should not contain information that is for the media's eyes only; this is not where you put your media contact person's name and phone number.
Following this guideline will enhance the chances of getting your message out to the most people. Like most people, those in the media have too much to do and too little time to do it, so make it easy for them to use your press release as written.
Louis Schultz, managing director of Process Management LLC, has assisted organizations worldwide with performance improvement.He currently assists area business owners as a SCORE counselor. E-mail him with questions or comments at lou@processman agement.com.