Pro Tip: Writing a Press Release I

Most people who call me for support, or PR advice start by asking me about a press release, so my intention was to write a quick post about press releases…but as soon as I started considering my thought process around how I get started, I realized there is a lot more ‘there’ than a simple 1-2-3 blog post. So, I’ve decided to write a 3-part press release series.


Part I:  Determining When It’s Time for a Press Release

Ah, the lure of the press release. Doesn’t it just ‘sound’ fancy? “I’m sending something out to the PRESS!” I’ll admit that there is something official about it, but it’s actually that very official-ness that to a PR professional draws a very clear line in determining whether or not to even write one.

In the early, early 1920’s days of PR…when the career and the earliest idea of reputation management was emerging, a man named Ed Bernays was literally doing the PR that people still envision today:  Hosting lavish parties and taking powerful connections to lunch, schmoozing with influential trend-setters and spinning stories. People wanted to know what was going on in the world of Ed and his clients, and out of that desire, the press release was born. Reporters were hungry for news, and events that Ed and his clients were spinning were of interest (such as American Tobacco, Cartier, Best Foods…).

Over the years, distributing a press release simply became part of the practice. It was a formality that the press expected because even in the 90s, it was the best way for reporters to receive information and fill a soft news day (or most of the time, NOT). But, with the invention of the internet, the need to receive information has become more passive as reporters have been increasingly more able to dig up the information on their own. An easy Google search will now typically turn up ample details on most subjects.

So, do we still need press releases?

Like anything, there are lots of different opinions, but I think they still serve a purpose, although, not in the same ways as before. If you want to determine whether it’s worth it for you, here are a few things I ask my clients to consider before investing time and money in a press release:

  1. First and foremost, a press release can always serve as content for your website, and passive – if not interesting – information for your customers, and perhaps even the press to review at their leisure.

  2. You can always pay to distribute your release to the newswires, which will give you further online visibility (but if you haven’t used them, these services can be expensive - $300 to $2000, depending on your distribution and the number of words you have in your release).

  3. You can also still send your release to a few journalists…or many!...but in general, I’ve heard that journalists prefer to receive information in the body of an email; something casual and personal. To others who have said they prefer them, I’ve heard that they mostly use them for fact checking (important to note – make sure your dates are correct!).

Do you need a press release?

To be honest, most people who want to write a release don’t really have a subject that requires a press release, per se. Grand opening? Sure…you could write a release, but it might be more effective to add a ‘Grand Opening’ page to your website and invite everyone (because the majority of the people interested would likely be customers, and not the press, anyway). New product? Again, first consider who might be interested in the information and make your decision that way. In fact, before you decide to move ahead, I suggest thinking through these steps:

  1. Would I call my mother/closest friend to share this news in utter excitement? (Seriously, do you want to yell your news from the mountaintops? Then it’s probably worth a release)

  2. Exactly who would be excited to learn about this news? Is it current clients? If so, refer to the paragraph above and create a splash on your website/in an email newsletter. Is it everyone in your town? Then, perhaps you want a release…consider how your intended audience would likely receive the information)

  3. Do I know how to write a release (if not, look for a follow up post about how to write one!), and do I have the time to write it?

That’s it…it probably ultimately comes down to time, money and audience…and not the lure of fame and grandeur. If you still think this is a good idea, and you have the time to put into a release, but no budget, watch for my next post about how to approach writing your own press release.