How To Write Press Releases That Get Your Business Seen
COW Library : Business & Career Building Tutorials : Walter Biscardi : How To Write Press Releases That Get Your Business Seen
You see press releases every day. They're on the front page of CreativeCOW.net, all over the COW's newsletter. The ones you see there are mostly big companies with big news to share with the world.
But if you look more closely, you can also find news from small shops who just started or finished big projects. Maybe they just got new clients or contracts, or have a team member speaking at a trade show. Maybe they've won an award.
In fact, take a look at the COW Member News pages in this very issue of the magazine for some very big news from some very small companies: an Oscar, a best director prize from Sundance, and a Golden Moose award. There's a reason why all three of those stories have quotes from two people. That may be the whole company.
So don't think your news is too small. It's your news, but nobody's going to hear about it unless you tell them. Whether you're in business for yourself or working for someone else, press releases are a great way to share that news with your colleagues, and help build credibility for yourself and your company.
A press release is news, sure, but in reality it's marketing. But unlike a brochure or sales pitch that pitches what you can do, a press release tells what you have done. It tells about real people doing real work and the results of that work.
For people looking to purchase equipment, software or services, seeing an example of ‘real-world' work can be much more persuasive than the glossiest brochure. There's your number one reason to start issuing press releases, marketing. Even if you never send it to anyone and just put it on your website for prospective clients to see, you can never have too much marketing.
Just as you would ask yourself before any project, ask yourself before you start writing the press release, what's the story? What are you really promoting? Yourself? Your company? Your product?
THE HEART OF THE MATTER
This is important because press releases work best when they are very concise and on topic. You don't want a 10,000 word book that rambles on about every single minute detail. Nobody will want to read it, which means nobody will want to publish it. You want to keep a press release to a maximum of one page. And not a page that's covered in tiny text from margin to margin. Early organization is a key to hitting this target.
Creating a list of keywords is an excellent way to start putting together a good press release. For instance, I want to write a press release on a new high definition show that we just finished editing in our facility. Some keywords might be, "1080i/50, Mixed Multi-Formats, Network Praise." Those are three main points I want to make about this show and no matter what else I write, the release must come down to these three points.
The next thing to think about is your target audience. Just like a television show or a feature film, every press release has a target audience. Are you trying to build credibility for your company to attract new clients? Are you trying to sell your product to engineers or artists? Whatever you're trying to achieve, you need to reach a specific group of people and your writing needs to be tailored to that audience. Engineers want a lot of "under the hood" details. Artists want to know how a product will make their lives easier and more creative. Potential clients want to know they can rely on your people and equipment.
Using the earlier example, my target audience would be potential new clients for high definition post production. I would push the capabilities of our facility in delivering a new show to a new network as an example of what the company is capable of.
Now let's talk a bit about style. Press releases come across as more professional when written like a "news article." This means you avoid personal references like "I, Me, My, Us and Our." Try to avoid sentences like, "The show was good because I spent three weeks in the rain shooting that footage." That comes across as amateurish and potentially pompous. Sure, maybe the show was good because you saved the producer with your amazing camera skills in horrendous conditions. But a better sentence might go something like, "Director of Photography, Jim Smith weathered severe weather conditions to bring home stunning footage of the river banks for the new documentary of this title." Sounds more like a news article, doesn't it?
A huge plus for any press release is a third party quote. This validates whatever information you're presenting. It's one thing for you to say how great something is, it's another for someone else to validate what you're saying. Whenever possible, get a client, a colleague or somebody else appropriate to give you a sentence or two. If you're getting an award, getting a quote from somebody in that organization is perfect.
Don't worry about asking for these quotes. Clients love talking about themselves - which is really what you're doing when you ask for a quote about the work you did for them. The same is true for an organization that gives awards. Part of the reason they give them is to draw attention to themselves. Not that there's anything wrong with that.
If you're working with a company or awards organization of any size, they'll often have PR representative whose sole job is to help people like you spread the word about their company's work.
Speaking of PR reps, if you have any particular tools that help you do your job, get in touch with that company's PR team. You'll notice a whole bunch of press releases at the COW talking about buying new cameras, new storage, etc. When you get in touch with the companies, be very specific about exactly what makes this tool's unique features so helpful to you.
In some cases, the PR rep will help get you a quote. In other cases, they'll turn your stories into their own. Most of the user stories you read are pitched by PR reps directly to magazine editors. For this to happen, the PR rep needs to know you're out there. All kinds of good things can happen from there. Writing good press releases is a good way to start.
THINGS TO AVOID
Remember when I said to keep your press releases to one page? Don't send the page. That's for your own website, where you can format it any way you'd like, even make a pretty PDF.
That can be a huge problem for people who actually want to print your news. Different magazines want to lay out your story with their own design tools. Any word processing program, especially Microsoft Word, is going to add invisible characters and unpredictable spacing. So unless you hear explicitly that they do want an attachment file, assume that they don't. Just send the story inline in an email, with only basic formatting.
Ron has told me some stories about press releases that come into the COW. PDF is an important format for the COW's print production, but the website's news mechanism is text-based and having to dig out a story is time consuming. Make it simple. Just this morning he told me about a press release that came in as a JPEG. It looked gorgeous, but nobody can use it. He was too busy to retype it, so he just canned it.
JPEGs are fine for emailing a picture to go with your press release, though. People can't always use them, but who knows? Sometimes they can. It's best to only send one - but trim it in size and never send your 30MB file unasked - let them know you can provide more if they're interested.
MAKING GREAT PRESS RELEASES
Now that I've given you some idea of the goals and style of press releases, and some things to avoid, let's talk about how to build them the right way.
Start by looking at the press releases you see more carefully. There are common elements you'll find every single time. This is no different than putting bars, tone, and a slate at the head of your tape.
This one may seem really, really basic, but you'd be surprised how many people get this wrong: start with a title. Then have a sub-headline. The headline says what the story is, and the subhead tells you what it means.
Neither of these has to be complicated. Here's a press release that came through at the COW while I was writing this. The headline is "Blackmagic Design Announces New Software 1.2 for Intensity." Now you know the main part of the story.
The subhead explains the headline: "Now with Windows Vista support and expanded HDMI compatibility."
Sounds simple, doesn't it? It really is.
Here's how that might work for your business. The headline tells the main story: my company won an award. The subhead says what it means: this award is given to the top people who do what I do. That's all there is to it.
Next, always include the date you issue the release. After that, the city and state of the release. Again, you'll find this in every press release you look at. It helps editors know how to present your story, and it gives readers some idea of the context. Also, anybody who sees your press release will have a better idea where to find you at a glance.
Be sure to notice that every press release ends with a solid paragraph about the company. You may already have exactly what you need on your website, or may be able to tweak it. Once again, it doesn't need to be complicated. You know who your company is and what you do.
Whatever you do, don't forget to include a name, a phone number, and a specific email address for somebody to get in touch with you.
A press release is marketing. Don't make people guess. Don't make them go to your website. Don't give them an "info@ email" address. Don't make them call you and say, "I don't know who to talk to, but...." You're more likely to get someone to reach out if they have a name.
NOW SEND IT!
Once you've got your news written up, where should you send it? Start with the COW. Even though most of the news is from big companies, the COW has always been very supportive of its members and wants your news. Again, you can see that in this issue of the magazine.
There's also the website, the newsletter, and a bunch of COW podcasts that can help tell your story. The COW is always looking for user stories to promote. I have been a part of this community for years now and know many companies that do business throught the site.
After that, start looking at which industry magazines run press releases - almost all of them do. Your state and city's film and video offices always want to hear these kinds of stories. Don't forget to put your press releases where your potential clients can see it: local and regional newspapers, the chamber of commerce, any local group you're a member of, and so on. You can't send it to too many places.
And don't forget to put it on your own website. It increases your chances of earning new business but it shows your customers that because you are serious about your business, they can likely trust you with their business.
Once you've read a few press releases, you'll get a feel for how they're written and adapt a style you can work with. There's no need to figure it all out in advance. Just get started and get your news out there! You're a professional in a very competitive business, and you need all the marketing you can get!
Walter Biscardi is the principal in Biscardi Media Creations, whose clients include Good Eats for the Food Network and other great clients. Walter would be the first to tell you that many of his clients - including the Food Network - came directly from his work here in Creative COW. He has directly benefitted from the very principles he writes of in this article. So, get writing! :o)
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