ask the expert | how to write and distribute a press release

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Today we have a guest post from our PR/advertising expert partner: Nicole Leedham from Black Coffee Communications.

I am often asked how to guarantee press coverage and my answer is always “it can’t be done”.

What you can do, however, is shorten the odds by

1. Making your press release interesting and engaging; and

2. Targeting it to the right place.

Journalists – especially those with daily (or even hourly) deadlines – work in a hectic environment and their attention span is short. You have about 5 seconds to catch their interest before they move on to the next lead.

A lot of us that read build a little biz are mums, so let me explain something in a term that most mums will relate to – it helps to think of journalists as the toddlers of the professional world.

It’s not their fault, it’s just they are constantly bombarded with information from all sorts of sources and need to quickly sort the wheat from the chaff.

What this means is that not only does your press release need to have impeccable spelling and grammar – it needs a “hook” in the first paragraph.

So forget the flowery language and the “Drawing the reader in” that you would do if you were writing a creative piece, and get straight to the point.

At University, we learnt that this is called the “inverse pyramid” style of writing – the important information is up top and much of the rest is just padding.

Some tips for writing good press releases, and how to get them published:

1. A press release is merely “bait”. Don’t put every single thought you’ve ever had about your business into them. Just the key points that will intrigue the journalist enough to go to your website or to give you a call and find out more.

2. Make sure your name and phone number is at a prominent position at the end of the release so the journalist can contact you.

3. Don’t send releases to the general email or fax address.  Major news media get thousands of press releases every day; you don’t want yours to get lost. Make sure you are familiar with its style, and what journalist has what round. Never send at press release into the ether and cross your fingers. Find the journalist who writes about your subject matter, give them a call, and then send the release directly to them – maybe following it up in a day or so. Or, better still, send them to your community or suburban rag, which loves stories about locals succeeding at something.

4. Find the “angle”. Journalists will probably not be interested in your paintings/photography/whatever as there are hundreds just like you out there. But if you’ve won a national award, or work in a non-traditional field, or even built a successful home-based business as a single mother raising four kids – there’s your story! I recently told a sculptor friend that she needed to sex up and drape herself across her huge metal creations for a photo opportunity. I was only half joking.

5. Think about sending your releases via PRWeb, a Web-based service which automatically sends uploaded press releases to online newspapers and bloggers. You may not get anything, but if you put some backlinks into your release, it could help with search engine optimization.

6. Sign up to  SourceBottle and/or HARO (Help a reporter out). These are great sites where journalists post “call-outs” to people in order to interview them for a story or feature. Recent ones that have landed in my inbox have been asking for some who works in a non-traditional field, and one for event planners with juicy tidbits.

No matter what you do (or what you pay someone else to do on your behalf), there’s no guarantee that sending a press release will result in media attention. If you want guarantees, buy advertising space.

But you can reduce the odds (and, in the interests of self-promotion, it does help to have someone that knows the ropes write the release for you, or at least fine-tune your words.

Nicole Leeham is the owner of her own little biz: Black Coffee Communications. She specializes in helping small to medium businesses with writing, editing, marketing, public relations and media.

do you have a PR/media/advertising question for nicole. post it or send us an email. your question could become the next 'ask the expert' post!