Your dog learned a new trick? You ordered a new iron? Would you like a press release with that? Press releases have become such a mundane part of public relations, that they’re synonymous with the typical drive-through question of: “Would you like fries with that?” In reality, there’s little reason to write a press release if it’s not going to get placed in the media. And even if your story does get placed, a press release isn’t always the best or most efficient way to go about pursuing media coverage.
Regardless, I am not surprised to get odd press release requests. What surprises me is when there’s been little thought about what happens after the release has been drafted and disseminated. Beyond just the simple question of the likelihood of the release even getting placed, many people don’t understand that there’s more to it than just writing and sending a release. The totality of embarking on a successful release campaign includes maintaining a well-researched media list, sending customized emails with the release and diligently following up — all important steps in the effort to achieve placement.
And yet, there is still a place for the press release. But, along with that comes knowing when, and when not, to write one. Let’s break down the mystery once and for all.
What’s New With You?
The first key is remembering that the news writes about what’s new. It’s as simple as that. Therefore, in A Modern Guide to Public Relations I ask readers to go through the exercise of writing down what’s new with their company and/or executives. Do that now. Jotting down a messy list will get your brain going without pigeon-holing it with too many ideas that will only serve as a distraction.
Think about what company and/or executive updates have occurred most recently and what’s on the horizon. There’s no need to go back past a few months, nor project too far into the future. Stay within a 12 month framework.
Once you have that list, here are the two keys to look for to determine if your press release ideas have merit or not.
Two Important News Components
Press releases must hold one of the following two characteristics for them to run:
There are a few ways in which your press release or news topic could be timely.
For instance, whatever you’re announcing shouldn’t have occurred too long ago. Last year’s news must stay in last year (unless last year was just a few months ago), which is why I suggest not going too far back in your list of new happenings.
But even better is if the press release could hook into something that is coming up soon, such as the announcement of something that your company will be involved in or will host.
Or, timeliness could be found by tweaking your news to align with current events/news, popular culture or other things that are already on people’s minds (such as the change of seasons with Back-to-School approaching and/or a specific holiday such as Labor Day).
And finally, timeliness should always consider when to send the release out. Send the release in a timely way that fits best with how each medium (print, TV, web, etc.) works. For instance, don’t send a release about an event happening tomorrow to a print outlet since they wouldn’t have time to print the information. And in that same vein, don’t send a release to TV now about an occurrence happening in six months because that’s too far out for them to plan.
Hooking into the timeliness of what’s going on in the world, such as Back-to-School, ties into the second concept: newsworthiness. Generally, newsworthiness considers whether or not your news is something that people would actually want to know. If your news doesn’t affect a particular news source’s audience, why would they want to tell their audience about it?
One way of ensuring that your news is in fact, newsworthy, is to pay attention to current news and how it may have a direct impact on, or connection with, your company. If you find a story there, you can add that angle in the lead of your press release. This is called “news jacking” and likely best done with a clear and concise PR pitch that is sent either along with your press release or instead of a press release. Regardless, if you have to write a press release and can add a current news hook into the release (otherwise known as making it newsworthy), you’re on the right track.
Putting Pen to Paper
Now that you have a general idea of how to approach gaining PR placements, remove anything that isn’t either timely or newsworthy from your list of news ideas before comparing them against the list of press release ideas below.
The ideas below range from the relatively mundane (such as an executive joining a board) to the very exciting (such as new scientific research). The mundane ideas are meant to be written as straight-forward announcements that could garner a few lines or a paragraph within the typical local business journal, business section of a local newspaper, or a trade journal. The larger ideas are strong enough to stand alone with a press release, but may be better encapsulated with a short, compelling pitch to be sent with the release to either summarize the release topic or convey something that you weren’t quite able to get across within the formal release structure.
List of Press Release Topics
- Join a board/committee
- Donate to a cause
- Open a new location
- Create a new service or product
- Hire a notable new person
- Construct new development/building
- Launch of a new scientific study or a study’s results
- Obtain substantial funding
- Win a notable award
- Community involvement/volunteering*
- Events, photo ops and press conferences*
- Recap what you did (events, fundraising and company results, such as growth)*
*The asterisks indicate that there is more to these particular topics and the release may need to look different, such as in media advisory format, or again, you may not even need a press release. In A Modern Guide to Public Relations, I explain these three categories in more depth, along with when a pitch may be a better course of action for all ideas.
It’s important to remember that no matter how similar they seem, no two situations are identical, therefore your course of action is going to vary. While many of us desire clear and concise rules, the best PR people are instinctual and learn with time. The creative aspect of PR, along with the ever-changing nature of news and the way it is consumed, means we’re constantly reassessing the rules. This brings the variety and flavor that many of us crave and thrive within as creative types.
However, when in doubt, come back to this blog post to strengthen your resolve, especially when it comes to telling your boss or client “no, you may not have a press release with that.”