How to increase the chance your news release gets traction
by Herman Cheng
A press release is one of the easiest ways to grab publicity for whatever it is you’re doing—whether it’s a launch, product upgrade, new office or hire, strategic partnership or a re-branding. It’s also one of the easiest documents to write. There’s not much to it—a headline followed by a description of the story and why it matters, ending with your contact information. They all follow the same basic formula, really. So why spend too much effort on it?
In reality, the biggest problem with press releases is quite simple: No one reads them. Press releases often use buzzwords and industry jargon to sound impressive, but mask the fact that they’re not really saying much of anything. A badly written news release with no substantive news can even backfire and make reporters ignore your future blasts.
Add to this is the fact that tech and finance reporters can receive up to 1,000 emails a day. They’re not likely going to open yours unless a) They know you; or b) You have a great hook that doesn’t sound promotional to them.
1. Focus on the email subject line
So first things first. The most important thing to a press release isn’t even in the press release—it’s the email subject line. If a reporter doesn’t open that email, you’ve lost the battle before you even started.
So unless you have something of great import to say, make sure your subject line doesn’t echo your headline and that doesn’t echo your first sentence. You have approximately half a second to get the reporter hooked, and you can’t waste that on a form headline. It’s probably best to send personal emails to the reporters you care most about.
The email subject line needs to arouse interest. One problem is there’s no hard and fast rule about what to put here. You could compliment them on a piece they wrote a few days ago (reporters put a lot of work into their articles, so it helps if you praise them for it). Or you can just write “hello.” It all depends on your relationship with that reporter. That’s why relationships can be important—the subject line should come across as sounding like they’re from a friend. A friend who wants something, of course, but a friend nonetheless.
2. Make things as easy as possible for the reporter
Once you start writing the body, you’ll need to actually follow up on that eye-catching headline with something that’s actually easy to read and publishable. One of the most tedious jobs for reporters in the industry is to sift through jargon and dense language in order to tease out the main takeaway. You should therefore say why this announcement is news at the very beginning, in a clear and conversational tone.
Samantha Murphy Kelly, Mashable’s CNNTech Editor, has remarked: “I always like to say, explain it to me in a sentence or two like you were telling your Grandmother, before getting into specifics. It’s always good to know ‘why’ the news is important too.” This sentiment echoes Warren Buffett’s famous line when he advised writers to “Write with a specific person in mind. When writing Berkshire Hathaway’s annual report, I pretend that I’m talking to my sisters.”
Remember that the person on the receiving end of the press release is an actual person, which means they will not be interested in your marketing-speak or “news-less” announcement masked as actual news to get publicity (but then, no one interested in that, really). The more a press release resembles an actual article they would write and publish, the more likely it is that they will use it. It helps to be familiar with their publication, and read what the reporter has written in the past. If you have time, you could even tailor the press release for their specific beat.
3. A great statistic can make a story
Once the reporter gets to reading the middle sections of your press release, it’s assumed that they’re going to read the remainder to pick out other points of interest. About two-three paragraphs in, you’re going to need to be relatively thorough with your level of detail, so it has all the data points and information the reporter will need to do their work once they get to writing.
But make sure you use data and information that appeals. Let’s say you did a study for your product that suggests 35% of consumers want to waste less food, but don’t know how. Or how your product can reduce 48% of food wastage. That statistic would be newsworthy—you’d even want to put that in the headline.
4. Give good quote
A lot of times, the press release will have the executive push out banal buzzwords and business-speak—many times, it’s just an afterthought. But a good quote can really turn a news release around—sometimes, it’s the only thing that gets printed.
Your spokesperson should sound like someone the reporters wants to interview, not a robot. So instead of, “The successful implementation of this fulfillment system promises to deliver tremendous impact to the industry as a whole,” try “After putting this fulfillment system in place, we realized how this could completely remake our industry.” Try to use the active voice as much as possible here.
Make sure the quote is insightful and has something to offer, instead of echoing the press release, or they won’t use it. Save your best lines for the quote, because making your CEO or senior exec sound like a tech or finance visionary can also pay off in the long run.
5. And remember this: “Who cares?”
Finally, the most important question you need to ask when writing your press release is: “Who cares?” Before you start writing about whatever news is happening that you think deserves attention, you should ask yourself a few questions, such as:
- What’s the story? Is there something important happening that readers should care about?
- Why should anyone care?
- Why now? Why is it newsworthy now?
And once you’ve finished, do it more time with that lens. Does it sound like something that the publication will publish?
If it is, then your job is done. And if the story does well, you can even capitalize on the buzz by putting out a second press release about the stories that have been written.