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Or No-Fear Press Releases

by Christine Todd

 

Many years ago, when I first started temping, my boss asked me to draft a press release to publicise a forthcoming event. Cue panic and confusion. To my mind, press releases were written by big PR machines and were all about football teams and their latest signing, or Hollywood studios and their latest starlet. Not about a small accountancy practice sponsoring their local Flower & Produce Show.
 
Once my panic and confusion had subsided, I discovered one or two things about the press release. First, it is the most cost-effective form of publicity and, second, just about every organisation in every business sector can make good use of one. All you need is news. 
 
Take a quick look at any newspaper or magazine. A good proportion of the articles you see will have started life as a press release. Some are printed almost verbatim, just edited down to size (if that). Others might get chopped around quite a lot – perhaps ending up as only half a dozen lines.  But they all get the message out there.
 
All print and online media need content – and LOTS of it. So it must follow that they’ll all be as keen as mustard to publish your release, telling the whole world that “McGlen’s Blinds & Curtains are just the bees’ knees when it comes to blinds and curtains”.
Well, no they won’t, actually. Because that’s advertising.
 
While it is, of course, important to tell potential customers about McGlen’s Blinds & Curtains and about them being the bees’ knees an’ all, this should be part of your advertising campaign (paid-for adverts or an advertorial in the local paper), not a press release. 
 
And it isn’t news. Editors receive hundreds – in some cases, thousands – of this sort of press release every week. Usually, these are filed in the bin.
 
So what are the ingredients for a successful press release?
Firstly, and most importantly, make sure you have something to say. Whatever you say in your press release, remember: IT NEEDS TO BE NEWSWORTHY. Make it a news item, not an advert.
 
What is newsworthy news? Anything about your business - record-profits, a new MD, event sponsorship, innovative product, sports team sponsorship, merger, 25th/50th/100th year in business, team of employees running a marathon for a local charity … the list is practically endless. All and any of this will be of interest to your customers, existing and potential. 
 
Secondly, and most importantly (again), who do you want to read about your record-profits, new MD, event sponsorship, innovative product, etc., etc., etc?
Deciding on where your press release should be published is just as important as what you say.
 
Imagine your new product is aimed at office workers, so you obviously decide to send your press release to office professional websites like DeskDemon. However the words ‘office workers’ can mean anything from Receptionist to Senior Executive Assistant. So as well as DeskDemon, think about local papers, stationery magazines and ‘Gadget’ supplements in national newspapers.
 
Different groups of customers look for different benefits from the same products and services.  The Office Manager might be interested in the product because of the build-quality and durability; the small office Receptionist might like the value-for-money aspect; the Conference and Event Manager might like all of these things but also that the product is portable, has wi-fi and is easy to clean.  This would mean three separate press releases, each written for a specific group.
 
As for the release itself, these follow a simple set format:
 
Keep it short – 300 – 500 words is fine, less if needs be.
 
Stick to one topic per release. If there is a lot going on in your company, write more than one release. If your MD is retiring, the karate team you sponsor has just won a major tournament, profits are up for the fifth year in a rowand you’re about to launch a new product - that’s four different press releases. 
 
Whatever the subject of the release and whoever it’s aimed at, the first of paragraph should let your customers know who, what, where, when, how andwhy. It’s vital to get all of the most important information into the first few lines. 
 
If it helps, imagine a pyramid with the point (of the press release) at the top.  When an Editor needs to cut a story, they will start at the bottom and work backwards, chopping out whole paras until the piece is the required length.
 
“Lansdowne Stationery Products Ltd is pleased to announce that John Sargent is to be their new MD. He will take up the post when the current MD, Russell Grant, retires in February.”(News of the retirement will, of course, have been the subject of an earlier release!)
 
Go on to outline the story in more detail, the most relevant information first (such as Mr Sargent’s track record, previous job, career achievements) with the personal information (married, lives in the South East, keen dancer) in the later paragraphs. Remember to include a quote from Russell Grant and/or John Sargent.
 
Remember, too, to include a short paragraph at the end on how to contact the company: “For further information on, please contact our PR manager, Dave Myers on tel … email …”
 
After the main part of your press release, you need to write your ‘Notes to Editors’ - brief background information on the business, such as date established, last year’s turnover, number of staff employed around the country, other services offered, awards won, etc. This section can be as long as it needs to be.
 
At the end of this, include names and contact details in case editors or journalists require any further information or quotes.
 
Organising, researching, writing and distributing a press release takes time. And although there are no guarantees that an editor will publish it, a focussed, targeted approach (and giving the editors information relevant to their publication in a format they can use) can work wonders.
 
So, what news can you share with DeskDemon? Please send your press releases to editor@deskdemon.com


More About Christine Todd
Christine is a Virtual Assistant/Copywriter based in Surrey.  She has over 25 years’ secretarial experience in a diverse range of business sectors: from pensions to petrochemicals.  Christine has been self-employed since April 2000 after four years of (mostly) boring and uninteresting temp jobs.  Her VA business, In the Shed Secretarial, takes its name from her many conversations with clients who say, “I have an office in the house... well, it’s in the shed”.  She specialises in working with accountants and solicitors (mainly Matrimonial Law and Wills & Probate) although her clients also include a folk music magazine and a garden maintenance company.
 
Christine set up In the Shed Copywriting in 2008 and since then has written and ghostwritten articles, stories, newsletters and websites. She has taken part in the Great North Run for several years, fundraising for elderly charities such as Age UK, Action on Elder Abuse and Contact the Elderly. 
 
An exiled Geordie, she is currently researching her family tree and the history of her home town.

http://intheshedsecretarial.co.uk/