Every day, I receive via email about a dozen press releases. Some reporters (like those covering tech beats) receive hundreds. Very few of these emails are opened, fewer are read top to bottom, and fewer still end up inside an article or blog post.
This is bad news for entrepreneurs, because positive coverage in a high-visibility publication or website is one of the best (and definitely the least-expensive) ways that a smaller firm can break through the noise and get its message out.
Over the years, I've noticed that one publicist, Dottie DeHart, keeps sending me press releases (mostly for books) that I open, read, and sometimes adapt into blog posts. I recently asked her what makes a "killer" press release. Here's what she said:
- Understand the concept. A press release is never about promoting a product; it's about showcasing an idea that will interest readers.
- Be timely. A press release should be about something that matters, like an unusual take on a hot trend, or timely nugget of useful information.
- Don't flatter yourself. Unless you're Apple Computer, the mere fact that you've released a new product isn't newsworthy.
- Know who's the boss. When writing a press release, you're not working for the company; you're working for the journalists.
- Make their job easy. Journalists have never been so overworked, so your job as a publicist is to make it easy for them to work with you.
- Be specific. The business world is full of 50,000-foot views of business problems; journalists want something readers will click on.
- Get edgy. The title of your press release should be a bit "sexy," like the blurbs that they put on magazine covers.
A Typical Example
With Dottie's rules in mind, let's look at a real-life press release and try to make it better. Here's one that I received earlier today:
I just spotted your article on Inc about neuroscience and staying calm and thought you would be interested to learn about PIP. PIP is a biosensor which uses biofeedback to help users measure, understand and, over time, manage stress. Below is a brief introduction to PIP, I would love to arrange a call to discuss its technology and how it can help manage stress.
I look forward to hearing from you,
PIP--the first biosensor to train you to manage everyday stress--now available to order.
PIP provides a breakthrough in personal stress management. It enables you to measure, understand and, over time, manage stress. PIP's light, ergonomic design means it can be used at home, in the office, or wherever you feel stressed. Following a successful campaign on crowdfunding platform Kickstarter, PIP has been delivered to Kickstarter backers and is now available for general sale.
[several paragraphs about the product, followed by contact info]
As press releases go, this is above average. At least the person who wrote it has tied the press release into something that I've written about in the past.
However, she's still leaving it up to me to figure out how to turn this information into a story. Rather than helping me do my job, she's given me action items: read this, go here, call me, etc.
Furthermore, I have no immediate idea of where this product falls into context. I can figure out what the product is, but I have no idea what the product means.
Now, let's suppose instead that the press release had been something like this:
10 Ways Biosensors Will Change Your Life
Stress is a huge problem in today's working world, resulting in illness, lack of sleep, and lost productivity. Fortunately, new technology is making it possible to monitor and reduce stress, according to David Ingram, CEO of PIP, a company that's pioneering the use "biosensors" inside businesses. "These devices will have an enormous impact, changing many aspects of our current work environment," he says. Here are the 10 most important changes that biosensors will drive:
1. Meetings will become less hectic. [etc., etc.]
If I'd gotten that press release, I'd immediately "get" what the story was about. Because it's already a listicle, I wouldn't have to think about how I'd format the story. All I'd need would be to figure out how to put my own twist on the story.