The meaning of the phrase press kit is evolving. As recently as a decade ago, it meant literally a package of information in a folder sent out to reporters to try and generate interest in a company. The kits were an easy way to share a comprehensive look at a business, but were notoriously cumbersome. A reporter attending an industry trade show could walk away with suitcases full of packets of information from a dozen different companies in a mess of envelopes and loose papers. Lots of it, to be honest, ended up in the recycling bin anyway.

Over time, some companies and promoters got savvier. Press kits occasionally morphed into elaborately designed folders of multimedia information – CDs, music samples, and content on flash drives. Often freebies were tucked inside, but all the same, much of that would be overlooked and land in the trash.

These days, a press kit has been shrunken down to digital bytes, making it easier to handle for both reporters and public relations teams. In addition to saving money on printing and mailing costs, the modern press kit gives media instant access to photos and videos featuring your business that they can download and use immediately.

"Reporters who are on deadline, working on way too many things, spread across multiple beats, going nuts, you want to make it easy for them to write about you," says Leyl Master Black, managing director SparkPR, a public relations firm based in San Francisco.

Public relations professionals say creating a good press kit is as important as having a website or customer service hotline these days. But putting one together is often as easy as gathering up some information about your company you already have lying around. But where do you start? Experts offer these tips:

Putting Together a Press Kit: Focus on the Key Elements

You want your press kit to be one-stop shopping for any journalist looking to write about your company. But public relations firms say they also use the kits as marketing tools for potential advertisers or clients. Professionals say every kit should include the following elements:

Company overview
: What does your company do? When did it start? Is there something unique about your founding that people might be interested in? The overview is the place to sum up your business so that even someone who hasn't heard of you before will understand what your operation is all about. This can also include a fact sheet listing elements of your business or a timeline of growth and achievements.

Biographies: Use this section to talk about your company's founders, CEO, chairperson, investors or any other key players.

"It's a great opportunity to differentiate and put a human face on the company," says Lauren Selikoff, chief marketing officer for Allison & Partners, a public relations firm based in San Francisco. "Bios are often a lost opportunity for that because really a company's executives are the soul of the company. You can get some insight into how a company's management team thinks, what their vision for the future is."

But keep the descriptions tight and don't try to tell everyone's life story or you risk losing interest fast, warns Lou Hammond, founder of Hammond and Associates, which handles public relations for several resorts and destinations out of its New York, Florida, and South Carolina offices.

"No bio in today's world needs to be more than three paragraphs," she says.

FAQs: You can use a frequently asked questions section to help differentiate your company from your competitors, Black says. She recommends talking to your sales team to find out what questions keep popping up. Your answers will help place your company in context of the larger marketplace. You may also want to consider including customer testimonials or product reviews if appropriate.

News coverage
: You should always include at least your one or two most recent press releases. But you also should include any coverage or mentions in the press your company has received, such as reprints of magazine stories, clips from a newsreel, or screenshots from online publications. Don't have any coverage yet? Erin Tracy, vice president of Regan Communications, says you should consider hiring a production team to create a demo video. This gives you a chance to show off your company and executives as poised, articulate, TV friendly, and ready for interviews.

Getting rights for reprints of news coverage can sometimes be costly, so Selikoff recommends considering just linking to the coverage instead in your online press release.

Art: In the spirit of one-stop shopping, your press release should provide some photos or B-roll footage of your company that media organizations can easily use. They could be photos of your products, headshots of key employees, video of your operations or a map of your location. The kit should make it clear that journalists are allowed to republish the images or video with any appropriate credits. Including a logo with the images is an easy way to get your brand image out into the public consciousness, experts say.

When creating publicity materials for the "Back Jack" campaign that seeks to turn Jack Daniel's birthday into a national holiday, public-relations firm DVL, which is based in Nashville, included archival photos of the liquor's namesake and high-quality downloadable videos talking about his history.

"He's celebrating what would be his 160th birthday," says Mark Day, senior vice president at DVL. "We want to point out to the media that Jack Daniels actually was a real man. [The kit] becomes a library of all things Jack Daniels for the particular birthday promotion."

If you don't have professional photos to share, Tracy recommends setting up a company Flickr page, YouTube account or Facebook profile and linking to them through the kit. Those services are easy to use and a quick way to share photos from recent events, she says.

Contact information: This seems like a no-brainer, but public relations professionals say some people often overlook including a section telling media whom to contact for more information. You should list phone numbers and e-mail addresses for your company spokesperson, public relations person or a designated staff member who handles media requests.

"The benefit of having a press kit is having all of the information that you want people to know together in one spot," Selikoff says. "A press kit without contact information is useless."

Dig Deeper: How to Write a Press Release

Putting Together a Press Release: Choose a Solid Format

The vast majority of press kits are found online these days, which makes them easy to distribute to reporters, simple to update and cheaper to produce.  Other companies opt to put the entire kit on a flash drive — a slick solution to distributing lots of information in person without paper.

But printed kits still have some uses. Selikoff says they still come in handy at trade shows so companies can get something in the hands of journalists right away. Some new clients will ask for a press kit on the spot to get all the company's information at once, she says.

Online or in print, the presentation of the kit is important because it reflects your brand.

"If you're going to do a paper press kit, quality counts," Selikoff says. "Invest in a decent quality paper stock because copy paper just doesn't cut it."

If sustainability or environmental consciousness is part of your platform, the kit should reflect it by using recycled paper and soy inks, she says.

Your kit should include a business card holder. The design of the whole package can be used to highlight your brand or products. When creating materials for Flip Me Dating, a new service that lets users distribute cards to strangers to make a love connection, Tracy and her firm designed a kit that looks like an actual "flip" card to demonstrate how it works.

If you distribute paper kits, Hammond says a year is the standard shelf life before it needs a major update.

Dig Deeper: Are Flash Drives Replacing Paper?

Putting Together a Press Kit: Focus on Efficient Distribution

Just as with sending out press releases, knowing when and where to send your kit is crucial. Professionals say you should spend some time researching publications and media outlets to know which ones are most likely to cover your company.

"We want to make sure that the journalists that receive those know that we have at least done our homework or see that they write in this area," Day says. "We're not sending it out just to get it out the door."

Including a personalized introduction letter helps make a connection with the person you're trying to reach, he says.

Hammond recommends sending out no more than 50 paper kits. You can contact more media organizations, but do so by sending a link to the kit in through e-mail so you're not running up your printing costs.

If you're including a product sample, Day says you should be aware of rules some reporters and media outlets have about accepting free gifts, such as the hat, T-shirt and small bottle of Jack Daniels included in his kit. Keep the value of any goods you include to a nominal level or contact a media outlet to find out what rules they adhere to.

Remember: just because you think something is newsworthy doesn't mean a reporter will agree.

"The most important thing is to do your homework develop relationships with journalists," Day says.

Dig Deeper: How to Talk to the Press About Your Company