Many marketing experts estimate that anywhere from 65 to 75 percent of news stories come from press releases, which shows that many news items are actually planted by companies themselves. The press release is a valuable public relations tool that large and mid-size companies seem to understand. But do small businesses take advantage of this powerful tool? They should, because press releases, if successful, are a relatively easy and inexpensive way to generate media coverage.
Press Release Definition
A press release is a statement written and distributed with the purpose of initiating media coverage of a topic that a company or an organization wants to share with the outside world. News directors, editors, and reporters decide whether the story is interesting and newsworthy for their audience. They have three options: cover the story, use the press release verbatim, or disregard the information.
When would you typically send a press release? The answer is quite simple. Every time that you identify a story that you want to share with the world write a press release. The challenge, though, is to determine when you have a newsworthy story. A story is newsworthy when the story has relevance for a large group of people, is different from the ordinary, contains human interest, and comes from a trustworthy and well-known source.
These requirements may scare away small businesses. Is the hair salon, located in Queen Anne, a well-known source? Not in Washington State, but probably in Queen Anne. Could a physical therapist located in Seattle have a message interesting enough for a large group? Not for all Seattleites, but probably for all Seattleites with a health issue.
The point is that you do not need to have momentous news to make it into the newspaper. Your news can be groundbreaking for the community in which you work and therefore might be covered in the small local newspapers. Additionally, media outlets need "fillers" to complement the "big stories." Being a "filler" might not sound appealing, but what does it matter if it generates free publicity?
Examples of Stories
Following are two fictitious newsworthy stories that might be covered by the media.
O A mother of two kids is disappointed by the lack of children's consignment stores in her neighborhood Beacon Hill. She decides to open a consignment store herself. Along with gently used clothes, she will carry unique apparel made by stayed-at-home moms. The opening of her store is a news item that has relevance for families with young children who live in <st1:place>Beacon Hill</st1:place> and in the surrounding neighborhoods. Media outlets like the Beacon Hill News & South District Journal
and the Mount Baker View
will probably cover her story.
O A dog academy in Seattle will add a new program to its services. Along with trainings for dogs, the academy will teach toddlers and young children how to approach and treat dogs. The new program is a reaction to an increase among young children who are developing a fear of dogs. This story also will be of interest to families with young children. The magazine ParentMap
, but also the neighborhood newspapers, and perhaps even a local radio station likely would be interested in the story.
Now that you have identified a newsworthy story, how do you communicate the story to media outlets? To increase the chances of coverage, write the press release in a journalistic, inverted pyramid style:
1. Cover "who, what, where, when, and why" in the first paragraph.
2. In subsequent paragraphs expand upon the first and give additional information and quotes.
3. In the last paragraph, known as the "boilerplate," give succinct information about your company and what you offer.
Finally, in the headline you summarize the story. For example: "Dog Academy Teaches Young Children to Cope with Dog Anxiety." You may want to add a sub-head that tells the rest of the story, such as "New Training is Reaction to Growing Number of Children Who Fear Dogs."
The typical press release announces that the statement is for immediate release. If your company's name is not in the letterhead, mention it in the upper left corner. The symbol ### at the bottom marks the end of the press release. After the ### symbol, you can add a "for reporters only" section. In this section, give additional information like a contact name and telephone number. A press release is ideally one or two pages, printed on a standard letter-size paper, and double-spaced.
What next, now your press release is ready? Companies, like PRWeb and PR Newswire, can send out your press release to a huge group of media outlets for a reasonable price. But if your market is more local, build up your own media list. Check out newspapers and magazines in the library or at a bookstore. Also, check out the typical shows on local radio and television stations. Ask yourself questions like: "Which magazines do my customers read?" By keeping your customers in the back of your mind, you create a unique database of media outlets that has relevance to your business.
You can mail, e-mail, or fax your press release. Major media outlets like The Seattle Times
work with a large group of reporters. In this case, send your press release to the newsroom and, if possible, to the reporter who covers your field. Smaller media outlets usually have one news editor on the payroll, in which case you will send your press release directly to this person. You do not need a cover letter; the press release speaks for itself.
Sometimes a follow-up phone call is worth the effort. Editors and reporters appreciate it if your first question is: "Do you have a deadline?" If the answer is yes, ask when you could call them back.
How do you track your media coverage? If you send a press release to a small list of outlets, you probably can monitor these outlets yourself. However, it is time-consuming to sift through all the newspapers, listen to radio shows, and watch television programs. Another possibility is to subscribe to a clipping service. A clipping service monitors the media based upon keywords, for example your company's name. A similar, but free, service is www.google.com/alerts
Powerful PR Tool
Small businesses can benefit from the power of a press release. Just remember that when you identify a newsworthy story, write the press release in a journalistic, inverted pyramid style, and send it to media outlets that are relevant to your customers. Your work may pay off in coverage of your story and, more importantly, new customers.