How to write press release - Copify

How to write a press release

Press releases are a great way of communicating your latest news or updates with members of the news media, who will then relate this information to their wider audience if they think it will be of interest. It can sometimes go by the name of either a ‘press release’, ‘media release’, ‘news release’, ‘press statement’ or ‘video release’. It is typically a written document, which needs to have some level of newsworthiness. It is usually between one or two pages in length.

Although lots of people require a press release, not everyone recognises or understands what it takes to write an effective one. So if you’re wondering how to write a press release, read on…

Make it newsworthy

For The Guardian, one of the most important aspects is that your release actually contains news. They suggest asking yourself questions such as what is ‘new’ about your story, whether there is anything unexpected or unusual about what you have to say, whether it would be of interest to anyone else outside of your business, and whether anyone will actually care about the news.

Although the latter may seem harsh, they suggest this is one of the most important questions as you need your story to resonate with people. Otherwise, it will simply flop. In essence, you need to try and find a new angle to your story, product or company, or link it to a current trend.

The headline matters

When considering what might be of interest in your headline or structure, imagine whether it would capture your reader’s attention while scrolling through Facebook or Twitter. HubSpot suggests your headline should be ‘irresistible’.

How to write press release

At Forbes, they note that the headline is the most important feature given the vast quantity of e-mails that reporters will receive. They suggest getting to your point quickly, noting what the story is, why they should care and why now. With an effective headline, it will make it easier to organise your thoughts.

The subject line of your email should feel personal, without being all capitals or either super formal/super casual. Often it helps to show you are specifically trying to contact the journalist of that specific publication, rather than just sending out generic news blasts.

Write in the third person

When writing a press release, it needs to sound impartial and as though someone else is talking about your company, rather than like a personal message or e-mail from your business. It should refer to your business name when talking about your company, rather than using words such as ‘we’ and ‘our’. It should almost feel as though a stranger or journalist is reporting your news – in the same tone you would expect to read it when reported on.

If you want to add a personal face to your company, it’s recommended you include a quote from either a key figure in the organisation or from the company spokesperson. Quotes add depth to a story which is why they are usually favoured by journalists and can help get your release featured.

Consider the structure

HubSpot have a very clear structure and layout for how an effective press release should be written. It is an official announcement so should be laid out in a formal structure. They suggest that the heading should include action verbs, while the first paragraph shouldHow to write press release specifically answer four key questions – who, what, where and why. Along with these, Marketing Donut suggests adding the questions of ‘when’ and ‘how’ to this list as well, to include the timing and significance of when it came about.

For the structure, HubSpot also reiterate the use of a quote and highlight the value of using easy to grasp language. They also point out that audiences are not the same as they were 10 or so years ago – therefore, you’re no longer feeding the traditional news cycle. Your press release needs to appeal to an attention-starved, busy audience used to getting their news in soundbite nuggets from social media.

Don’t shy away from data

It is important that your press release is interesting, and this comes through being concise and to the point. However, it is also important for your news release to contain all the necessary information for a journalist to write a story without needing to contact you for further details (although many may want to).

It can be very beneficial to add key data, which the Huffington Post also notes, as this may help the journalist find the hook needed to want to produce a write-up based on the press release. It may help them identify trends with other similar stories to then group it all together. Adding hard numbers will help to verify everything you’re saying, improve its credibility and establish a colourful narrative. Make sure you have evidence for everything you’re saying in case you need to verify it and try to keep it compelling.

Include your contact details

In the eventHow to write press release that the journalist writing about your press release does want to contact you for further information or an interview, it can be very helpful for them if the contact information is added at the end for the person in question.

Whether your own company or another’s, this should include an e-mail address, phone number and full name – plus the person’s job title. Typically it will be someone in the marketing or press team, or the CEO or communications manager in smaller companies.

Add context, background and flavour

Through putting your story into the wider context, it helps to show your audience why it matters and what is going on within your industry that they may not already be aware of. This includes quotes from other sources or data that previous research may have found. It may include linking to relevant news reports or even quoting an article that the journalist has previously written. It helps to show that you understand exactly why it matters.

Short, sweet and to the point

With any news release, it is important that you don’t waffle. It can be tempting to add lots of descriptive and flowery language and repeat the same point in various ways. However, that’s not your job to do this. It’s for the journalist to add their own spin on the news. All you need to do is report the facts in the clearest, most concise and comprehensive way possible.

Try to keep what you’re writing to a few paragraphs, and no longer than two pages. Adding pictures, sub-headings and sending appropriate images (in a variety of resolutions) through email attachment can greatly improve the chances of getting your press release published.

The first paragraph is most important, so get all your key information in there. The second paragraph should then expand on this, with a third paragraph for the quote, and a fourth paragraph for final information and any insight into what else is coming up next.

The quotes included should be interesting and great sound-bites that a journalist may actually want to use. When it comes to how to write press release, Marketing Donut suggest keeping your sentences to 25 words in length to ensure they have punch, without any lengthy explanations.

And if you want to include any extra information about your company or about opportunities for a photo shoot, for example, include these in a ‘Notes to Editor’ section at the end.

 

Main image credit: Rob Sinclair
Image credits: Robert Couse-Bakerbhavya999Jason Bagley

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The relationship between content marketing and PR

It’s tempting to see content marketing and public relations as entirely different concepts; as x and y on the same timeline, if you like. Public relations is labelled as an outdated, dying art, while content marketing is the new trend that every business must now focus exclusively on. The truth, as always, is somewhere in between. Content marketing and PR borrow aspects from one another to achieve their end goals.

The differences between content marketing and PR

Both public relations and content marketing focus on the relationship between a business or organisation and its core audience. As Tamara Franklin points out in her blog for Calysto

“at their cores, content marketing and PR are both storytelling disciplines.”

It is in the way in which they tell their stories that these disciplines differ. Traditional public relations is centred around how you portray what you have to sell, whether it’s a product, a business or even a person, to the media, who face the public and tell your story. It is therefore very closely linked to, and shaped by, journalists, broadcasters and other outside influences, who have a large say in defining the reputation, good or bad, of a business. This is why we often call exposure gained through public relations ‘earned media’.

Content marketing removes the media from the equation, jumping the gun and communicating directly with end users the ‘stories’ that they want to hear. These stories effectively sell the brand, while simultaneously educating the audience. Content marketing places power, not in the hands of what PR people call ‘organisation stakeholders’, but directly with the organisation itself, with ‘owned media’ (corporate blogs, social media accounts, company websites etc.) acting as the initial channel of distribution.

Adapt to survive?

While public relations and content marketing are fairly similar in terms of end goals, the advent of the latter practice has meant that PR executives have had to adapt to keep up. These professionals now employ the tactics used by content marketers to tell their tale. To quote Emma Gilbey of Mediavision Interactive:

“In the past, PRs had to rely on a product, press release or the brand itself to tell a story and captivate journalists and influencers. Now, with strong content, PRs can tell a real story in order to secure press coverage.”

The notion of ‘earned media’ has shifted

The mainstream media is one of the most influential ‘noises’ in everyday life. On the whole, people believe what they read in the papers, hear on the radio and see on the television. They are less inclined to believe an announcement posted on a corporate blog, by the director or chief executive of that corporation. As Jean Spencer, writing for Content Marketing Institute bluntly puts it:

“corporate blogs carry a stigma of self-serving promotion, and the general public is still more likely to trust traditional news outlets.”

Therefore, public relations professionals, due to their contacts with influential media personalities, are still useful in terms of getting that big ‘earned media’ break for your company. However, the way in which they do this has changed slightly, and that’s down to content marketing.

Content marketing has proved that, if brands publish quality content that holds value for the consumer, this content will soon gain traction and could reach mainstream media in a more organic way, such as through writing guest blogs for publishers. This is a content marketing tactic now commonly used by PR professionals, as communications director Frank Strong recalls in this blog post. Strong is not alone in terms of having to think outside the box.

Quality content convinces

According to the Content Marketing Institute, the recent entrance of content marketing on the scene mirrors the increased ambivalence consumers have to the traditional world of marketing. Audiences, so they say;

“own a DVR to skip television advertising, often ignore magazine advertising, and now have become so adept at online “surfing” that they can take in online information without a care for banners or buttons.”

Consumers don’t just want to sit there passively and be sold products, they now demand content that is relevant and valuable; they ‘scour the internet for information, reviews and credibility‘ themselves. Once they’ve found this information, they are far more likely to convert. Of course, they think that this decision has been made on their own terms, because the brand-generated content is strong enough to convince.

As Outbrain highlight:

“One of the governing principles of content marketing is think like a consumer — is this something I would click on? Is this content I would share?”

We’re all consumers ourselves, so when we do publish content, quality and insight should be at the forefront of our minds and content marketing – brands publishing their own content – has undoubtedly helped with this. This was a problem in traditional public relations, as PR professionals frantically attempted to reach as many media outlets as possible with press releases and the like, without really paying attention to what the people on the other side actually wanted to read.

Conclusion

As you can see, there are conflicting ideas and opinions on how PR and content marketing link in with one another. Some would say the latter is an update of the former, others believe the two have always existed as separate disciplines, while a few people see content marketing and public relations as two sides of the same coin. Perhaps everyone’s right.

What is clear is that old tactics of advertising and marketing products, services and businesses to the general public have changed immeasurably, with different areas in marketing adopting the ideas that have previously worked so well for their peers. The lines have become blurred.

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How to create a killer press release template

A well written press release, distributed through the correct channels, can increase web traffic and boost search engine rankings. A big part of this success relies on being able to react to breaking news quickly, so it’s worth developing a solid press release template to follow, so you can get your take on the latest news in front of key influencers before anyone else.

Getting started

Before you start, understand that there is no strict formula for writing a successful press release. To adopt a few bits of fishing terminology: it’s not a ‘one bait catches all’ process; you might have to cast your line out for a while before you get a bite.

Start by listing variations of the following questions at the top of your press release template:

• What am I trying to say?
• Why is it worth saying?
• How am I going to say it?
• Who am I targeting?
• Where is this appearing?

These should get the person writing the press release thinking of the bigger picture, in regards to its purpose and what you hope it can achieve for your brand.

Choose a catchy title

Highlight the importance of choosing an eye-catching title in your press release template. There’s a reason why newspapers jostle for space outside newsagents with clever ‘play on words’ and ‘what did that say?  headlines that make people stop in their tracks, buy the paper and read more. The same rationale applies to picking an enticing title for your press release.

Susan Payton from Cision suggests that, when writing a press release, you should imagine the story being printed on a front page. Choosing a headline to match, will, according to Payton’s interviewee Melissa L. James, help people look at the article through ‘readers eyes.’

Remember to pick a title that conveys what you’re trying to get across, without being too heavy on keywords; you want people to be persuaded into reading your release, but you don’t want to mislead them with ‘clickbait’ or robotised sales copy. It may help to write the headline after you’ve composed the rest of the release, so you know exactly what you need to cover.

Focus on the top line

The next ‘box to tick’, if you will, is the press release’s top line.

Ensure the theme of your release is perfectly encapsulated by the opening sentence. This should summarise what the release is about and, once again, it should read like the introduction to a news story. As Copyblogger highlights: “Your average information-hungry consumer won’t stand two seconds for dry, self-indulgent marketing babble.” If you’re writing about the launch of a new store, for example, just announce it: people don’t need or want to hear about your turnover or USPs – yet!

If in doubt, cut it out

In the words of the English language’s greatest communicator, brevity is the soul of wit – so don’t go overboard. Use every word carefully and, if in doubt, cut. Jeremy Porter highlights a particularly bad, jargon-filled release, while also quickly remedying its faults and producing an easier-to-read example that still communicates the original message.

Choose your quotations carefully

All good press releases will include a handpicked quotation from a relevant individual that adds to the provenance of the piece. Ensure quotations aren’t platitudinous and don’t merely repeat the points made in the main copy.

Write in the third person

Always write in the third person – stamp this in capitals across the top of your outline if you like – anything else and it’ll just sound like sales copy.

Be creative

Think outside the box! Brands are no longer constrained by two-dimensional black and white print, so tell your press release writer to review the article and include informative links, pictures or videos, where necessary.

Hannah Fleishman of HubSpot is particularly vocal on this, pointing out that it’s worth sitting down together as a team to discuss how you can include infographics, slideshows and the like to increase the likelihood of your content being shared across different channels.

This example, from British tech start-up The Soldier’s Box, includes a video that demonstrates the value of the product being offered, while still providing the fully-formed content that can be spun into a news story. Of course, the publisher doesn’t have to use the video, but it could help pique their interest.

Who are ya?

Don’t forget that, after telling the story, you need to include some details about your company. After all, you aren’t doing this to give journalists and online publishers an easy life; you’re doing it as part of your content marketing strategy! Contact details are vital, but don’t provide a long list – choose between phone number, email address, web/blog address and social media handle, depending on the type of release and the nature of your business.

Summary

The key to success here is quality. Your releases should be written with the human consumer in mind. Make them relevant, informative, attractive and readable, and you should start to notice just how effective they can be. Finally, don’t forget to proofread thoroughly for grammar, punctuation and spelling before you send – releases are often published as is, and you don’t want your business to look unprofessional!

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Ask an SEO – Patrick Langridge of Screaming Frog on combining SEO and PR

Patrick Langridge, SEO Consultant - Screaming Frog
Patrick Langridge, SEO Consultant – Screaming Frog

The convergence of SEO and PR has never been more crucial to the success of an SEO campaign.

Getting SEO buy-in from a PR team can help you to gain powerful links and citations from authority sites. Unfortunately, this is sometimes difficult to achieve, as PR professionals are judged on press cuttings and exposure, not search engine rankings.

In the latest edition of our weekly Ask an SEO feature, I caught up with SEO consultant Patrick Langridge. Patrick has a background in traditional PR and gave me some really good insight into how to successfully combine the two disciplines.

Q) Hi Patrick, could you maybe start by telling us about your current role?

Screaming Frog
Screaming Frog

A) Hi Martin, thanks for having me! I’m an SEO Consultant at Screaming Frog; we’re a search marketing agency based in Henley-on-Thames, UK. If the name rings a bell it’s probably because you’re familiar with our own SEO crawling software the SEO Spider, but I’m always keen to remind people that we’re predominantly a paid and organic search agency! My role involves both onsite/technical SEO, as well as the offsite/traditional marketing side of things which includes link building, creating and implementing content, and PR strategy.

Q) How and why did you make the switch from PR to SEO?

A) In a bit of a roundabout way really! After leaving my PR position and looking for a new role, I rather speculatively applied for a job here at Screaming Frog, assuming that I would probably be technically under qualified to ‘do’ SEO. As it turned out, while working in PR I was actually ‘doing’ SEO without realising it – a lot of my PR work was specifically digital PR where there is a growing amount of synergy with SEO. Since the day I was fortunate enough that Screaming Frog took a punt on me, I haven’t looked back.

Q) I’ve often found that getting SEO buy-in from PRs can be tricky, do you have any recommendations on how you can get a traditional PR team or agency to incorporate SEO considerations into their work?

A) It’s important for PRs to understand the long term value of SEO, and how it relates to their day-to-day work. At times PR can be very immediate – it’s naturally great to have an article about your brand feature in the Guardian newspaper for instance, but in reality that newspaper will be tomorrow’s fish and chip paper, as the cliché goes. I’m over simplifying rather, but the long term SEO value that links provide, especially from trusted newspaper websites, is huge in comparison to what might be just a few column inches. A link from the Guardian isn’t just for today, that news article will be archived, the link will mature and the article might even receive references and links of its own which will only increase the SEO value of your own hyperlink.

Q) Do you think that PR professionals are becoming more SEO-savvy?

A) Slowly but surely yes, but in general PRs could be a lot more aware of what SEO is and have a better understanding of the power of links. I wrote a blog post last year about how SEO and PR aren’t all that different, and with a little extra know how, PR agencies could integrate SEO and actually offer it and charge for it as a separate service to clients.

Unfortunately, we as SEOs still see too many press releases without hyperlinks, too many news articles not referencing the original sources or quotes back to the client, and too many wasted SEO opportunities! A lot of PRs still aren’t quite there yet technically, but this is probably down to the fact that links and SEO aren’t even a consideration for some of them; it’s just simply not their job to worry about digital.

I can’t stress enough the importance of SEO and PR talking to each other, whether that’s agency to agency via the client, or just across the room if your marketing team is working in-house!

A bit of controversy can help you to win at SEO & PR
A bit of controversy can help you to win at SEO & PR

Q) Do you have any other tips on how to write a successful SEO press release?

A) I’m probably preaching to the converted for any PRs reading this, but for SEOs, you need to think like a journalist thinks. A strong headline and genuinely interesting story with a hook or angle should be a given when approaching press, and then you need to consider who journalists answer to – their editors and sub-editors. What they demand of their staff is to write stories that will sell papers in the offline world, and generate clicks online.

Stephen Pavlovich of Wish.co.uk gave a great talk at the recent Content Marketing Show about how he has been able to get some great links from media outlets and newspaper websites. Stephen’s four pillars to achieve a successful PR campaign are; topical, sexual, controversial and celebrity. If you can combine all four at once then you’re on the right track. As for the SEO side of the press release, I wouldn’t recommend putting out a press release for the sake of a link (i.e. if the release isn’t actually newsworthy!), and don’t go too heavy on anchor text either, as some recent examples have badly demonstrated.

Q) How do you deal with the usual problem of getting SEO recommendations implemented by your clients?

A) It can be an ongoing battle! We are very much a consultancy agency and don’t carry out any development ourselves, so all we can do is hope that our clients’ dev team are on the ball! Strong communication is the key here, it can get the required ‘buy in’ and solve any issues along the way. We provide as much support and guidance as possible in that regard. SEO recommendations are an on-going consideration too; don’t just think that your recommendations in month 1 of a campaign are satisfactory. Constantly review them and reassess how pages are aligned in regard to traffic and rankings.

Q) Have your campaigns been impacted by the Panda and Penguin updates? If so, what have you done to recover?

A) Thankfully we haven’t had any of our existing clients hit by Panda or Penguin, but have since taken on new clients who have been hit by both updates. We regularly receive enquiries about link based problems which makes us unhappy. As all affected are finding, there isn’t an easy, quick fix to recover from Penguin, despite the recent introduction of the disavow tool. Even once the disavow file and reconsideration request have been submitted, and manual action has revoked, that’s really just the first step in a long road to recovery as often you have to start again with offsite strategy and links. Panda provides a different challenge as of course it’s onsite (rather than link based, although we suspect there is a link based element to it! :-)). The issue of course is low quality, thin or duplicated content and the solution is simple, improve or remove! We have had success with recoveries here, but the interesting thing about Panda is that some websites have to come to terms with the fact that traffic might not ever quite reach the levels seen pre-Panda as they were classed as underserving

Searchmetrics - One of Patrick's recommended SEO tools
Searchmetrics – One of Patrick’s recommended SEO tools

Q) What are your favourite SEO tools?

A) I really love Searchmetrics and geekily await their update every Wednesday/Thursday! We use SEOmoz’s great toolset in-house, and Majestic is still the best backlink analysis tool out there. Three smaller tools I would recommend, that all do different jobs: Check My Links is an awesome Chrome plugin which allows you to do broken link building at all times, Pinalytics is a great new tool that helps you find the best link prospects via Pinterest, and we’re getting a handle on Buzzstream which looks very powerful and great for scaling outreach.

Q) Rand Fishkin recently predicted the decline of anchor text as a ranking factor, is he right?

A) I think we have already seen a big decrease in the power of anchor text over the past couple of years, you certainly can’t get away with a backlink profile made up of just exact match keyword anchor text links, but I don’t see anchor text disappearing as a ranking factor altogether. Anchor text is still a major ranking factor in Google’s algo, even if the percentage of importance has reduced. Something that I’m noticing from very recent work is that I don’t see any hard and fast rules when it comes to anchor text, it’s dependent on the link profile and trust of the site. If you have a newish site or domain with low trust and you try to point a tonne of exact match anchor links to it, obviously it won’t rank and will potentially hurt you in the long run. But, if you have a trusted domain with a large number of referring domains, with a natural and varied link profile, exact match anchor links are still extremely powerful, and I don’t see this radically changing over the next 12 months.

Ross Hudgens on paid links
Ross Hudgens on paid links

Q) Any other SEO predictions for 2013?

A) I predict that things won’t die in 2013. There’s a lot of hyperbole spouted by so-called experts about certain link building tactics or ranking factors ‘dying’. If your link building tactics are continually risky and you push Google to the limit then you will deservedly get penalised, but if you’re smart about building links then some of the old-school ‘greyer’ hat tactics do still work. Google’s algo loves a pattern, that’s when it becomes most effective, so if you create a pattern then you’re only on borrowed time – it doesn’t matter if it’s paid links, guest posts or directory submissions. Ross Hudgens explains it well with his example of paid links: “The best time to buy paid links is when everyone has stopped buying paid links. Abuse was downfall, absence may be ascent.”

I also predict that what we’re seeing with rel=author is going to continue to be really important into 2013. It’s not quite enough to ‘just’ rank well anymore, you also need to find ways to earn clicks which rel=author does so well – it humanises the SERPs and adds a layer of trust. Then of course there’s the other side, where citations and links from some authors will be more trusted and pass more weight, based on their specialism.

One of the best SEO speakers - Wil Reynolds
One of the best SEO speakers – Wil Reynolds

Q) And finally, who is your favourite ‘SEO rockstar’?

A) I always love hearing what Wil Reynolds at SEER has to say (his personal blog rocks too), I’d recommend catching him at a conference because he’s a great speaker to watch. I’m impressed with what the guys at Distilled are doing too, especially with DistilledU which looks pretty awesome if you want to learn SEO at all levels. In fact, everything on their training page rocks.

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