When it comes to content, sometimes old school can be a good thing (namely, when it comes to old school rap or Throwback Thursday on Instagram). But when it comes to your company’s public relations strategy, being the old school isn’t advantageous for your business or your brand.
Ten years ago, people still relied on morning papers for news. Today, the vast majority of your company’s customers and prospects scan headlines on Twitter or see what’s trending in their Facebook feed.
People now have control over where, when, and how they consume information. As a result, public relations is no longer about feeding into a traditional news cycle; it’s about providing relevant content when, where, and how your prospects, influencers, and customers will consume it.
Sounds pretty hopeless, right? Wrong. While relationship-building still helps you get into popular publications, we now have the opportunity to quit playing the waiting game and generate our own buzz. By turning your PR strategy into an inbound one, you create opportunities that weren’t there before and carve out a place for your company, building meaningful mindshare with your target audiences in the process.
One of the most crucial updates to make to your PR strategy is to think of press releases as an opportunity to connect with the audiences you care about — including, but not limited to, reporters.
What is a Press Release / News Release?
A press release is an official announcement (written or recorded) that an organization issue to the news media and beyond. Whether we call it a “press release,” a “press statement,” a “news release,” or a “media release,” we’re always talking about the same basic thing.
Most press releases are succinct at just a page long. Two pages tops. Ultimately, companies want to provide enough information so that news outlets have sufficient material for publishing their own stories about whatever the company is announcing the release.
And while it may be tempting to craft a press release that embellishes your company’s accomplishments or twists the facts to make a story sound more intriguing to the media, remember: Press releases live in the public domain, which means your customers and prospective customers can see them. So instead of thinking of a press release solely as a ticket to earning news coverage, you should also think of it as a valuable piece of marketing content.
How to Write a Press Release [With Example]
You’ve got your announcement in mind, and now it’s time to get it down in words to share with your community, industry, and followers.
Take Catbrella Inc., a fictitious ad agency, which just gained its 10th Twitter follower after two years of paid social media efforts. To announce its achievement, Catbrella could issue a press release like the one we’ve dissected below.*
Sample Press Release Format:
*Disclaimer: HubSpot is entirely responsible for the silliness of this faux announcement.
Rule 1: Make Your Headline Irresistible
Just like writing the perfect blog post title, setting up your press release for success starts with your headline. You only have one line to work with, which can seem scary but consider diction carefully to make your headline captivating.
Use action verbs, clear, understandable language, and keep your headline simple and short — fortune (and search engines) reward the brief, so keep your title to one line to clearly focus people’s attention on your top line message.
Most importantly, make it interesting: Keep in mind that reporters get dozens, if not hundreds, of releases each day, so invest the time to write a compelling headline. It’s worth the time and effort on your part.
Rule 2: Don’t Play Hard to Get
For reporters, analysts, influencers, or followers to be inclined to share your announcement, you have to tell them upfront why they should care.
The first paragraph of your release should cover the who, what, why, where, and how of your new launch, update, or development. Reporters don’t have a ton of time to sift through details and fluffy background information — they just need the facts that’ll help them tell your story to someone else from a position of authority.
There shouldn’t be any new, crucial information covered after this section that the reader could potentially miss.
Rule 3: Offer a Tempting Quotable
Once you’ve set the scene, it’s time to bring your details to life with a quote that reporters can use for context around your announcement and help paint a picture of how your news affects the given industry, customer base, and landscape.
Ideally, quotes will be from key stakeholders in your company including your executive team, project leads, or those directly impacted by your announcement. Quoting key figures and authorities underlines the importance of your development. The chosen quote should shape your narrative and emphasize the core of the announcement. Don’t ask everyone in your office for a comment or feel compelled to quote all 25 people included in the acquisition — pick one or two critical spokespeople and focus the quotes around their unique perspective.
Rule 4: Provide Valuable Background Information
In this last paragraph, keep in mind that the reader already has all of the vital details and information they need to file a story or spread the word.
It can be tempting to provide superfluous facts and tidbits about your company or the development of your announcement — we sometimes think a piece of writing is lacking if it isn’t drawn-out and just shy of being a novella. However, a press release needs to be helpful and concise.
Offer details here that strengthen your narrative, like creative or noteworthy ways your company developed the project or announcement at hand. Or, when applicable, comment on future implications of your announcement.
Rule 5: Make the “Who” and “What” Obvious
Twitter is chock-full of reporters lamenting press releases or pitches that don’t clearly explain what the company does or what the announcement is actually about, so instead of being the butt of a joke, make your release incredibly easy to reference.
Describe what your company does in clear, plain English, include a link to your company’s homepage early on and make your boilerplate succinct and straightforward. If you cite data, include a reference link to the data source, and make sure every name in the release has an associated title and company as well.
To keep yourself honest on this front, ask a friend or colleague to read the release without context and ask if they can easily and readily explain why the announcement matters, what your company does, and why the executives included are quoted. If the answer to any of those questions is no, get back to the drawing board.
The key to keeping your PR strategy new school is forgetting preconceived notions of what public relations is and instead focusing on creating highly remarkable content. Traditional press releases can still be really valuable when executed well, so instead of ditching releases as a tactic, give them a modern makeover to make them more useful for your marketing.
Think about how you’ve used inbound methods to transform your marketing strategies to be more personalized, approachable, and build relationships. Those same principles apply to your PR strategy: Create content to craft your own story and use tactful outreach to get reporters and analysts familiar with your brand.
When Should I Distribute a Press Release?
While there’s no cut-and-dried formula for when a press release should be written (and distributed), here’s a few reasons when it’s a good idea:
- New product launches
- Updates to existing products
- Opening a new office
- Introducing a new partnership
- Promoting/hiring a new executive
- Receiving an award
A regular cadence of (meaningful) news can help a company stand out and build mindshare with journalists over time, so that’s where the press release (or news announcement) comes in.
Press Releases Can Be a Viable Content Type
Many people think press releases have to be chock full of buzzwords and branded terms. Big data anyone? Five syllable words you have to look up on Thesaurus.com? Quotes from every executive on the planet that go on for pages? We’ve seen it all. Unfortunately, so have reporters — and they are not fans.
So instead of stuffing your next release with jargon, take a page out of our book (okay, fine, e-book), The Newsworthy Guide to Inbound Public Relations, and brainstorm some creative approaches for your next announcement. Can you include new data? A remarkable graphic or video? A shareable SlideShare? If so, a creative angle will often help carry your content and increase the likelihood of social sharing.
Even so, a press release can still be a really valuable medium for communicating news to your audiences. You just have to make it readable, relevant, and relatable.
We have crafted this comprehensive, easy-to-follow press release template complete with a promotional plan and considerations for your next announcement. We use these same guidelines when writing and formatting our releases here at HubSpot, and created a faux, sample release to illustrate what content goes where and why.
Tips for Publishing Press Releases
Writing a press release is really only half the battle. Once you’re finished with production, it’ll be time to focus on distribution.
Of course, we’re all familiar with the traditional distribution levers we can pull, which include publishing the press release on our website/blog, as well as sharing the press release with our followers/subscribers via social media and email. But for ensuring a press release gets the maximum amount of distribution possible, here are some tips you can follow.
1) Reach out to specific journalists.
Instead of blasting a press release out to every journalist you can find an email address for, focus on a few journalists who have experience covering your industry (and company, hopefully) and send them personalized messages. Connect the dots. Show why what you wrote connects to what they write.
2) Don’t be afraid to go offline.
Most journalists have mountains of emails (and press releases) to sort through. Try sending your release through snail mail or another offline channel to differentiate yourself.
3) Send the release to top journalists the day before.
Give journalists some time to craft a story around your press release by sending it to them — under embargo — the day before it officially goes live. (FYI “under embargo” just means they aren’t allowed to share the information in the press release until the time you specify.)
4) To avoid competition, don’t publish your release on the hour.
If you’re publishing your press release on a distribution service like PR Newswire or Business Wire, avoid publishing it on the hour (e.g., 1 p.m., or 3 p.m., or 5 p.m.). The reason? Most companies schedule their releases to go out on the hour, which means if your release goes out on the hour too, it’s more likely to get lost in the shuffle. Instead, try going with a more distinct time (e.g., 1:12 p.m., or 3:18 p.m., or 5:22 p.m.).
5) Share your media coverage.
If all goes according to plan, and your press release gets picked up by the media, your job still isn’t finished. To keep the buzz going, you can release a “second wave” of distribution by sharing the specific stories that news outlets write based on your press release.
What You’ll Find In This Inbound Press Release Template
In this document, you’ll find the foundations for creating a great press release. If you’re looking for additional ideas for creative replacements to the traditional press release, check out the ebook also included in this kit: The Newsworthy Guide to Inbound Public Relations.
While once upon a time press releases were manipulated and “enhanced” with stylish indents, fonts, and pictures, the best press release today is simple and easy to digest. The template on the next page will effectively walk you through how to build this document. But remember, we’re living in an inbound PR world, which means your press release needs to be more than just a traditional statement. You need a modern promotional plan to distribute your press re-release throughout the digital world.
After the template, you’ll find a table of promotional plan considerations to help you launch your press release. These considerations are broken into three key components:
- Asset: When will the actual press release be complete? When will the social promotions begin? Will employees be involved with sharing? These and more are assets of your campaign that are important to take note of and execute on.
- Timing: Consider the time at which all of your assets will launch. Some companies see the greatest success by launching all materials on one day, whereas others see success through sprinkles of promotion over the course of a week or month. Hold you and/or your team to deadlines to ensure assets are completed on time and prepped for a particular launch schedule.
- Owner: If you’re working with a team of owners — PR team, social media team, guest blogging team — or working with yourself, it’s important you hold you or your team members accountable for the work. This also helps a manager quickly scan the promotional plan and contact the right person for any questions he/she may have.
The last component of this template is a special gift from our PR team: answers to your most burning PR questions. These are five questions our PR team has heard time and time again, and it’s about time someone shared the answers! Let’s jump in.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: (DATE)
Organization (Agency or Company)
HEADLINE (ONE LINE ONLY)
Subhead: More Detail As Needed, One Line Only
City, State: Your announcement starts here, and should lead with a strong first paragraph that clarifies what you are announcing, where, and its relevance to your industry. Don’t bury the lede: doing so makes it harder on reporters to find the information they need most, so get right to it in the first paragraph.
The second paragraph is the best spot for quotes but choose your quotes carefully. No reporter likes reading from a sea of people saying the same boring thing. Leverage quotes to build the importance of your story but also to shape your core messages. Whenever and wherever possible, include quotes from customers or partners who will benefit from the news, and avoid extreme exaggeration: having your CEO say that your product is the next best thing to a rocket ship is typically a very bad idea unless you are Elon Musk.
In the third paragraph, it’s often tempting to add fluff that doesn’t need to be there. It’s also often extremely tempting to bleed over to a second page by bolstering the third paragraph with company history, lore, and supporting expert opinions. Keep in mind that the goal of the release is to provide clear, concise context on the story–you can always include more detail or links to additional testimonials in your pitch emails or on your blog. Some additional words of wisdom:
- Nobody likes long blocks of content, so use bullets to your advantage to break up the text
- Use language people can actually understand. If you had to use thesaurus.com to find it, delete it
- During your final edit, be honest with yourself on whether or not you are truly focused on what is newsworthy about this announcement. If not, revise accordingly.
About Your Company: This is a placeholder for a short, 3-4 sentence description of your company along with a link to your homepage. Double check to ensure the first sentence accurately and clearly describes your business in a manner that could easily be lifted and translated by a reporter.
Promotional Plan To-Do List
|Write Press Release and Blog Draft:
Circulate press release and blog entry to key organizational stakeholders for comments and questions.
|Press Release Final Edits:
Place a final deadline for comments to ensure you don’t have last-minute edits after it has already been published.
|Schedule Press Release:
If you’re going to put the release on the Wire, schedule a time the evening before to ensure it’s timed appropriately with other assets.
|Schedule Blog Post:
Optimize your blog post for keyword search well before launch day, add relevant images as needed, and ensure that the post is scheduled to launch at a time that coincides with your media outreach.
|Create Social Promotion Assets:
Do you need images sized or reformatted for Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn promotion?
|Schedule Social Promotion:
Time your first tweet concurrent with your blog entry, but don’t stop there: Consider additional promotion throughout the day with creative assets to build awareness with core audiences.
Employees can be some of your best evangelists, so don’t overlook them in your promotional plan. Keep employees in the loop so customers or leads that call with questions about the announcement will be greeted with knowledgeable responses and protocol.
Craft an email that will energize your customers and leads with the benefits of the big announcement — keeping them in the know will increase social shares, awareness, and product adoption.
|Guest content placement:
If you’re considering approaching other blogs or publications for co-marketing around your announcement, reach out early and shape your content to fit the outlet’s editorial guidelines.
|FAQs developed for key spokespeople: Make sure everyone on your team is ready for prime time by developing bulleted message points for likely questions and arming them with responses for tough questions that might arise.|
Answers To Your Most Burning PR Questions:
1) I heard some people use embargoed releases — should we do that?
If you’re not sure what an embargo is, Steve Kovach of Business Insider explains it here, but an embargo is essentially an agreement between your company and reporter that you will grant the reporter a sneak peek at a product or announcement in advance of the actual release. In exchange, he or she will agree to hold the story until the scheduled date and time of the release itself. Typically, embargoed releases and announcements are reserved for significant product launches or announcements (think: Apple launch). In general, if you are just getting started building your presence in the press and are still building relationships with reporters, avoid embargoed material altogether and just focus on timing the release, blogs, and associated promotional content in one big swoop.
2) What if I don’t have a huge budget to create visual content?
That’s okay — not all unique press outreach requires significantly design dollars. One of HubSpot’s most popular press releases was a series of Tweets announcing our one forty acquisition: no design expertise required, just a bit of thinking outside the box. If you’re interested in experimenting with visual content but don’t have access to design resources, consider starting with SlideShare, which allows you to leverage Power Point slides in an easy and shareable manner, to tell your story.
3) My blog doesn’t quite have the reach I want yet, do I still have to create a blog entry in addition to a release?
Yes — even if only your relatives see it, for now, it will help you with search traffic moving forward. If you’re concerned your blog won’t magnify your message enough, consider creating a blog post for guest placement for an industry or influence outlet that might attract the attention of prospects or customers. When doing so, first research whether or not the outlet accepts guest posts and if so, if there are editorial guidelines you should follow in crafting your post. In addition to following the rules of the road for their content, make sure you’re contributing a new and different perspective to their site: Respect their audience and their angle and assemble and pitch your content to them accordingly.
4) No one picked up my release — now what?
First things first, if you have a broader promotional plan, you should still get some social lift and some good traffic from the assets you created. However, that doesn’t take the sting out of doing so much hard work and not getting the coverage you really wanted. If you’re truly convinced your story is newsworthy, try a few different outlets with a different take on your message and storyline. Comb HARO (Help A Reporter Out), a free resource that helps journalist source stories, for opportunities that might fit your narrative, and set up Twitter alerts (ideally using Social Inbox) to identify relevant conversations in your space. If you’re still striking out, ask a friendly local reporter to take him or her to coffee and ask for honest feedback on what you could do to stand out from the pack the next time around. Do not cajole or coax a journalist or producer willing to do this; if you want their opinion and feedback, accept their insight and incorporate it next time you do a launch or announcement.
5) How do I set reasonable internal expectations around PR within my organization?
This exercise is one of the most challenging endeavors in growing your brand, but it is imperative to learn this lesson early, as it disciplines your team to be respectful of reporters’ time and honest about what truly merits front page news and what doesn’t. Typically, the best way to achieve this goal is by aligning your PR plan to core business objectives and by focusing on long-term enterprise value versus short-term wins on the board. We typically create quarterly calendars with events and milestones built in so people know what we are pitching when, what content we are creating to support each announcement, and where we expect it might run. Doing so means there are fewer surprises each time we do a launch.