Writing press releases is a true art – and it is one of my favorite assignments. They are succinct. They are exciting. And they don’t allow room for any of the marketing bullshit that you run into when writing content for websites and blogs. As a former journalist, I have read thousands of press releases, and I’ve seen it all. I know what gets your release into the hands of an editor and what gets your release mocked by the entire press room and then unceremoniously recycled.
While I am happy to help you craft the perfect press release for your business, once it is out of my hands, it is up to you to distribute it correctly. This can be just as hard as writing it in the first place, and one mistake can mean that you don’t get the coverage you deserve. Below, I’ve written up my seven steps to distributing a press release, plus a few bonus tips for anyone who wants to graduate to Press Release Distribution Master.
- Conduct a final approval and proof. Before sending out any release, have the contents checked thoroughly for factual accuracy, formatting mistakes, and typos one last time. Be aware that mistakes can be edited into a release during the drafting process and that any factual errors in the release will likely appear in subsequent press coverage. Specifically, check any proper nouns, names, and titles in the release for spelling and accuracy; check the date of the release; check the contact information listed in the release; and check any other vital details that might appear in the release (such as the date and time of an upcoming event). If there are hyperlinks in the release, click on them to make sure they lead to the appropriate web pages.
- Write a press release cover letter if applicable. Some news outlets and publications prefer to receive a concise cover letter accompanying the press release. A cover letter (which is often emailed) should be extremely brief – one to two sentences explaining the main thrust of the press release as well as a kill date (a date in which the press release is no longer newsworthy). The press release cover letter should always be addressed to a real person, usually an editor. If you do not know who to address the cover letter to, call up the publication and ask them who you should send press releases to. Then talk to that person directly. This is also a good time to ask that person how they prefer to receive releases (email, link, even snail mail for some press kits) and whether or not they prefer to receive cover letters. The better you know the editors, the more likely you will get press.
- Pick an appropriate time to send out the release. In general, the rule for press release distribution is, “early in the day, early in the week.” Of course, there are exceptions to this rule. The 24-hour news cycle and the ever-increasing popularity of online news means that these rules are less hard and fast than they used to be, and press releases announcing negative company news (layoffs, bad quarterly reports) are ideally sent out on Friday afternoons. Be sure to know when print publications like monthly or biweekly magazines go to press, and note that date on your distribution spread sheet. Any releases sent around deadlines will likely be ignored and then forgotten. If you are sending a press release out in anticipation of an approaching event, distribute the release as soon as possible and no later than a week before the event, especially if you want reporters to attend the event themselves.
- Distribute the releases to industry magazines, local press, and other targeted publications. Create a simple spreadsheet where you can list the publications that are of interest to your company along with any pertinent information. Every publication is different, so be sure to list any special instructions from the editor in a notes section. Also be sure to update your spreadsheet quarterly, as journalists have a high turnover rate and you don’t want to send releases to someone no longer at the publication. Avoid sending all press releases to the same exact distribution list – if one release won’t interest some of the listed publications, it’s a good idea not to flood them with releases that don’t pertain to what they publish. In the same way, if a press release might interest a publication that you usually don’t send to, add them to the list! Even if this age of electronic news and the World Wide Web, don’t forget about traditional local news sources, especially if your business is a local one.
- Distribute your press release over the web. Using online press release distribution sites is becoming increasingly popular, and it can be very effective especially if your releases are written with search engine optimization in mind. Popular sites like PRWeb.com, however, do ask that the releases pass a number of requirements (such as length). It’s extremelyimportant to know which distribution sites have specific rules and regulations. You may have to edit the original release for length or take out certain words or phrases (for example, PRWeb does not accept the overuse of the word “you” or the use of the word “free”). Your trusty press release writer should be familiar with most of the most common restrictions and will avoid them, especially if she knows beforehand where the release will be distributed.
- Post your press release on your website. Having a space reserved on your website to regularly post press releases helps you in several ways. First, it ensures that your website is regularly updated with unique content, which improves its search engine rankings. Secondly, it’s an easy way to keep visitors up to date on your latest achievements. Thirdly, it adds relevant content and authority to your website. After you post your release online, start your social networking. Link to your press release on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, and watch your followers share your news.
- Make one or two calls. I do NOT recommend that you call every publication every time you send out a release – in fact, calling an editor too often is a good way to get blacklisted at a lot of places. However, if you have a release going out that you sincerely think will be of particular interest to a particular publication, don’t hesitate to give them a call a day or two after distribution and ask if the release has made it to their desk yet. Keep your conversation brief, but be sure to mention why you think your news story would be of interest to their audience. If appropriate, offer them access to your CEO, President, or spokesperson for a short interview. Don’t call near the publication’s deadline days, or you may finding yourself speaking to a very distracted and annoyed editor.
A few extra notes:
- Get subscriptions (or feeds) to every publication on your media list – and read them! For your online publications, create a folder of links and check the websites often. Half the battle is knowing what your targeted publications look for in a news story and what they do not have interest in. Get familiar with the different features they run each issues (business briefs, guest columns, etc.).
- Regularly add (and subtract) media contacts to your list. Keeps your eyes and ears open for new publications and websites to send releases to. Read your competitors’ websites and note where they are receiving press. If a publication never uses your releases, give them a call and ask if you can do anything differently. If they continue to ignore your releases, take them off your list and save yourself some time and effort.
- When emailing press releases, make the subject line simple and direct. Be sure the first two words are “Press Release.” In nine out of ten cases, do not attach your press release into the email, cut and paste it into the body of the email. Never send mass emails! Make each email personal.
- Remember: a journalist’s job is not to market your company! If you want to get an editor really, really angry, mention to them how important it is for your business to promote a new product or a new service. If you want to advertise something, buy ad space. If you want your story to appear in a publication, make sure that you are helping readers, not just yourself.
- Forge a relationship with the editor without becoming pushy. The goal here is to make the journalist’s life as easy as possible. Send the release in their preferred form, at their preferred time, in their preferred format, addressed personally to them. It takes a little extra time, but it makes a world of difference. In the long run, the goal is to have a few journalists and editors that you can pick up the phone and call whenever you have some newsworthy information or a breaking story.
Want a free tool for your press release distribution? Request my press release distribution spreadsheet.
Want help writing your next awesome press release? Contact me today.