BY ROB SMENTEKIn the March issue of Chauffeur Driven, we detailed a few ways for operators to improve their press releases in order to generate more reader interest. However, this time, we’re going to backtrack a bit, and talk about how to craft and organize a press release from scratch.
The goal of a press release is to share recent company news in order to receive coverage by the media. For instance, an industry association may want to share its successful appearance before a state committee, or a small operator may just want to promote an upcoming toy drive he sponsors to a local newspaper. Regardless of the news, or who it’s being sent to, your goal should be to report it in a way that is engaging and, more importantly, succinct.
The Five Ws
Before you even put pen to paper—or more realistically, fingers to keyboard—you need to consider the five Ws of every news story: Who, What, When, Where, and Why. Your press release should answer each one of these questions in your first paragraph, if not the first sentence.
The first mistake that people often make is providing a company history or an industry overview at the start of the press release. Instead, you want to stick to the facts and put the news first. To illustrate, let’s say a company is announcing the addition of a new employee. Here’s an example of how the press release should start.
Smalltown, USA [Where]—XYZ Limousine [Who] recently [When] announced that Dorothea Gale has joined their staff [What] to handle sales in the Northeast corridor [Why].
In just that single sentence, we know all the basics about their news story. Once a story is set up, you can elaborate on the circumstances behind the press release. This story might continue with Gale’s accomplishments in the industry and how they make her qualified. Or perhaps your company has seen a huge boon in the Northeast and needed to expand its salesforce. Regardless, it’s important to stay on target and not fill the story with extraneous backstory and information. Also, avoid including personal information about the new hire (e.g., hobbies, children, city of residence) unless it directly relates to the story at hand.
Next, follow up with quotes. In the case above, you certainly want to get a few lines from the new hire that relate to how she feels about the job and what she hopes to accomplish in her. Also, get a quote from upper management. When writing your press release, avoid any sales jargon or extensive company history. It’s best to add a short paragraph at the end that provides a brief description of the firm along with appropriate contact information. Be sure to include at least an email address and website. A person unfamiliar with your company or type of service should walk away understanding what you do after reading the release.
Before you send out your press release, you need to craft a headline that conveys the main idea of your story while using an economy of words. Remember, as frustrating as it may be, some of the people who get the release won’t read past the headline. It’s integral that you present the complete idea of your story in just a few words. Using the example above here are two headlines, one bad and one good.
BAD: Area’s Top Limo Company Hires New Employee
GOOD: XYZ Limousine Adds Sales Expert to Team
The first headline not only fails to identify the company, it also editorializes (“Top Limo Company”). However, the second headline puts your company in the spotlight, and tells the reader exactly what you are hoping to share. Not only that, using “sales expert” as opposed “employee” adds a bit of professionalism. If you’re having trouble coming up with something snazzy, you can generally rework the first sentence of your piece into an effective headline.
Keep in mind that a press release isn’t intended to be War & Peace. Since this release is intended for a generic audience, keep it simple. Most of the time, it’s acceptable—if not ideal—to keep things to a few paragraphs. You may have to compose separate releases to fit certain audiences (such as your clients or for an industry-related publication). Getting to the point quickly, showing a benefit to readers, and including contact information are all essential elements of an effective press release. [CD0616]