Monday, February 25, 2008

PR tips - should we issue a press release?

Author: Jo Chipchase

Question: Why should your business issue a press release? Answer: because you have something to say, you want to say it in public and a press release encourages the press to say it for you. And because you want to show your business in a favourable light from the outset and begin the longer-term process of building awareness and understanding of your product or service.

There's plenty of research to show that young companies – weighed down by the business of simply running a new business – pay scant attention to PR, yet that's exactly what they should be doing from the very start to get their names and products known. For most businesses, PR isn't about spin or the abstract maintaining of "good relations" with the press and public; it's simply about telling people that you and your products or services are there and letting them know why they should be interested. It's about getting column inches in newspapers and magazines and fulfilling the adage that an inch of good editorial is worth a page of advertising. It's about making your sales easier.

Issuing press releases is a mainstay of basic PR. It's how you start the ball rolling with the press. The good news is, if approached in the right way (whether you do it yourself or use an affordable professional, this activity need not cost the earth).

But do remember that you're presenting your business to the public. A release that's poorly written, with grammatical or spelling mistakes, or full of jargon, or long-winded and unfocused, can do you more harm than good. Given the importance of PR, there's something to be said in favour of paying for professional writing skills. PR writers don't just turn out good English: they know how to structure a press release and present facts in a way that appeals to busy journalists and grabs their attention.

The next question is: "When should I issue a press release?" Certainly, issuing releases willy-nilly, at whim, is no good. The time to make a business announcement is when you have something topical and newsworthy to say (but remember: what you consider topical might not be of interest to the wider world or to journalists). All releases need a strong 'hook' – in other words, an angle that will appeal to editors and give your story a good chance of gaining coverage.

So, what would be considered newsworthy? For starters, perhaps you're launching a new product or service? Or opening a new branch? Or you're launching a spin-off venture from scratch? Whatever it is, it should be presented as offering something reasonably new and interesting, not just as a "me too".

Hopefully, your product or service has particular benefits and applications that will appeal to your market segment and generate interest. If whatever you're launching is technically innovative or it's being marketed in an unusual or high profile way, you could have the basis of a release. In this case, make sure you don't fill your release with unnecessary jargon or marketing-speak that could alienate journalists, such as "the cost effective, integrated, seamless, one-stop-shop solution to meet all your business needs." Tell people what it is you're actually offering. The above example is full of hype but what's the product? An accountancy service? A stationers? An abattoir?

Other company activities could be newsworthy. Have you appointed any new members of senior staff who have a reputation in your industry? Won a large contract or client? Become involved in a sponsorship deal? Have you received an accolade or won an industry award? If so, the trade press might be interested.

Forthcoming events can provide ideal material for announcements. Are you holding any open days, speakers' panels, rallies or debates? Charity events or donations from your organisation to good causes are worth highlighting, as are initiatives that benefit the wider community. If celebrities or public figures are involved, your newsworthiness will increase. The level of interest will relate to the stature of your company and the nature of your event. If a famous chocolate factory held an open day with lots of freebies, it would be of national press interest. If Bloggs the Grocers held a similar event, the local paper would be the main target.

When you're seeking newsworthy stories, don't forget one of your best assets – your personnel. Have any employees been recognised for outstanding achievements? Do they have unusual hobbies? Have they received any unusual requests or orders from customers that your company has fulfilled? The local press might opt for a quirky human-interest story.

Whatever the reason for your announcement, remember this rule of thumb: yet another pizzeria on a high street full of pizzerias will not gain many column inches, no matter how good the pizzas. But a pizzeria offering the hottest jalapenos in the UK, singing waiters, Italian cocktails with every meal or three for the price of two (or something!) just might. Sometimes it's even worth coming up with an offer of some sort (particularly in retailing) simply to garner press interest.

Remember to monitor the news for events to hook into. Can you associate your company with upcoming holidays, public projects, or fads? Statements that might seem controversial, such as stating your organisation's stance on a volatile public issue, might gain coverage. Have you conducted research that gives you statistics you could release?

Finally, if you're targeting different press sectors with the same story, write multiple releases rather than issuing one generic release. An announcement focusing on the metallurgy used to create your new range of stainless steel cooking pans would be of interest to the trade press. However, it wouldn't be considered too thrilling by the lifestyle press and women's magazines.

You need to think carefully about what you're announcing and who it's aimed at, rather than using the 'scattergun' approach and sending untargeted releases to whichever journalists you happen to find. Professional PR distributors retain up-to-date lists of all the journalists in each industrial sector and geographical region, and take a great deal of care to target the right journalists with the right releases. If you're distributing your release yourself, a few hours' homework can pay enormous dividends.

About the author: Editorial director Press Dispensary www.pressdispensary.co.uk

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