When & How to Send a Press Release – Answer These 4 Questions First!

You have a great small business. You want more people to know about it. But you don’t have a big budget for advertising. Why not go after free exposure in a newspaper, magazine, or digital publication? After all, you’re certain plenty of people would want to know more about your awesome company.

Does this thinking sound familiar?

It’s OK if you said yes. It’s a trap so many business owners fall into. It’s easy to think simply sending a press release about your company is all you need to do to get some glorious (and helpful) free press. But, like so many things, it’s a bit more complicated than that. So let’s talk about four things to keep in mind when you’re thinking of issuing a press release.

1. See if your “news” can pass the “so what?” test. The best way to explain what we mean is by giving an example. Let’s say you just hired a new vice president for your company and you’re thinking, “Well, this is news. I think we should issue a press release.”

Any time you have that thought – I think we should issue a press release – you need to stop and ask yourself these questions:

  • Is this truly newsworthy outside of my organization?
  • Is there a legit news hook?
  • Is a traditional press release the best way to broadcast my news?

Sometimes what’s considered news inside the hallways of your organization – such as the hiring of new VP – isn’t newsworthy beyond your company doors. That is unless there’s a true news “hook.”

What’s a hook? It’s the answer to “so what?” If I tell a news editor at the local paper in town that I just hired a new VP of sales, the editor will likely say “So what?” But if my new VP is also a humanitarian who just finished building her tenth Habitat for Humanity house and she plans on starting a charitable arm for my company, well, now the editor has a possible human interest story on his hands – either a feature on my new VP herself OR an article about how more companies in general are encouraging employees to give back, and my new VP could be one example/source for the article. See how it went from “So what” to “hey, this would make a good story.”

This is how you have to think about every press release you issue: does it pass the so-what test?

2. Understand the different types of media outlets you’re sending releases to and set realistic expectations. We’re not suggesting that you don’t send the press release on your new VP. Just know that if you send a press release announcing your new VP to the business editor of The Wall Street Journal, nothing will likely come of it if there isn’t some other sort of newsworthy hook. That said, some publications, especially local weekly papers or regional business papers, welcome releases about things like new hires because they have “filler” sections devoted to these sorts of announcements. Ditto college alumni magazines. (But keep in mind that the announcements are just that – quick one- or two-line announcements: “Awesome Company ABC adds new VP of Sales, Suzy Smith.” Still, it is worthwhile to send releases to these sorts of places for the added exposure your organization may get.

3. Use your company website’s About section in a strategic manner. We recommend that small business websites develop a robust About section, since studies show people who take the time to look at the info on the About pages are more likely to convert. A section you should consider having in your About section is a “News & Events” or “Media Center.” This would be the place to house press releases, even those that might only be truly “newsworthy” to people within your company. Remember, if you make each press release you issue its own web page, you can create a deeper website and optimize that page around a specific keyword phrase – all good things in Google’s eyes.

4. Understand when it does – and doesn’t – make sense to issue a press release “over the wire.” Services like PR Web make it so easy to issue press releases and achieve significant “reach.” But, again, as we noted above, just because you feel something is newsworthy, that doesn’t make it so. Be mindful about how you use these services. These sorts of press release services  can be extremely effective for:

  • Targeting specific industries. Let’s say you’re a plastics manufacturer and you’ve just released a new innovative product. Targeting trade pubs or reporters/editors on techie/innovation beats might yield interest (still, it would be better if you had a stronger hook – new product press releases have to be careful they don’t sound like thinly veiled attempts at free advertising).
  • Reaching a broader audience. The nice thing about these services is that they do have the ability to reach many outlets. The downside, of course, is the lack of personalization. A general release issued to a large number of general pubs/reporters will likely yield hit-or-miss results.
  • Stretching your dollars. Drafting and sending a release through an organization like PR Web will likely cost less in the long run than hiring a publicist to draft a release, research media outlets, customize the release for each outlet (including a personal letter/email to the editor), sending the release, and then following up. That said, the added investment may yield better and possibly more relevant results. It all depends on what your goals are.

PR Web offers a helpful article to guide you with the drafting of your release: “Reeling Customers In: Writing a News Release That Sells.”

Does your company issue many press releases? What sorts of tips do you suggest that other business owners keep in mind in order to be successful? Share in the comments.

Chris Wallace

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