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6 Easy Steps to a Winning Press Release

Writing a good release doesn't have to be a mystery. Here's how to make it stand out and get yourself some free publicity.

You've got a great business, no doubt about it. And you're proud to say that your customer list has been steadily growing through word-of-mouth. Still, when it comes to marketing your business, it seems like you're missing something, but you just can't put your finger on it.

You find out just what that "something" is later on that same day, when you pick up a copy of your local newspaper. There, on the front of the business section, is a big picture of a friend, along with a splashy feature story about her business. "Hmph!" you say to yourself. "She most know someone who works there."

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Need more advice? Check out our PR expert's article What Do Editors Look For?

Maybe she does, but more than likely, she doesn't. She just knows the secret to drumming up some free publicity for her business: the press release.

As busy as they are, editors are always looking for a good story. When reporters or editors are in the middle of what's known as a "slow news day" or week, they'll often turn to that pile of press releases on their desk, hoping to find a story that has promise. If your press release is in that stack, you've got a chance to grab some free publicity!

If you've entertained the idea of sending out a press release but figured you don't have the budget to hire a PR firm to write it, here's another secret: You don't have to hire a PR firm. You don't even have to have a degree in journalism to learn how to write the kind of press release that reporters and editors will jump on. Use these six steps to write a press release that'll make it to the top of the editor's list.

1. Follow the style rules. Like any marketing or promotional material, press releases follow an accepted style. Before you begin writing, familiarize yourself with that style.

2. Do your homework. Nothing turns an editor off more quickly than receiving a press release that doesn't match the publication's audience. For example, there's no point in sending a press release on your company's new fly-fishing device to your local gardening publication. Take the time to browse the newspapers or magazines where you will be submitting your press releases to be sure a story on your business is the kind of story that publication would run. If you don't, you'll annoy the editor, your press release will end up in the circular file, and you'll have wasted your time and postage.

It's also just as important not to send your press release to the wrong editor at the right publication. While some editors will take the time to pass your materials on to the right department, some won't. A simple phone call to the publication's editorial department will pay big dividends. Identify yourself and ask for the name of the person to whom you should address your press release. And don't forget to ask for the correct spelling of the contact's first and last name.

3. Put yourself in the editor's shoes. Editors have a job to do. And that job is to get the latest news and information out to the publication's readership--not to give your business free publicity. That's why it's key that your press release contains information that will serve the publication's readership well. Think about why the editor would want to use your story before you start writing. For example, did your company just invent shoes that automatically lace themselves? Go ahead and chat about your new product--but don't forget to point out all the people it will benefit, such as older folks with arthritis or small children who haven't yet learned to tie their shoes.

4. Get to the point. In journalism, many articles are written using what's known as the inverted pyramid style--the most important facts are first. Most editors won't read the entire press release unless you've caught their attention from the get-go. Be specific and get to the point. The headline and the first sentence of your release, known in this business as the "lead," are crucial.

5. Follow up. While most journalists say they hate follow-up phone calls, they're often a necessary evil. With an ever-growing pile of press releases on their desks, contacting a reporter or an editor directly via e-mail or the telephone may get your press release another look. Remember, though, that building relationships with the media takes patience. If you decide to contact the media by phone, ask if you've called at a good time. Be sensitive to deadline pressures and note the best times to call back.

6. Try, try again. Even if you've followed all the rules and written a smashing press release, your business may still not make it into print.this time. Sometimes even the best of stories get the ax in lieu of breaking news. But persistence does pay off in this business, so try, try again.

Got your press release written, printed and ready to slide into the envelope? Before you seal it and lick the stamp, give it a final once-over:

  • Double-check your spelling and grammar. Nothing lacks professionalism like a press release filled with spelling and grammatical errors. If that's the kind of attention to detail that goes into your press release, what can they expect from your business? That goes for the reporter or editor's name, too. Ever have anyone mangle your name? Enough said.
  • Include all your contact information--address, phone number, fax number and e-mail address and Web site. Keep in mind that reporters and editors will often call you for additional information on your business and that they are not required--and will seldom--run your press release word for word.
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