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A Press Release Primer

Simple how-tos that will help you construct an attention-getting release

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Q: I've heard you mention press releases, PR strategies and creating news to communicate to the editors of publications, but I'm not a writer. What things do I need to include in a press release?

A: You mentioned one thing in your question that is very important, and that is the word "news." I've said it before, but it bears repeating: Editors hate promotion. Yet the reason you do PR is to get exposure for your business. In order for these two things to reconcile, information presented to editors for purposes of publication must be newsworthy. It's good that you asked the question on how to properly put a press release together, because editors are constantly bombarded by press releases of all kinds in all ways. The more effective you are in your delivery, the better the chances that your news will be covered in the press. Here are a few key elements of an effective press release.

The first element is the A in the AIDA (attention, interest, desire, action) formula that a lot of marketers use for all their marketing. You need to capture the reader's attention with a catchy, creative and pertinent headline. I recommend putting the headline in all capital letters, short and to the point, including some type of action and, if possible, relating a benefit. I know that sounds like a lot of information, but it is very important. Many press releases are discarded right at the point the editor reads the headline. On the other hand, a creative headline will slide your story right to the right place in a publication. Spend some time on this. Test it. Try different ones. Get others' opinions.

Just like book titles, in most cases there should be a subtitle to the headline. It should include additional, attention-getting information that helps to make your statement with more impact. The first paragraph--even the first sentence--should include the who, what, where, when and why of what the press release is about. Don't beat around the bush with a lot of introductory material. Make it succinct, much like a news anchor would read a "tease" on a newscast.

Now you're ready to include the details and extraneous information about the subject of your announcement. If it is a new product or service announcement, then include the features and benefits and what's unique about your offering. If it is about a person, include biographical information. This is your point to expand, still to the point, on the announcement.

Next, include a quote from a key player. It can either be an official, high-ranking individual of the company or a person in a relevant position, such as the vice president of product development. It can be from an award recipient or the person handing out the award. The quote serves to personalize the news and give it credibility. These people also serve as contacts or references for the editor seeking additional information specific to the announcement. In the financial reporting of public companies, many times this is an analyst's quote. Sometimes in place of the president or owner of a company, a company spokesperson is used.

At this point, additional product, person or other subject-related information is included. For products and services, this could be pricing information, examples of use or typical customers. Expansion on the uniqueness is always good--anything factual that an editor can print for the readership. This ensures accurate coverage of your news.

Product availability is key as well. If newly introduced, when will it be available and, most of all, where? Always tell your reader how your product or service can be obtained. Sometimes this is as simple as associating a phone number with the product or service or including a distributor's contact information.

At this point in the release, I like to throw in one more short quote, either from the main subject or a related subject. If it's a promotion, this could be the hiring manager or the promoted employee.

Finally, don't forget to include contact information at the end of the release. Without it, you rely on the memory of your reader. This is for both the readership and the press to find out how to get more information or with whom to follow up. Include your phone number, e-mail, Web site and address. Sometimes, an offer of a free report or sample here will be an incentive for prospects and other media people to contact the issuing company.

Remember, this is the essential information. My advice does not address actual format, but it does address content. Try your hand at crafting the various paragraphs. Just remember--the editor is trying to please the reader, so put yourself in both of their shoes.

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