Let's play a game of word association. I say "PR" and you say... "press release"?
Press releases might be synonymous with getting publicity, but they’re not the only way to get the word out about your business. In fact, here at Tartle Media, we hardly ever use them, except in certain, very specific, circumstances. Let’s take a closer look at what a press release actually is, and when best to deploy one.
What is a press release?
A press release is an announcement which is sent to a list of targeted journalists.
It should read like a news story (though all too often will fail on that front) and they should contain all the information a reporter needs to produce their own story – the who, what, when, where, why and how.
The headline should be punchy and designed to grab attention i.e. why is this a story that is both important and newsworthy?
It can either be sent under embargo – which means nothing should be published before a specified time and date – or for immediate release.
What are they good for?
Press releases are particularly useful when you want to reach a wide audience and get your news or announcement published as broadly as possible.
That’s why they’re often the go-to format when a well-known company is launching a new product, when a startup has just secured funding or when a company has commissioned a piece of research or wants to share the findings of a new survey.
The hope is that by sending out a release widely, it will pique the interest of several journalists (it’s important to pick those to whom it will be genuinely relevant) and will be published across multiple titles, raising awareness of your brand and building your credibility.
Press releases can also be a good way to get on the radar of a journalist: they may not be interested in publishing a story that day, but they might come back to you in the future.
One obvious benefit is the fact that you, as the writer of the press release, control the narrative. That’s not to say your story will be published verbatim (a good journalist will rewrite, ask questions etc), but it’s a good opportunity for you to try define your mission, tone and standpoint for yourself, and potentially have that message amplified through a trusted channel.
What are the drawbacks?
A major drawback of using the press release format is that journalists receive tons of them every single day. That means it’s going to have to be extremely relevant to their beat or incredibly newsworthy to be in with a chance of being covered.
Another issue is the fact that journalists love exclusive stories. And they can be pretty sure that any press release landing in their inbox has also been received by dozens of other hacks at rival publications.
Also an issue is that most press releases are simply not news. While the fact you've landed a new client, or forged a new partnership, or won a business award is great for you, the truth is a journalist won't care (unless you're Apple or Meta).
So it’s important to think about it from the point of view of the person receiving your release: is this really of wider interest or import, and is it really substantial enough to be worth covering? Journalists are insanely time poor. They often have to decline decent pitches due to time constraints.
A strong press release takes time to craft, not to mention being signed off by all the relevant people. There’s no point putting all that effort in if it’s going straight in the bin.
How else can I get publicity for my small business?
Luckily, writing a press release isn’t the only way you can get your story in front of a journalist. Sometimes taking a more considered and tailored approach can be far more beneficial.
In PR terms, this is known as pitching your story to a journalist. The difference is that your email will be much shorter: you only need a few well-crafted sentences to pitch an exclusive.
It’s a great way to get the attention of a journalist who might really want to know about you at an outlet you really want to be featured in. Make it sound personal (not like a mass email) and be clear that you are offering them an exclusive story.
Specify why it’s relevant to them: perhaps they’ve written a similar story in the past, or have an expert knowledge of your industry.
If you're successful, you could end up with a very high quality piece of press coverage in a target publication.
What if your story isn’t quite strong enough to merit a press release or a pitch? Consider other ways you can spread the word. For example, if you’ve made a great new hire, see if a relevant trade publication runs a ‘movers and shakers’ column, and submit your news to them directly.
Otherwise, perhaps a social media or blog post is the best way to get your news out there.
So, next time you have something to share, don’t be tempted to default straight to a press release. Consider the alternatives: they could save you time and ultimately end up having a greater impact.
Tartle Media has launched a new service, our DIY PR training courses. We get to know your business, and train you up to do your own PR campaigns. Read more about that here!