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The Press Release

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“Stand upright, speak thy thoughts, declare the truth thou hast, that all may share; Be bold, proclaim it everywhere: They only live who dare.” ~~Voltaire

Word-of-mouth marketing is the most cost-effective tool in a networker’s arsenal.  That has been and remains the focus of this year’s weekly blog.  Starting with January 2nd and continuing every Sunday through Christmas, we are expanding and expounding on a single facet each week.

Today we turn our attention to a little-used resource that is seen by experts as the second-most cost-effective tool and consider the Press Release.  Publicity is powerful, although it cuts both ways.  Many small businesses do not have a publicity strategy in place.

Let’s first of all consider some differences and similarities between advertising and publicity.

Advertising presents a cohesive, planned message to the audience.  In some cases the message is clear, although different levels are perceived and reacted to.  It is medium-specific, targeted, and generally designed to motivate and/or educate.  (Medium-specific refers to the delivery channel.  Television ads may or may not differ from radio ads, print ads, signage, etc.)  The most effective advertising brands the similar message and market via similar styles, tone, pacing, etc.

Publicity presents a cohesive message to the audience.  In some cases the message is clear, although different levels are perceived and reacted to.  It is not really medium-specific, although the delivery channel reflects the medium.  Publicity is targeted, however, and generally designed to educate rather than motivate.

One of the key differences is based on who controls the message.

Advertising is paid publicity.  The message is controlled by the business-owner who may hire copywriters, actors, advertising specialists, and a team of experts.  Advertising campaigns may encompass any scope from international to local.  Recipients (I will call them readers for simplicity’s sake, although they may be viewers, listeners, etc.) know that the message is purchased and they, therefore, retain a healthy skepticism.  Advertisers attempt to break that down with humor, sincerity, statistics, repetition, and a number of other techniques.  Companies that advertise pay for placement.

Publicity is usually free.  This fact should not be overlooked by the small business owner and is also understood by the reader.  You (or a professional writer) draft the press release and submit it to the channel for distribution.  Someone at the news organization converts it into a format suitable for their readership and they determine the placement (if any.)

As noted earlier, publicity cuts both ways.  We see that when politicians are caught in compromising situations.  Their campaign slogan (advertising) is often used tongue-in-cheek when negative publicity plays.  Saturday Night Live made this reverse-spin a famous staple, as do late night television comedians.

Assuming your business is ethically focused on helping customers solve a specific problem, publicity can be a useful avenue to consider.  Most small business owners do not address that for three main reasons:

  1. They are not sure whether the message is newsworthy or not.
  2. If it is, they do not know how to write a press release
  3. On the off-chance they know how, they do not take the time to do it.

Let’s address each element individually.

In order to determine if something is newsworthy you must be completely honest in your assessment.  The marketplace will certainly do that for you.  Consider whether someone across town would be interested.  Would the parents of your children’s school be interested?  Would anyone waiting for their car to be repaired or standing in line at the grocery store be interested?

If they are unlikely to be then neither will the editor.  In fact, this is the first test of the press release.  If it is self-promotional or mindless fluff it won’t get past the editor—and rightly so.

Despite that there are press-release worthy events in your business you should consider.  Perhaps you are opening a new location, introducing a new product line, celebrating an anniversary, recognizing significant growth, or chairing a fund-raising campaign.  All of these are simple examples that may or may not work for you.

Your primary objective is to make an announcement of interest and value to the readership.  Your objective is not to gain new customers, although you certainly won’t turn them away if they come as a result of it.

Once you have a suitable topic then it becomes a matter of writing the press release.  Hiring a professional is certainly the best avenue although I know many of you are do-it-yourselfers so I am remiss in not sharing some valuable resources., for example, provides a dozen good examples, summarized below:

  1. Attract your reader with your title.
  2. Provide an interesting angle.
  3. Tell about your products or services in one or two clear sentences.
  4. Use timely, relevant information related to current events and/or trends.
  5. Deal only with facts—avoid fluff.
  6. Make it lively by using active verbs.
  7. Limit adjectives, adverbs, and jargon.
  8. Follow rules of grammar and style.
  9. Limit to one-page as often as possible.
  10. Make every word count and count every word.
  11. Include complete contact information (name, address, phone, after-hours contact info, web address, email, fax number, etc.)
  12. Make sure to include national and regional publications, radio and television stations, Internet publications, and all potential clients.

Once written it is time to submit the press release.  You have two primary routes here and can use one or both.  Under the paid process, subscribe to a distributions service such as  Alternately, you can simply rely on your network to connect locally with people that review press releases for your community publications.

Finally, if you see the value yet lack the skill or time, hire a pro.  Professionals can help determine newsworthiness, craft a compelling message, and ensure reception into the proper venues and media outlets.

This week you have three actions to undertake.  First, brainstorm some suitable topics.  This will actually be easier than you think—although it will take some effort to get started.  Second, work the release through the twelve points above.  If satisfied with the results, move on to action three.  If not, contact a professional.  They will appreciate the effort you have already applied and can make tremendous enhancements.  Finally, schedule to revisit this exercise every quarter.  Four effective press releases per year is a reliable, simple pace.  If it takes you three weeks to prepare, back that time into the schedule, as well.  As with any worthwhile effort, be prepared to track the results and adjust, as needed.

© 2011 by Stephen Hand of Triangle BNI.
All rights reserved. No part of this document may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without prior written permission of Stephen Hand of Triangle BNI.


Written by bniguy

September 4, 2011 at 2:32 am

2 Responses

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  1. Hiring a pro — even for a few hours to brainstorm — can be your best investment. I’m a career journalist who has written two books and who has done done PR work for businesses. In my experience, few people busy running their own business know what’s “news” or interesting, even when some of what they are doing is completely fascinating.

    For example, I recently was hired to write web copy for a woman whose business is so unusual that we are now shopping it as a reality television show. No joke! She is very successful within her own niche, but works 12 hours a day and does not — as I do — have any of the right contacts to make that next step.

    A smart journalist can help you quickly uncover a variety of possible angles and stories.


    September 4, 2011 at 6:52 am

    • Thank you, Caitlin, that is so valuable for business owners to hear and understand. Some things look so easy and that is because a pro is doing it. Too many business owners stall at the starting line when someone like you can make all the difference.


      September 4, 2011 at 9:14 am

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