First of all, thank you for your interest in VSS Marketing Management’s
business solutions. We specialize in helping you grow your vision from a
dream or idea into a tangible and successful business venture through
the use of classical and time-tested integrated marketing activities.
Whether you “go it alone” or hire an outside public relations firm, I hope
that you will gain valuable insight about writing and distributing press
releases from this booklet. This guide will step you through the most
important parts of writing and distributing press releases and why small
businesses, especially, should take full advantage of this inexpensive
Good luck in your venture! Follow these rules and the press
members you touch will be eager to help you spread your word.
President, VSS Marketing Management
Press releases can be a powerful tool in the small business marketing
arsenal, but to wield this powerful weapon properly you’ll need to know the
rules of combat. In brief, there are ten simple rules to writing and
distributing a successful press release for your small company. Follow them
and you will be on your way to winning the battle for your customer’s
attention. Discard them and you risk being shunned by potential allies (the
3. Rule # One: Open with a Strong Headline
I have three rules of thumb that I follow when writing a headline for a press
release. First, always use the name of the company or the brand name of
the product in the headline. Emphasize the name that has the most
recognition or most meaning for your business. Another reason to use a
name is that electronic media sources will not pick up releases that don’t
have the company or product name prominent in the headline.
Second, use descriptive words in your headline that sum up your release
and grab attention. Your press release is competing against thousands of
other messages and you want it to stand out. Your entire release message
should be in your headline.
Third, keep it short. This is a heading, not a paragraph. Leave out
unnecessary words and keep it brief. Try to keep the heading to one line. If
you must use two lines, use a subheading, but only if it serves to enhance
the headline and give it clarity.
4. Rule # Two: Write a Short, but Descriptive, First Paragraph
The first paragraph serves to enhance the heading and keep the reader
interested. It should include a strong introduction of your company and what
the release is about. If you lose them here, you’ve lost them for good, so
keep your opening paragraph interesting and not longer than two to three
5. Rule # Three: Inverted Pyramid Rule
Now that you’ve written the headline and the opening paragraph, it’s time to
give some juicy details about your news. The golden rule of journalism is to
supply the most important information first and follow up with the less
important details later. This isn’t to say that your details aren’t important, it’s
just that the color of the bicycle isn’t as important to the reader as whether
or not it’s got a motor or pedals that power it along the road.
Ask yourself how you would present this product to a brand-new, potential
customer. Would you start off by telling him the part number, or would you
tell him that this is a motor-powered cycle that can be driven on city streets?
The part number is secondary information. You only present it after you’ve
built interest. Build interest in the body of your release and save the minor
details for the last paragraph, or better still, leave them for the interview
when a press member calls with interest.
6. Rule # Four: News for News’ Sake
In general, press releases are getting longer by the year. A recent Business
Wire newsletter article stated that in the mid-1980s press releases
averaged about 375 words. Now they average closer to 700. Most of this
length is not due to better journalism and important news, but rather to a
lack of journalism experience and poor quality writing.
A reasonable length for a standard press release or product announcement
is one to two pages, using 1 ½ line spacing or double spaced lines, and a
12 pt. font. With heading logos and contact information blocks, this results
in a release that is approximately 230 to 500 words.
To avoid falling into the “news for news’ sake” trap, keep your releases to
newsworthy stories, events and announcements such as new product
releases, grand openings, executive hirings and the like. Only include
information that is most important to make your point. The main goal of a
release is to get noticed by the press so that reporters will contact you to
feature your news. If the press is interested in running your story, a writer or
member of the magazine staff will contact you to gather the details that will
angle the story appropriately to their readership.
Your release should outline the who, what, when, where, why and how of
your product or service. Make sure that you’ve described your product or
service in a useful manner and that it’s clear what your product does, who
uses it, where it’s used and why people would use it. Use quotes from an
executive within the company to add credibility and human interest to the
release, or to explain the value of a product in an opinionated way. Never
use opinions and “sales speak” in the text of the release – only in a quote.
7. Rule # Five: Get Your Release Noticed
Reading books without pictures is fine, but how interesting is a newspaper
or a magazine without pictures? These media are graphics-driven. A picture
is imperative if you want to be noticed and included in these media formats.
Many magazines will not consider a release that does not contain a picture.
A surefire way to be passed over is to not include an interesting picture with
your release. At the least, include a web link to a high resolution picture on
your web site. This way the media will know that a picture is available and
they won’t be so quick to pass over your release.
8. Rule # Six: Getting It Out the Door
Before you start calling up the wire service or your local newspapers and
trade magazines, don’t let that release leave your hands until you’ve
checked it at least four times. Proofread, proofread and proofread again;
then let a trusted associate proofread it, too. I’m not a fan of committees
writing press releases, but make sure your release doesn’t leave your office
with typing or grammatical errors. Nothing looks as unprofessional as an
9. Rule # Seven: Timing Is Everything
Proper timing of your release is imperative to its success. An eloquently
written release won’t do your company a bit of good if nobody sees it.
Consider your target media before sending your release. It’s important to
understand the different lead times for the media outlets you will be using.
Television, daily and weekly newspapers, and radio have shorter lead times
and will pick up on stories of immediate interest such as sales, promotions,
special events and local interest stories.
On the other hand, monthly magazines have as much as three-month lead
times, and have more flexible media schedules. You can obtain editorial
calendars from your target magazines by calling the editorial office or
visiting the magazine’s web site. Editorial calendars include submission
deadlines, editorial plans and closing dates (cutoff date for materials) that
will help you plan your media strategy.
Consider the time of the week before sending news releases. Typically,
Mondays and Fridays are bad days to send news releases that you want
noticed. For important news that you don’t want lost in a pile of paperwork,
choose a Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday.
10. Rule # Eight: Distributing Your Release
So your release is perfect: It’s not too long and it has just the right mix of
facts, human interest and graphics. Now, how do you alert the public to
your news? There are two ways to do it. Use a wire service or send it to
your in-house list of compiled news sources.
In making the decision about how to distribute a news release, I ask myself
two questions. One, who is the main audience for the subject of the
release – is it just the immediate industry, or does it have a broad reaching
community interest? Number two, how important is this news? Is it a brand-
new product, or is it a revision to an existing product that only a select
industry group would find interesting?
The wider reaching and newer the product or service, the broader the news
distribution should be. You may think that you only want to reach the
readers in your immediate geographical or industry area. However, an
article in a major business journal would make a terrific tearsheet to include
in your sales package, or on your web site. Don’t forget about the
secondary value of PR. The secondary channels are what make PR so
valuable to a small company, so use them to your advantage. Get as far
reaching publicity as you can without flooding the market with useless
There are three major new distribution services: Business Wire
(www.businesswire.com), PR Newswire (www.prnewswire.com) and
PrimeZone (www.primezone.com). Each allows you to distribute your
release to a wide audience. You can choose from local distribution to global
and everything in between, including specific trade categories. For a
nominal fee your news can reach places that you might never be able to get
in touch with on your own.
If you decide that your news is not worthy of global recognition, I suggest
you compile and maintain an in-house database of primary media targets
that you are most interested in reaching. Include trade magazines, local
news stations and newspapers, business journals and radio stations in your
list. Also include the appropriate contact information for the individual that
should receive your release. Maintain your records as well as you would
your customer list. It’s that vital.
11. Rule # Nine: Be Ready for Contact
There is a wide variety of media people that you will encounter. Some, who
work for daily and weekly newspapers and radio talk shows, work on
extremely tight deadlines ranging from hours to a couple of days. Others,
like writers who work for monthly magazines and trade periodicals, may
have longer lead times. However, in both cases it’s very important to make
yourself available immediately when a reporter calls, or to respond as soon
as possible to e-mail messages.
I know that I get a lot of requests for high resolution, electronic picture files,
even though I always include web links in my press releases. Since I know
this is a common request, I make sure that I have the file ready and that I
respond immediately to any inquiries. Journalists should never be made to
wait on information from you.
When you distribute a press release let your staff know to expect incoming
phone calls and inform them ahead of time how to handle them. Tell your
receptionist (or whoever answers your phone when you don’t) how to reach
you if you are not in the office. Make sure they ask the following questions
before hanging up with a reporter.
1. Are you on a deadline?
2. How soon will you need to close this article?
3. Do you have a list of questions or discussion points that you would
like to fax or e-mail ahead?
4. What magazine/newspaper are you calling from and what is your
Then have your staffer call you on your cell phone and relay the
information. From there, it’s up to you to get back to the reporter
immediately, even if they are on deadline for two days from now. The more
respect you show to the press, the more likely they are to treat you well in
return. It could mean the difference between getting a future article in their
publication or being passed over the next time.
12. Rule # Ten: Carrying Out the PR Process
In small or rapidly growing medium-sized companies, outsourcing the public
relations writing and distribution process is a major time and money saver.
It improves the quality of recognition that your company receives by putting
the work in the hands of a capable professional, which in turn will make you
look good without a whole lot of effort.
Whether you decide to write and distribute your press releases yourself or
hire someone to help, it’s important to understand the process and the
fundamentals of press release rules. By understanding and following these
rules you will have a deeper understanding of what your consultant or
agency is doing and how you fit into the process. This will undoubtedly
make your PR activities smoother and more successful.
13. About VSS Marketing Management
VSS Marketing Management specializes in helping small, medium and
start-up size companies grow visions into businesses. We work closely with
company visionaries to create a focused and consistent message for the
public through public relations, corporate messaging, advertising, branding
and marketing planning. Our customized products like The Launch Bag™,
The Press Box™ and The Image Maker™ combine entire processes into
one package, helping companies get to market and grow that much faster.
We’d be happy to work with you on special projects, market strategies,
product launches or even just help you write a solid press release. VSS
Marketing Management believes that when you succeed, we succeed, and
it’s great to be a part of this cycle!