What is a Press Release?

You want to issue press releases for your business. You know they can lead to media exposure and even high quality backlinks from authority websites. But what is a press release exactly (and what are they designed to do)?

By understanding what press releases are all about, you can make them work harder for your business.

But first…

What Press Releases Aren’t

Coming from a background in public relations and freelance writing, I’ve seen the trend toward online press releases over the last decade. And I’ve seen more than a few companies go about using news releases in the wrong way.

So, before you can write more effective releases for your business, let’s look at what they’re not:

  • Press releases are NOT articles. Many so-called “press release writers” will whip up a cheap generic article and throw it into a press release template. This is wrong. It’s not smart. It won’t attract the best links or media coverage. Don’t do it.
  • Press releases are NOT simply SEO tools. Actually, it’s best you don’t think of them as SEO tools at all. Can you get high quality backlinks? Yes. But that’s a pleasant side effect of press releases done right. It shouldn’t be your primary goal. And we’ll talk more about why that is in a future post.
  • Press releases are NOT fluff pieces, advertisements, or even “marketing.” They are a public relations tool — a media relations tool to be more precise. There is a difference. And treating a press release as a promotional marketing piece or ad can cause it to be rejected for distribution with newswires, and you’ll most likely be ignored by journalists — maybe even blacklisted.

Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s get to what you really need to know.

What is a Press Release?

Here are some of the most important things you should keep in mind when writing your own press releases:

  • A press release is a pitch. Its job is to make the case to media outlets that your story is newsworthy enough to be featured in their publications. (This includes blogs and niche websites by the way, not just traditional media.) Its audience isn’t necessarily the end audience you want your news to reach. Your release’s audience consists of middlemen who can publish and amplify that news.
  • A press release tells journalists, or bloggers, pretty much everything they need to know about your news. While it’s great if they contact you to set up an interview and learn more, you want to give them enough information that they could write a story from your release and any background you linked them to.
  • A press release should be written in journalistic style (follow AP style guidelines). This way it can be used, in whole or in part, as-is by journalists if they choose to (though again, your main intent is not to treat it as a finished article, but to inspire deeper and more meaningful media coverage).

Your press release, while not an article, needs to read as a news story. As such, the most important part of a successful press release is actually doing something newsworthy. That’s where many small businesses in particular go wrong. Just because you’re excited about something or have something to promote, that doesn’t make it news.

Your press release is an announcement of that news. It’s you saying: “Hey journalists. We did something that we think your readers, viewers, or listeners would love to hear about. Here’s all the relevant information if you think it’s worth sharing. And we’d be happy to chat with you and tell you more!”

That’s it. Pretty simple, right? You do something newsworthy. It offers some kind of value to a journalist’s or blogger’s audience. So they share that awesome newsworthy thing you did. You get exposure, links, and access to that audience.

Do all press releases have to be win-win like that?

Only if you’re doing it right.

Ready to try your hand at press release writing for your latest news story? Consider hiring a pro to write your next news release or train you or your staff to write effective ones in the future.

Jennifer Mattern is a freelance business writer, professional blogger, consultant, and publisher.

Jenn has 25 years' experience as a professional writer and editor and more than 20 years' experience in marketing and PR, specializing in digital PR and new media (with significant experience in social media, online marketing, SEO, and thought leadership publication). She also has 19 years' professional blogging and web publishing experience, including web development, mostly in the WordPress environment.

In addition to offering client services, Jenn also developed and runs numerous online publications including All Freelance Writing, Freelance Writing Pros, NakedPR, and Kiss My Biz.

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