Sample press release template. Pic by Matthew Guay

How to Write a Press Release (& Actually Get Publicity)

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The other day I decided to get some coverage in the news - actually, I wanted to get some exposure for a particularly nice bit of research we'd done - and started to toy around with a few publicity ideas. A press release seemed like the perfect way to go.

But, as it turns out, it's not that easy get a mention in the news - especially, if like me, you don't spend a lot of time networking and building up a list of contacts in the world of journalism. Which brings me to my first tip...

Spend a lot of time networking and building up a list of journalism contacts.

Most good journalists and news editors are completely overwhelmed with spammy outreach emails from entrepreneurs, small businesses, organizations and companies all after juicy, juicy Web traffic, brand visibility, and links. Net result? They don't waste time on anything that doesn't reach out and grab them straight away.

Ultimately I ended up with coverage and a link on USA Today:

Press coverage in USA Today

Here's how I did it...

1. Create a list of contacts

Arguably the worst thing one can do is simply spam your press release all over the Internet. Sending out a generic press release to thousands of journalists is usually an awful waste of time and may hurt your reputation and chances for publicity down the line.

Instead, find journalists and writers who focus on topics in your niche, on sites that you want exposure from. Build up a list of contacts, complete with examples of their writing, email address, other interests, etc.

It's also important to look at each site's (or journalist's) terms and conditions for coverage. Some publishers want everyone to pitch stories, others require exclusivity. It can be difficult navigating all the different requirements, but it's worth trying your best to stick to what they ask - as this will help avoid any potentially undesirable results down the line.

2. Create news

You're not going to get coverage in a news article unless you are an integral part of the story. It's no good creating a press release about something that happened elsewhere in your industry, because it's that event that will get the coverage - not you.

This means you have to put in some hard work to create a newsworthy story. Collect data and information. Do in-depth research. Spot a pattern. Do something. Anything.

I decided to rank the top new ideas from university entrepreneurs over the last year or so. It took a small team of people a few days to comb through the Internet looking at winners and finalists from hundreds of different colleges across the states.

We then whittled down the big list to a top 10, and did a quick write up on each of them - including quotes from the founders and information about which university competition was responsible for helping them go from idea to startup.

Check out the full list:

One of the ten best business ideas from college entrepreneurs

3. Segment the list

Different publishers/writers/media may have a slightly different focus, and so it's important to ensure that every contact gets a precisely targeted press release that highlights the aspects of your news they are most likely interested in.

In my example, I had two groups:

  1. University media and public relations
  2. News media covering education

This meant I had to create two press release templates - not one. Depending on the nature of the news and how many segments you have, you might need to create more (or less).

4. Create a press release template

Here's the press release email I sent out to my education news list:

Press release email template

The most important parts of this template are:

  • Subject: FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Top 10 new business ideas from university entrepreneurs

    The subject line has to be catchy and of real interest to the reporter otherwise it's unlikely your press release will get read further than this.

  • Date: 24/04/16

    The press release has to have a date so that the reporter can immediately gauge how fresh the news is.

  • Contact: David Mercer, ****@smepals.com

    Gotta have a contact in case a follow up is required.

  • Teaser: The top 10 new business ideas by university entrepreneurs has been compiled and published. The full winners’ list complete with profiles on each business is available on SME Pals at http://smepals.com/startup/top-10-new-business-ideas-university-entrepre...

    One or two sentences. Think of it like an elevator pitch. Easy to read. Easy to understand. Interesting.

  • Point of interest: The top 3 winners are:
    1. RaptorMaps – MIT 100k Launch
    2. Latitude – BYU Big Idea Pitch
    3. Focus Foods – Harvard New Ventures

    It's a nice idea to highlight one aspect of the news that is particularly noteworthy, or can be used as a quote. Journalists love quotable quotes.

  • Motivation: The list offers a fascinating selection of startups that highlight the creativity and energy of young entrepreneurs in colleges around the U.S.

    One sentence about why this makes for an interesting read, or why people will care about this news. If you can't think of one, you probably don't have news worth reporting on.

  • Credibility: How the winners were chosen

    Outlining the exhaustive work that went into producing a credible ranking of college startups builds confidence in the quality of the lead for the journalist.

  • About: About SME Pals

    Highlighting industry connections and offering proof of authority and trustworthiness can make all the difference.

Above all else...

Make life easy for the journalist.

Think about what they need in order to convert your press release into an article and make that information readily available to them. Be succinct and to the point. Don't waste time and effort rambling on about anything. Short, punchy sentences that don't beat around the bush are by far the most effective way to get your message across.

5. Use a short email workflow

Sometimes, for whatever reason, a journalist who is actually interested in your news misses it - perhaps they spilled coffee on themselves just as they were opening the press release.

It's worthwhile sending a follow-up email about 3 - 4 days after the original press release, if you haven't heard anything back. After that, it's best not to harass them further.

6. Monitor progress

Remember that you won't always hear back from the journalist - even if they do decide to publish the news. Keep an eye out on Google for recent news articles mentioning you (or set up an alert) - with any luck you'll see something like this:

Google news showing press release article

Remember that you only need one or two emails to work in order to get some pretty decent publicity, so don't panic if conversion rates are low. That's to be expected.

If you have absolutely no success then at least you've generated some interesting content for your own site. Try again. Search for something else that may make for better news. Keep trying, analysing and refining your press release processes and eventually you'll hit it.

Have you ever had a press release generate tonnes of great publicity? Share what happened and any tips and advice you have in the comments.

How to breakthrough with marketing

Businesses can take off overnight. Social networks, global media, the Internet, marketing and word-of-mouth that spans the globe can drive your message to millions of people instantly. But it rarely "just happens".

If you've been marketing your startup, product or business online then you'll have seen product launches that seemed to come out of nowhere to become the hottest thing around, or videos and content that have gone viral driving millions of potential customers through to the originators - the "Charlie bit my finger" YouTube video sensation netted that family several hundred thousand dollars in revenue:

While some people luck out and ride a wave of viral/social popularity, basing your livelihood on success through blind luck is not a particularly fruitful strategy. Most people have to work hard for quite some time before they achieve a breakthrough marketing success. Fortunately, there is a lot you can do to give yourself every chance of success.

I recently did a one hour consultation with Stephen Conroy, the owner of cong IT in New York.

Stephen had requested a meeting to give him a feel for what he should be doing in order to promote his new business.

We chatted on Skype and at the end of the hour had covered quite a lot of ground. Poor Stephen had his ear bent by me for most of that time.

But it occurred to me that seeing a real-life consultation that deals not only with good practice (predominantly Internet based, in this case), but also shows the other side of the coin - interaction and thoughts from the business owner himself - might be really interesting to everyone else.

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Content fatigue, when it comes to finding innovative and creative marketing advice, is becoming a serious time burglar for me.

Here's the thing about moving traditional customers online; you have to find innovative marketing strategies and ideas to get them to migrate.

Great marketing ideas that don't involve press releases

If you have been tempted into using an online press release distribution service (free, or otherwise) then I'm here to warn you about the risks.

Search marketers used pr distribution services to quickly spread "news" and articles of dubious quality around the Web. This lead to a huge increase in targeted backlinks that improved organic traffic listings and PageRank in Google.

Essentially, press release distribution services became a great black-hat SEO strategy that worked well - until Google caught on.

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During that time I learned a lot about how business works, and my focus has shifted almost completely onto sales, marketing and networking.

Nowadays, a good idea with a quality product backed by excellent service is the bare minimum required to succeed. Because there is so much competition (especially online), what sets companies apart these days is how effectively they can network and promote themselves.

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For sales and marketing people looking to get more leads for their business, the Internet offers great opportunity wrapped up in some interesting challenges.