How to write a press release

Content provided by a guest contributor.

There are two ways to promote your business – advertising and publicity.

Advertising is any form of promotional material that you have to pay for and falls into three categories:

  • Newspaper or magazine adverts (known as print media)
  • Radio or TV adverts (known as broadcast media)
  • Flyers; banners; give-aways etc (known as below-the-line advertising) 

Press releases promote a product or a service and go into appropriate newspapers or magazines free of charge. Sometimes, a radio station may also use this information.

How is this possible?

The print and broadcast media in South Africa need to have new stories all the time and there is a limit as to how much reporters can cover. So, they also rely on people to tell them about exciting and new products or services.

How do I start?

The first step is to decide who your target market is (who would buy your product or service), and then find out what these people read or listen to.

Think broadly when defining your business. For instance, if your business is catering don’t only send your story to catering and hospitality magazines Also send it to any magazine or newspaper that has a cooking section. Also send it to magazines and newspapers that want stories about small businesses. Include your local paper, as they usually like stories about local people succeeding.

To find all the right kind of magazines and newspapers, you can visit your local bookshop but remember that only covers the consumer magazines – the industry magazines are usually posted to people in industry. South African media lists are very useful.

Where do I get the media lists?

For R800, you can buy a copy of the Media Manager Directory from Ibis Media Data Services [(011) 465-3704]. This lists every publication in South Africa, by category, including general and community broadcast media. The list states what the editorial policy is and all the contact details needed.

What do I do next?

The next thing is to decide what you want to say about your business. The golden rule of journalism is that every story should answer the five basic questions – who, what, when, where and why. The order in which you write these is dictated by the actual product or service.

If you are offering a product or service – start with what. If you are doing something really new – start with why you thought up the idea. If you are going to have a launch party or you want someone to come to an exhibition – start with when and then add where. If someone important is involved in your business or is launching the product – start with who.

How do I capture their attention?

You have very little time in which to capture the attention of any journalist who probably receives hundreds of news items a week. Therefore, the first rule is having a catchy headline. Even if they change it (and they probably will), at least you have caught their eye. Keep the opening paragraph short and punchy and put the main point first. Answer the five questions and end with something to catch their attention. People tend to read and remember only the first and last lines of material when they are in a hurry.

How do I write well, when I have no experience?

First of all, write with passion. If you don't sound enthusiastic about your company, no one else will be.

Secondly, keep it simple and avoid your own industry jargon and acronyms – they only annoy journalists who cannot be expected to keep track of every society, product or technical term. A good test is to give it to someone who knows nothing about the subject of the event. If they go "Wow, that's interesting," you've probably got it right. If they go "Uh okay," – write it again.

Lastly, go for plain English words and sentences. Don't say, "It is anticipated that the conference will show emerging trends in the SMME industry that will be outlined by those people best qualified to demonstrate growth potential”. Say, "Actual SMME owners will talk about what works and what doesn’t in this industry.” If you can't be that sure, then you shouldn't be sending out a press statement anyway.

Speaking about saying – always quote someone if you can because it makes it more alive. The standard layout is "The company has a real solution to the problem of petty theft," explained John Brown, managing director of J B Security. "We have installed sonic alarms on all the items that normally go missing."

What about photos?

If you have a photo – attach it as high-resolution JPEG file. It really is worth a thousand words but photos of people must look alive. Stand with your product or a happy customer or sit at a desk but don’t send ID-style photos!  if there is more than one person in the photo, list the names from left to right and put (L to R). If it is something complicated – indicate which way up the photo should be. The media get very irritated if they get photos upside down or the names wrong and have to apologise.

How do I finish off?

When you have ended the story, count the words (click on Tools in Word and go to Word Count) and then type Ends - 420 words. This is useful if a journalist wants a short story because they know then how much you have given them. Underneath put your name, position in the company, company name and contact details. Don't e-mail the story as an attachment but incorporate it into the email – most websites block attachments coming in.

Finally, don't give up

Professional PR companies warn clients that it can take up to three months to establish good media connections. Also many magazines have long lead times between receiving a story and publishing it – even the daily press can delay by several days, so be persistent and keep on writing about your business. Remember the world no longer beats a path to the best mousetrap – it beats a path to the mousetrap with the sign "The world's best mousetrap."


The content in this article was provided by Gwen Watkins  a former managing member of Freelancers Writing Services.

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