I thought it might be timely to revisit the subject of press releases this week, as it’s probably something for which all of us are responsible. Even if you subcontract out your press release activity to a PR company or a freelance technical writer, it’s worth understanding why things are done the way they are, if only so you can ensure you give them the right information.
The first thing to remember is that for the past ten years or more, press releases have provided a direct news conduit to your customers and prospects; they’ve not been simply private communications to the media, for a long time. This, of course, is due to the number of news outlets which publish your press releases “as received”, and because you probably publish them on your own website. For this reason, I know that some companies create two versions of some releases, one for public consumption and the other (they hope) just for their media contacts who they know won’t publish them directly. However, that’s an extravagant way of doing things, and for most news, the same press release will have to prove attractive both to editors and to prospects.
Curiously enough, the result of this should be (and probably has been) an improvement in the quality of press releases received by the media. The best practice (and natural inclination) when making an announcement to customers and prospects is to answer their question “what’s in it for me?” – i.e the benefits of the news to them. However, when writing for editors, many companies would tend to just list the facts, such as the features of the product in a product announcement, assuming that the editors would want to make their own inferences about the benefits for their readers. That often assumed, I think, that the editors had more time and experience than was the case, with the result that trade magazines ended up with page after page of really dry product descriptions.
With press releases increasingly having to stand on their own, unedited, as news stories, I think that they do now focus more on the benefits of the news to the end user. This has probably happened as much by accident as by design. It may also have contributed to a decrease in the number of effectively pointless press releases being issued, covering announcements which aren’t offering any benefit to a company’s prospects. From the editors’ point of view, it’s a good thing too, because if the benefits of the news are stated clearly, it gives them a chance to assess quickly if those benefits coincide with their publication’s readership.
So I believe that step one, when writing (or briefing a writer about) a press release, is to identify what benefits the announcement is bringing to your target market, and to keep that to the forefront. It doesn’t matter if you’re launching the most technologically complex product ever, or telling the local media that the managing director is opening a fete: think about the reaction which you want to get from your prospects and customers when they read the announcement.