Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Media Training 101 -- the Secrets of Writing a Good Press Release

Does the thought of trying to get publicity for your business seem like something that you can't do yourself, and would have to hire a professional for? Do you think that writing a press release is totally outside your ability to do? Does the thought of talking to the media about your business make your mouth go dry and your stomach clench? If so, take heart, because you're about to learn how you can take care of your own publicity, simply and easily.

Getting publicity for your business can seem like an impossible task -- something that only happens for "big" companies that can afford to hire publicists.

The reality is, getting free publicity for your business isn't that difficult. Welcome to "Media Training 101 -- The Secrets of Writing a Good Press Release". By the time you finish reading this article, you'll not only understand the basics, you'll know what goes into the process, and what you have to do to get started writing your own press release.

First of all, let's go over some basic terminology you need to be familiar with.

Press Release: A statement with useful and relevant information that is written for distribution to the media.

Hook: The information or larger story that you can use to attach your press release to. Using the right "hook" in the right way can help you to get more publicity for your business.

Spin: Telling your story your way.

The good news about learning to write a Press Release is that there is an established format that you need to follow. And once you've learned the basics, writing a press release is a kind of "cookie cutter" process. Here are some basic ideas to keep in mind:

Make your news "newsworthy". A press release is not a sales advertisement. A good press release answers all of the "W" questions (who, what, where, when and why), and
sometimes "how." Your purpose in writing it is twofold: to provide the media with useful and relevant information about your organization, product, service or event and to get your name out to your target market.

Begin with a strong headline. Your headline and first paragraph need to grab the reader’s attention. Without being flowery or overly dramatic, you have only the first few seconds to grab your reader’s attention and get them to read your story, and decide if it’s worth running. So don’t blow it by being vague or weak. The rest of your press release can give them the nitty-gritty details.

Tailor your story to your Primary audience – the media. Your secondary audience is your target market, but if the media doesn't decide that your story is newsworthy and runs it, your potential customers will never know about it!

Pay attention to your writing. Sometimes, especially in rural areas and online, the media will run your press release in their publications with little or no modification, so make sure you’ve used your spelling and grammar check before sending it, and keep to the facts. Most of the time, journalists will use your press release as a stepping off place for a larger feature story, especially if you can show larger relevance to other current events. Always develop your story as you want to have it told – put YOUR spin on it. Even if your story is not reprinted verbatim, always remember what YOUR purpose is in writing it – to provide exposure for you, and to help brand you as an expert in your field.

Not everything is news. Just because you are excited that you made your first big sale, or started a new product line, or wrote your first article, doesn’t necessarily mean that the press are going to think you have a newsworthy story. From the time you start your first draft, keep your audience in mind. Who will find your story interesting? Why are they going to find it interesting? How is it relevant to something else that’s going on right now?

Identify a problem, and show how you’re solving it. Use real life examples about how your company or organization solved or is solving a problem. Give examples of how your service or product fulfills needs or satisfies desires. What benefits can be expected? Use real life examples to powerfully communicate the benefits of using your product or service.

Stick to the facts. Always. Tell. The. Truth. Avoid fluff, embellishments and exaggerations. It is part of a journalist’s job to be skeptical. If you want to use publicity effectively, then you're not looking for a one night stand. You want to gain the trust of the media, establish your credibility, and build an on-going relationship with your local media, so that you become a resource for them within your industry.

Find your “hook”. Try to make your press release timely. Keep informed about what’s going on in your community, in your state, region, the country or the world. Is there a local, regional or national news story that somehow ties in to your industry or your business? If you can hook your press release to current events or social issues, you increase your chances of having it picked up. If not, then make sure your story is relevant to the needs, wants or problems of your community or target audience.

Use an active, not passive, voice. Use strong verbs that will bring your press release to life. If there is controversy, describe it. There is an old adage in the news business: “If it cries it flies, and if it bleeds, it leads.” (Not very nice, but it’s often true.) So, while you may not be crying or bleeding, make what you’re writing about stand out. Use active verbs. Write “partnered” rather than "entered into a partnership" or “engaged” rather than “interested”, etc. Writing in this manner will help guarantee that your press release will be read.

Use only enough words to tell your story. Avoid using unnecessary adjectives, flowery language, or redundant expressions such as "added bonus" or "first time ever". Paint a strong, vivid picture in the minds of your audience by making each word count.

Use jargon sparingly. There are times that some jargon is required if your goal is to optimize your news release for online search engines, but whenever possible, speak plainly, using everyday language. Avoid words like "capacity planning techniques" and "extrapolate”.

Avoid hype. The exclamation point (!) is your enemy. You will destroy your credibility by using hype. If you must use an exclamation point, use one. Never do this!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Get Permission. Most people and companies are very protective about their reputations. Be sure that you have written permission before including information or quotes from employees or affiliates of other companies or organizations. If there is a hint of a dispute in this area, chances are your press release will be tossed aside, and never used. And you will lose your credibility.

If you follow those simple rules, you'll be able to put together a newsworthy story that will help you achieve your goals of getting the word out about your business.

The Buzz about Blogs

The “blogosphere” is continuing to grow at an amazing pace. In fact, the number of published blogs is expected to double about every five months.

Right now, there is a new blog published every second, according to Technorati, the search engine that keeps track of Weblogs. In March there were over 7 million blogs, that number is now over 14 million.

Weblogs have become the homepages of the 21st century and are used for everything from sharing recipes, personal opinions and travel adventures, to the latest in political and economic news.

Blogs are also facing their share of controversy and praise. Reporters Without Borders recently published their “short list” of the seven best blogs out of 60, which won the “Freedom Blog Awards” for defending freedom of expression.

Winners (who are chosen by the public who vote for their favorite blogs) included “Shared Pains” which describes life in Afghan, and Mojtaba Saminejad, an Iranian whose blog is published in the Farsi language. (He received a two-year prison sentence in 2005 because of his blog). Another winner, Jeff Ooi, publishes the Malaysian blog “Screenshots” which is in English. Because he allowed a comment on his blog back in 2004 which reportedly “insulted Islam” according to authorities, he was also threatened with imprisonment.

This award marks the first year for the event, but Reporters Without Borders hopes to make it an annual one. The organization follows and reports on freedom of the press around the world.

In oppressive countries, such as Iran (which shut down almost all independent newspapers in 2000), blogs have provided a way for journalists and others to express themselves and share the latest news and happenings. But speaking up in such places often has serious consequences, such as one blogger in Iraq who was jailed by authorities after speaking up about what was simply a local problem.

China is another repressive area. Recently Chinese authorities declared that all bloggers had to register their blogs with them, or risk being shut down.

To help combat these and similar problems around the world, organizations are being set up to provide global support among bloggers for those who are being repressed.

One of the biggest controversies right now, is whether bloggers should receive “journalistic” status. Some people see blogs and bloggers as a kind of counterbalance to what they see as media arrogance, while others call them vigilantes. Recent events with Newsweek, CBS News and others have caused a division between the main stream media (MSM) and bloggers who feel the “truth is out there” and they want it told.

One thing both bloggers and the mainstream media agree on, is that things have been forever changed. The tools of mass media are no longer the property of the press alone, they’re also freely available to the people. What that means to us in the future, or what changes blogs will bring about to the way we receive and act on the news we get, no one really knows.

Not as controversial, blogs have also become a mainstream tool of large and small businesses everywhere.

Blogging provides a simple and low-cost method for businesses to stay in touch with their customers, get free publicity and build a business brand.

As technology continues to evolve, and the number of blogs continues to rise, it remains to be seen whether blogging will remain an effective business and marketing tool. But one thing is for certain – blogs are here to stay.