The press release has always been the very heart of PR. The formula has not changed since 1906 when my namesake Ivy Lee wrote the first one. But in 2020, this trusted, long-serving workhorse of news has been devalued as a communications tool by both clients and PR agencies.
As communicators, we move in packs towards the ‘next big thing’ on the horizon, be it the latest social media channel (hello TikTok!), a 20-part podcast or the ‘hottest’ online influencer, often without stopping to ask why.
We are creatives working in a creative industry during a period of innovation, so it’s only natural that we should be attracted to emerging trends. The downside is that, keen to meet the demands of the client, PR agencies have broadened their service offering into digital and social, while traditional writing skills have been downgraded in importance within agency teams.
Anyone who has ever worked inside a PR agency of any scale will know that, as you progress through the ranks, you become less likely to be involved in the drafting of a press release. That task tends to be done by account executives and account managers, right? The daft thing about this practice is that press releases are notoriously difficult to put together and demand time and experience to get right. By allowing ourselves to be distracted by the latest new comms channels, the PR industry is in danger of forgetting the art and power of the press release, which would be a big mistake.
The power of the press release
The key advantage of the press release has always been that it allows you to do so much with so little: a single release can be distributed to as many target media outlets as you like, making its potential ROI huge. The third-party editorial endorsement of your company by a recognised media title still holds a lot of sway with your customers. This ‘earned media’ can be far more influential – and cost-effective – than paid advertising and sponsorship deals.
What’s more, the evolution of the publishing industry has made the press release a more effective tool than ever. There are more media titles, offline and online, than ever before, all with an insatiable need for high-quality content. Simultaneously, the editorial teams on each title are likely to be smaller and busier than before, meaning that a properly targeted, well-written news release, which can be repackaged and published with minimal editing, is often very welcome.
For PR agencies, however, drafting and distributing a press release on a client’s behalf can still be a nerve-wracking experience. Not every release will pick up the coverage you’re looking for. Some fall short of expectations and lead to a disappointing experience for the client, which can damage the agency’s reputation in their eyes.
The truth is that, even for PR professionals with decades of experience, press releases are difficult to get right. So how can we improve our odds?
The winning formula
It has taken me a long time to be able to write good press releases and even longer teaching others to do the same. Some people have an intuitive understanding of what the media wants and how to build a story out of nothing. They talk to clients, sifting through the routine and ordinary to spot the nugget of gold that they can turn into a story that will resonate with hundreds, thousands, even millions of other people.
But that skill is rare, a craft honed over years of writing more stories that bomb than those that fly, watching how others spin something out of nothing, and reading hundreds and hundreds of news stories and reports and being able to apply learnings to our own work.
When you’re starting out in PR, the art of writing a press release seems counter-intuitive. You start with the end. You give away everything in that first paragraph. Instead of building a case, you deconstruct the case by putting the most compelling facts first and eliminating background detail.
Every PR professional has had a client who thinks they can write press releases better than you. They don’t understand that there’s an underlying formula to every press release and unless you follow that structure your story will not grab the attention of a journalist.
A few years ago, I wondered whether that formula could be embedded in a digital tool that helps PR professionals, novices and veterans alike, gather all the information they need to draft press releases with the very best chance of success. The result is PingGo, an online subscription-based writing tool, which provides the questions and framework required to create the most common types of business news release from product launch and contract win to senior hire or annual results, quickly and easily.
To find out more about how PingGo can help your agency to leverage the full power of the press release and to join our closed Beta user group, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.