Promote Your Small Business with a Press Release

Writing a press release for publication in your local newspaper is one of the best ways to get the name of your business out to the public, and one of the least expensive. However, you need to be familiar with newspaper writing and aware of the etiquette of dealing with editors in order to get your release into print.

Here’s some advice to get you started writing your first press release. Following these simple tips can help get your release printed, carrying your message to thousands of potential customers.

Choosing a topic

The most important thing about writing a press release is to remember that it is not an advertisement. While a successful press release can help your company acquire new customers, its primary purpose is as a news story. Following are some examples of newsworthy events you might choose to write about. These are genuine news stories which may even result in a request for an interview with a reporter:

  • Your company is organizing an event open to the public
  • You’ve received an award or other recognition in your field
  • You’ve released a book or CD, have an upcoming art exhibit, etc.
  • You’ve performed an important community service
  • Your company is offering a new product or service
  • Your company is offering internships, training programs, classes, or opportunities to volunteer
  • You’re teaching a course or giving a lecture

However, there are more common events that may result in your business receiving a mention in the business or community section of your newspaper:

  • You’ve opened a new office
  • You’ve completed a degree or training related to your field
  • You’re hosting an open house
  • You have an informational brochure or other publication available for the public

Journalism 101

Once you’ve chosen a topic for your release, you’re ready to being writing. In order to write a successful release, there are two important rules of journalism you need to know. First, all news stories should always tell: Who, What, Where, When and Why. Second, all news stories should be written in the structure of an inverted pyramid. That is, the most important information should come first, followed by items of lesser importance. This is because many editors cut stories for length beginning at the bottom and working up.

Additionally, your release is going to be read by professional reporters and editors. That means you need to use good sentence structure, proper spelling and proper punctuation. The less work an editor has to do preparing your release for print, the more likely it is to get published. Two good ways of checking for these things are to read your release out loud and to have a friend or family member proofread it for you.

If you read the newspapers on a regular basis (and you should!) you will notice that the writing is concise and to the point. You should avoid complicated sentence structure and flowery language. You also need to check all your facts and make sure you have permission to quote other people.

Structuring your press release

The number one thing that will grab the attention of the editor (and your prospective readers) is the headline of your press release. Using as few words as possible, explain what the press release is about in a snappy, interesting way. For example, instead of writing, “Local woman publishes brochure on becoming a virtual assistant,” try something like this: “Becoming Virtual Assistant Brings Flexibility, Independence.”

The first paragraph of your press release, sometimes called a lead, should contain all of the five Ws and summarize the information that is to follow. This paragraph should also contain a “hook.” A hook is a quote or fact that will encourage readers to keep reading. Following is an example of a lead paragraph with the key information in brackets.

[HOOK] Mary Smith [WHO] works in her pajamas and now you can, too. Smith, a professional virtual assistant, has written a book [WHAT] to assist budding entrepreneurs in starting their own virtual assistant businesses.[WHY] “Commuting Down the Hall: A Guide to Becoming a Virtual Assistant,” will be available at local bookstores [WHERE] starting on Monday [WHEN].

In the following paragraphs, or body, of your press release you can expand on the information contained in the first paragraph. Using the above example, you could give more history behind the business, how it changed your life, add quotes, etc. Be sure to structure the information with the most important things first.

Put the appropriate contact and biographical information in the last paragraph of your press release. You will often see a closing paragraph that reads something like this: “Mary Smith is the owner of Virtual Assistant Company. She can be contacted atâÂ?¦”

Common mistakes

Being long winded. Be brief and to the point. Use short, easy to read sentences. Most press releases should not exceed 600 words.

Using the wrong format
. Always use the proper press release format. Start with your headline, do not type in all caps and end the release with your full contact information.

Writing a boring headline. Your headline is often the deciding factor in whether the editor reads the press release or not. Grab his or her attention right away with a catchy headline.

Grammar and spelling errors.
Most editors will toss your release in the trash rather than correct your spelling and grammar. It is professional courtesy to have someone proofread your release before you submit it.

Pestering the editor . Don’t call the editor to ask if they have received or will print your release. It’s considered unprofessional. It is always up to the editor’s discretion what to print.

Where and how to send your release

Different publications have different preferences for receiving press releases. It has become very common to email or fax releases, but you should confirm this before sending out your information. You can get a list of local media and their contact information from a search engine, by looking at the editorial page of the publication, or by purchasing a list from a directory service.

Once you have the contact information, a quick call will ensure you send your information in the proper format. Remember, you’re calling to get basic information. This is not the time to discuss how great your release is or why they should print it.
After mailing your press release, be sure to check the paper daily to see if it has been printed. If your press release is not time-sensitive in nature, it may be several weeks or even months before you see it. Once it has been printed, be sure to send a thank-you note to the editor. This small act can help in getting future press releases into the paper.

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