In recent blog posts for HBS we looked at using Facebook and Twitter, two quintessentially modern technologies that didn’t even exist a decade ago, in order to help promote your business. In addition to harnessing the latest in social media, entrepreneurs should also learn the decidedly old-fashioned skill of writing a press release in order to help promote their companies. And when it comes to crafting a winning press release, you’ll need to get two things right: the structure and the content.
Structure is the easier part, as press releases follow a fairly standard format. Begin with a catchy but succinct headline and follow that up by giving the reader the who, what, why, where, when, and how in a few short paragraphs. Then go on to flesh out the why—as in why this matters to a newspaper or magazine editor and why anyone would be interested in reading an article about what your business is doing. Make sure to include one or more quotes from relevant sources. If you need help getting started, try doing a web search for “press release template”, and you should be able to find a sample that you can adapt for your company.
Now that you’ve got the structure down, it’s time to focus on the heart of the matter: the content. There are two golden rules to follow here. First is that a press release must describe something newsworthy. Second is that press releases are not marketing materials. There is no faster way to turn off an editor or writer than to give him a thinly veiled promotional piece or sales letter disguised as a press release. Make sure to stay away from hyperbole, exclamation points, and industry jargon if you want your press release to be taken seriously.
So what constitutes newsworthy when it comes to the world of small business? You are probably excited by all sorts of things that your company does, but you need to ask yourself the question, “Why should anyone else care?” For example, if you’re opening a large new retail location, it’s probably a big deal for you, and you want to get the word out to as many consumers as possible. Unfortunately, opening a new store is not a newsworthy event—thousands of them open every day. But say you’ve managed to convince some local VIPS from the community to take part in a ribbon-cutting ceremony and provide free entertainment. Now that’s something that people might want to show up for, and that news outlets might want to highlight.
As you are crafting your press release it also helps to think about how you can tie the release in to other current events or trends that have captured the public’s attention. If you can demonstrate how your firm is in the middle of something that is “hot” at the moment, you’ll give editors a great reason to produce a feature about your business.
Once you’ve completed and proofread your press release, it’s time to get the word out. Compile a list of all of the relevant local and national publications—both print and online—that may have an interest and email them a copy of the release. It’s best to indicate in the subject line that you are sending a press release and to include the release in the body of the email, not as an attachment. If you wind up generating some interest from the press, you may get asked for an interview. If so, then stick to the same principles you used to fill the content of your press release—a focus on newsworthiness and not sales—and let the writer do his job of making your business sound exciting and relevant to the public at large.