WHAT IS A PRESS RELEASE?
A Press Release, news release, media release, press statement or video release is a written or recorded communication directed at members of the news media for the purpose of announcing something ostensibly newsworthy.
Typically, Press Releases are mailed, faxed, or e-mailed to assignment editors and journalists at newspapers, magazines, radio stations, online media, television stations or television networks or distributed via a newswire service.
The first modern Press Releases were created by Ivy Lee. Lee's agency was working with the Pennsylvania Railroad at the time of the 1906 Atlantic City train wreck. Ivy Lee and the company collaborated to issue the first Press Release directly to journalists, before other versions of the story, or suppositions, could be spread among them and reported. He used a Press Release, in addition to inviting journalists and photographers to the scene as a means of fostering open communication with the media. Public relations pioneer Edward Bernays later refined the creation and use of Press Releases.
Technically, anything deliberately sent to a reporter or media source is considered a Press Release: it is information released by the act of being sent to the media. However, public relations professionals often follow a standard format that they believe is efficient and increases their odds of getting the publicity they desire. The format is supposed to help journalists separate Press Releases from other PR communication methods, such as pitch letters or media advisories. Generally, a PR body consists of 4 to 5 paragraphs with word limit ranging from 400 to 500.
As the internet has gained prevalence the way journalists like to be approached has also changed. A format suggested by Kristen Nicole, a former Mashable writer who is now the Senior Managing Editor of SiliconANGLE.com. says, "I’d recommend pitching the writer first, with an angle specific to their beat. If a case needs to be made to the editor, it can fare better coming from the writer, who’s already had an opportunity to work out an angle with the PR rep. As an editor, I’m more likely to prioritize emails coming from those I have personal relationships with. These have been built over the years from the days when I was the writer presenting to my editors. Starting a new relationship with me as an editor, the most successful pitches have been those offering high profile interviews (editors that still write columns will want to take these for themselves before passing them off to junior writers) or highly specific content, like an original guest contribution."
Some Of These Common Structural Elements Include:
- Headline – Used to grab the attention of journalists and briefly summarize the news.
- Dateline – Contains the release date and usually the originating city of the Press Release. If the date listed is after the date that the information was actually sent to the media, then the sender is requesting a news embargo, which journalists are under no obligation to honor.
- Introduction – First paragraph in a Press Release, that generally gives basic answers to the questions of who, what, when, where and why.
- Body – Further explanation, statistics, background, or other details relevant to the news.
- Boilerplate – Generally a short "about" section, providing independent background on the issuing company, organization, or individual.
- Close – In North America, traditionally the symbol "-30-" appears after the boilerplate or body and before the media contact information, indicating to media that the release has ended. A more modern equivalent has been the "###" symbol. In other countries, other means of indicating the end of the release may be used, such as the text "ends".
- Media Contact Information – Name, phone number, email address, mailing address, or other contact information for the PR or other media relations contact person.
As the Internet has assumed growing prominence in the news cycle, Press Release writing styles have necessarily evolved. Editors of online newsletters, for instance, often lack the staff to convert traditional Press Release prose into more readable, print-ready copy. Today's Press Releases are therefore often written as finished articles which deliver more than just bare facts. A stylish, journalistic format along with perhaps a provocative story line and quotes from principals can help ensure wider distribution among Internet-only publications looking for suitable material.
In the traditional distribution model, the business, political campaign, or other entity releasing information to the media hires a publicity agency to write and distribute written information to the newswires. The newswire then disseminates the information as it is received or as investigated by a journalist.
An alternative is the self-published Press Release. In this approach, Press Releases are either sent directly to local newspapers or to free and paid distribution services. The distribution service then provides the content, as is, to their media outlets for publication which is usually online.
Writing an effective Press Release involves developing a story idea that's unique, timely and newsworthy. According to the American Heritage Dictionary, news is "any new information" or coverage of "current events," so a Press Release won't pique the interest of journalists unless it contains something truly original or is closely tied to current events.
Several factors can make a story newsworthy. Timeliness is the most important, or else the story wouldn't be "news."
Also important are the prominence of the people or organization featured in the story, the physical proximity of the story to the intended audience and the "human-interest" angle.
The next step is to find the specific journalists and media outlets that would be most interested in the story. Journalists typically work a "beat," covering a certain type of news like politics, cars or food. Determine the news area relevant to your idea and send Press Releases to the journalists who cover that beat. Even the best story idea will be ignored, if it's sent to the wrong person.
There are many ways to find the right journalist for your story, and the method you choose will depend on how many people you want to contact. For example, if the story isn't very time-sensitive and mostly of local interest, you could read the local papers and look for reporters who write about similar topics. If the reporter doesn't list his e-mail address, call the paper and ask for it, or have a PR Professional do it for you.
If your story is of national or international interest and timeliness is key, then it makes sense to send the Press Release to as many pertinent media outlets and reporters as possible.
For the past decade, Press Releases have dominated the offsite content field, and for good reason. They come with a great many benefits that make them worth writing, and for more than just SEO:
- Natural links from multiple outside sources. It’s hard to get quality inbound links. Building them yourself takes a significant amount of time and can result in a search engine penalty if you’re not careful. Writing or producing great content that gets shared virally is difficult as well. But there are plenty of news sources constantly looking for new material to publish, and submitting one Press Release can put you in contact with hundreds of them simultaneously. Each link you earn will be from a separate site, granting you link source diversity in the process. With that said, the links will all be coming from duplicate content, which is likely just as valuable than links from unique content.
- High-quality, authoritative sources. These aren’t just any sources, either. While there are a few low-to-average quality drifters that get stuck in the pool of contenders, most of the sites your Press Release will be published are extremely high quality. They are news sites dedicated to publishing high-quality information, and they’ve been around long enough to earn their reputation. Google tends to view these sites favorably, which means a link from one of them is far more valuable than a link from some random blog or forum. Aside from the value of the links, the brand association with these publishers is beneficial for establishing trust and credibility.
- Opportunities for keyword linking and name recognition. Press Releases, as long as you write them in-house, also give you the key opportunity to associate your company name with relevant keywords and subjects. This increases the likelihood that search queries will result in your business showing up due to co-occurrence and co-citation, as well as the recent semantic search updates to Google’s algorithms.
- Immediate visibility and referral traffic. Press Releases aren’t all about optimizing for search engines. Each news outlet that picks up your Press Release is going to have its own dedicated readership—which means that you’ll have a new set of eyes seeing your brand for the first time for every Press Release that gets published. These users will be reading your Press Release, getting an idea of your business, and if they’re interested, they’ll visit your site—that’s extra referral traffic that serves as icing on the cake.
- Online Reputation Management. Press Releases that include your brand name in the title tend to rank well in search engines for searches of your brand name. Since you can control the content of a Press Release, this gives you some degree of control over your online reputation (at least as far as what users see when they Google your brand name).
Press Releases are a good strategy. both for external link building for SEO and for improving your brand’s reputation and visibility on the web. However, maintaining a solid Press Release strategy requires the utmost attention to quality and detail, as well as a budget that allows you to afford a suitable distribution.
Press Releases are a quality addition that can boost your authority. In the coming years, the format, authority, and use of Press Releases may change, but for now, they remain a valuable strategy for online business growth.
A well written Press Release can gain media attention for your company. If the story is right, and the news captures the attention of a journalist, your company can reach your marketing goals.
There’s a process to writing a good Press Release and many steps to take before submitting for distribution. The editing process is one of the most important, second only to making sure you have a newsworthy story.
What is the Editing Process?
First, let’s define the term “editing.” It’s often confused with proofreading. Proofreading is the process of looking for spelling and grammar mistakes. Editing, on the other hand, does look at spelling and grammar, but it also goes deeper. The editing process makes sure that each sentence is clear and written as well as possible. It looks at the format and structure of the Press Release and makes sure that the information flows. A good editor can help identify information gaps and help you make the Press Release better. So when we’re talking about editing, we’re talking about much more than making sure everything is spelled correctly.
Why is it Important?
Credibility matters. Let’s just focus, for a moment, on the simple spelling and grammar errors that are so easy to make. A misspelled word can harm your credibility. Not only is it distracting for the person reading your press release, it tells them that you didn’t care enough about your reputation to have your Press Release well edited. Now, if you take it a step further and talk about a full scale edit of your release, you know that you’re putting your best out in front of media reps.
Telling Your Story
A well edited press release helps you clearly communicate and tell your story. It gives you a fighting chance at getting the media attention you desire for your release. When you put so much time and energy into writing a Press Release, why not make sure that you’re telling your story and sharing your information in the most effective way possible?
What is the Process?
Different editors go through the process differently. Generally speaking, the editing process requires several run throughs. You might look at structure and clarity first, and then once the sentences and paragraphs have been cleaned up you might look at spelling and grammar. Every Press Release needs to go through one final review before it is sent for distribution or pitched to a media representative. Don’t ignore the editing process. If you’re not a good editor then find someone to help you. Your Press Release efforts and reputation are too important to ignore this step.
A few months ago, I was on the phone with a client at a $10 million company when he casually mentioned that they would be celebrating their 30th anniversary the following week.
“Congratulations!” I said. “Who’s handling your public relations for that?”
“Surely you’re not going to miss out on this opportunity for media attention,” I said.
“What are you doing to celebrate?”
“We’re having a cake,” he said.
Laugh if you like—I did—but the truth is that many organizations are in the same position when it comes to missing out on newsworthy opportunities for valuable coverage.
Despite the rise of the Internet and the decline of print journalism, a well-conceived and well-executed Press Release is one of an organization’s most powerful marketing tools. In addition to garnering valuable media attention, a Press Release can support business development, sales teams, and Inbound marketing. It can attract new partnership and joint venture opportunities, as well as contribute to SEO.
For many companies, the biggest barrier to capitalizing on Press Releases is logistical—knowing when to write one, allocating the resources to do it, and distributing the press release effectively. All of these challenges can be overcome by outsourcing the task to a marketing or public relations agency, or by hiring a skilled individual internally or on a freelance basis.
When done correctly, outsourcing the Press Release function can yield significant ROI. But it helps to know just how much you should actually pay for a Press Release.
How Much Does a Press Release Cost?
Anyone who has looked casually into this question has probably discovered that the answer varies wildly depending on who you ask.
The answer, according to the Internet.
To understand how much your organization should actually pay for a Press Release, it’s helpful to understand the factors involved.
Cost Factors for Press Releases
In the old days, a Press Release consisted of a single page of text formatted in a simple, direct manner with the iconic FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE in Times New Roman at top, along with the date and location. Journalism students learned the art of writing Press Release content in a “reverse pyramid” with critical information at the beginning and less-critical information further down. At bottom, the Press Release contained a name and phone number for media contacts, and three centered hash marks to indicate the end of the document.
Today, the single-page format is still the gold standard, though it’s now acceptable to add a logo, letterhead, and other brand elements. Links can be included, depending on the audience. Often, Press Releases are sent in the body of an email, and may contain images, social media buttons, and multi-media elements.
With so many potential elements, it’s not surprising that the cost can vary widely, but it’s not these bells and whistles that impact pricing most. Instead, it’s quality, scope, and how you pay that matter most.
Cost Factor #1: Quality
The core of a great Press Release continues to be clean, crisp writing that grabs the attention of its intended audience. People often make the mistake of thinking that because a Press Release is short and to the point, it is easy to write. But, as anyone who builds software or engineers systems understands, simple is hard.
A well-crafted Press Release is clear, direct, and communicates a great deal in a very small amount of space. It will be tailored to a specific audience, such as trade magazines, local media, or potential partners.
At the very low end, do not expect much. Save that for less critical investments, like taunting your old college buddy with a message written in peanuts by a hamster.
For $250 and some trial and error, you can probably hire an experienced, Professional Writer who will deliver a decent product with minimal fuss. Generally, at this level you will still be responsible for generating the topics and executing on distribution. This is a good choice for an organization that doesn’t mind having their hands in management of the writer, and who has the time for the trial and error in finding the right level of quality.
A Range of $1,500-$2,500 is Standard to Retain an Experienced, Skilled Press Release Writer. At this level, how much you pay will be based on the strength of the writer’s portfolio, expertise in your type of business (B2B versus B2C, technical versus non-technical, etc.), and the quality of understanding for your audience. Services such as distribution and news monitoring will add to the cost, putting you nearer the high end. Somewhere in this range is a good choice for most established organizations.
Some agencies charge $3,000 to $10,000 and up per Press Release. At these rates, you should expect to retain a highly seasoned, professional Press Release Writer who understands the audiences you’re targeting, specializes in your industry, and has demonstrated skill in sharp, clear messaging that attracts attention. Rates in this range will probably include turn-key consultation, news monitoring, and distribution.
Cost Factor #2: Scope
While quality writing is an important key in a successful Press Release, it’s not the only thing that matters. Identifying the right news, developing a distribution network, managing the media relations, and many other factors impact how much attention a Press Release attracts. Of course, adding these and other elements to the press release service adds to the scope and therefore the cost of the service. Here are some services that may be worth the additional investment for you:
- Monitoring for News. Knowing what constitutes a newsworthy event is a skill in itself. It requires media knowledge and active attention to company activity. Without someone performing this duty, it’s easy to miss events such as anniversaries, executive hires and promotions, acquisitions, new ventures, new lines of business, and other opportunities to garner valuable attention.
- Creating and Maintaining a Media Kit. Journalists are busy people, and appreciate contacts who don't make them work harder than necessary. A media kit with leadership bios and head shots, company boilerplate, company history, and other relevant information can increase your odds of good coverage.
- Additional Complexity. Sometimes, a Press Release includes simple company information that can be collected in a single conversation. Other times, it may require interviews with multiple parties in order to identify the right angle, gather the right quotes, and put it all together in a compelling manner. Multiple interviews and research add complexity, and the more complexity, the more you can expect to pay.
- SEO Optimization. Press Releases provide SEO value in at least two ways, even without optimization. First, when published to the site, they add content. Google likes content. Second, they generate inbound links when picked up by bloggers, media, and news streams. Deliberate SEO optimization can supercharge these benefits and may include keyword research, strategic incorporation of keywords, and inbound link generation.
- Legal and/or Regulatory Compliance Consultation. In some industries, the need for regulatory compliance can significantly increase the cost of producing press releases. Check with your legal department if you think this may apply to you.
- Multiple Versions. Press Releases are incredibly versatile, and to reach their highest potential, it’s often beneficial to tailor several versions. You might want one targeting local media, one for trade publications, another for bloggers, and yet another for the sales team to use during sales conversations. The degree of customization for each version will impact how much extra cost is involved.
- Distribution. While PR Newswire and similar services can take a Press Release a good bit of the distance, for best effect most Press Releases should also be distributed to a variety of other outlets, including industry bloggers, trade magazines, business sites, and local news contacts, which EIN Preswwire does, Expect to pay extra for consulting on distribution methods, as well as for the distribution itself. The more complex the distribution, the higher your cost will go. You can help keep distribution costs down by doing channel research internally, and providing a list of media you want to target.
In this case, “how you pay” refers first to paying hourly or on a flat rate, and second to whether you’re working a la carte or on retainer. In short, a flat rate on retainer is the most cost-effective way to pay for Press Releases.Hourly Vs. Flat Rate
While a low hourly rate can be attractive, it often means your writer doesn’t know how to scope the project to give you a flat rate, and may indicate lack of experience. An inexperienced Press Release Writer may still produce quality work, but will generally take much longer to do so than someone with experience. An inexperienced writer may still be a bargain if cash flow is a concern, but be sure to negotiate for a flat rate to avoid paying for their learning curve.A La Carte Vs. Retainer
It takes time for a writer or an agency to get to know your company, your industry, and your various audiences. While it may be attractive to pay for a single Press Release rather than an ongoing monthly fee, a retainer allows your writer or agency to get to know these factors deeply, and to spread the cost of ramp-up. As a result, you will generally pay significantly less per Press Release on a retainer basis, and ultimately can expect better results.
How Much Should My Specific Organization Invest in a Press Release?
Most organizations fall somewhere in the $1,500-$2,500 range in terms of what they should spend, based on the factors above. That’s still a broad range! Here are some questions to help you determine what level of investment will return the best value.
- What is the Value to Your Company of Local Media Coverage? Do you currently get new business from advertising in local publications? How much do you currently spend on that advertising? If local media is an important marketing channel for your organization, and if you already spend a few thousand dollars or more on it per month, then you will probably get strong ROI from well-crafted, well-targeted Press Releases to your local media. Plan to invest at least a couple thousand dollars per Press Release with distribution. On the other hand, if local media coverage would be a mere vanity item and/or your organization is just getting started, that price point may not make sense for you. In that case, look for a lower price point.
- What is the Value to Your Company of Trade Publication Coverage? If your reputation among your peers is important–for instance, if you engage in affiliate business–you may already advertise in industry publications. These, and trade publications for any verticals that you target, are often hungry for content. Plan to spend a thousand dollars or more per Press Release with distribution to this market only. If you want your Press Release provider to research trade publications for a particular industry, or if you’re targeting multiple industry verticals, expect an additional charge.
- Is Your Sales Team Responsible for Closing Large Deals Over Long Sales Cycles? If so, Press Releases provide them an opportunity to touch base with prospects, in a highly credible manner. Some of our clients tell us our Press Releases play a major role in helping their teams close multi-million-dollar sales. Plan to invest at the high end of the scale to ensure your Press Releases reflect the quality of your brand. If, however, you don’t have a sales team, or if your sales process requires very little nurturing, then you probably have no need of Press Releases for this purpose.
- Is Your Organization in Aggressive Growth Mode? If your company is growing quickly, whether through acquisitions or other means, then you probably have stockholders, partners, prospects, and other groups who expect to be regularly updated. Press Releases are an invaluable tool for this purpose. Hire someone who can keep their finger on the pulse of your industry, suggest Press Release opportunities, and turn high-quality work around to your team quickly. Plan to invest near the high end.
When I found out my client with the 30th anniversary had no plans to publicize, I held them hostage until they agreed to let me do it for them. We pulled together an updated media kit, with a Press Release at its center. We included a collection of historic photos from their early days, as well as updated, modern representations of their offerings. They provided us a list of trade publications they wanted to target, and we provided the local media contacts, plus distribution. We also wrote a customized version of the press release for one particular media outlet that requested a finished piece, which they printed in its entirety.
The Press Release campaign yielded tens of thousands of dollars worth of coverage in local and trade publications, a return many times higher than their investment. How much did they pay for that? Well, it would be a breach of client confidentiality to tell you that!