So . . . you’ve sat down to write your press release . . . and you’re stuck getting started.
In an earlier article, we discussed Press Releases as Another Opportunity for Branding. Specifically, we addressed some of the basic criteria needed to produce a successful PR piece, including discussions about: Topics, Voice, Audience, Outlets, Format, Quotes and Photos, and Post-Submission Follow-up. In a second article, we wrote a Press Release to Introduce Ourselves as Part of National Small Business Week (in 2020).
Nevertheless, we realize that many of you may still be sitting staring at a blank page after having crumpled up a dozen failed efforts.
In this article, I’m hoping to help you get started writing by encouraging you to identify and assemble the content you need to include to attract the attention of the media and (ultimately) your audience . . . while successfully communicating your message about your brand.
First, ask yourself whether your proposed topic is of general interest to the public and not simply a self-serving grab for attention. If you are convinced you have the right kind of subject (i.e., a message that’s unique and has a potential impact upon others), then you need to gather up the specific details to include.
The 5 W’s (Who, What, When, Where, and Why . . . PLUS How)
Answer each of these questions in terms of your press release.
Identify those individuals and/or organizations who are involved . . . as well as people likely to be affected by the outcome. As you perform this step, consider possible prospects to provide you with a quote. (In the case of a groundbreaking or Grand Opening, the “who” might be the founder of the business. Or, perhaps the “who” is the individual behind a new product or key enhancement . . . as well as the consumers likely to benefit. In the case of an employee being featured to acknowledge an award?, the “who” would be the recipient and maybe the judges (assuming they are well-known public figures).
This description should address the unique and special nature of the topic being publicized. For an employee feature, the “what” might be the winner of an “Employee of the Month” contest and a discussion of the habits and accomplishments being recognized. In other cases, your “what” could be the description of a new product or service, announcement of a Grand Opening or Employee Recognition Day, or perhaps the explanation of an award won by you.
The date and time associated with your topic should always be included. While this piece of information is very obvious in some cases such as a Grand Opening, others might be a bit more ambiguous such as the anticipated date a new product or service will be introduced. Occasionally, your “when” could be a timeframe such as “income tax season” or “early this summer,” etc.
“Where” identifies the location in which the topic under discussion is taking place. In a press release, inclusion of an actual address might be appropriate, but a more general reference such as “at the corporate headquarters” or “in Washington” or “at the satellite location of the store” would suffice to provide the reader with adequate context.
This piece of information in very important because you are highlighting “why” the press release matters. In some cases, the “why” gives you the opportunity to outline the criteria for an award while explaining the reason you were chosen as winner – one of the rare opportunities to be totally self-congratulatory in an acceptable objective way. “Why” might be your opportunity to explain the reason a new product or enhancement matters to consumers. “Why” could be the reason an “Employee of the Year” plaque is given, which offers you an opportunity to expand upon your company’s brand while highlighting the ways in which the recognized person embodies those desired characteristics . . . while also calling attention to the ways in which the consumer benefits.
“How” (like “why”) often gives you a bit more opportunity to expand upon the branding of your business. This information can range from “how” the winner of an award was determined to “how” a company has elected to participate in some national holiday such as Small Business Week. In crafting this piece of information, remain very sensitive to opportunities to highlight the company’s brand characteristics and the way those qualities made the “how” possible.
So, You Have Your 5 W’s . . .
So, you’ve dutifully filled in the blanks for each of those categories. (Please note that we have provided a Word template with each of these components laid out to help make that process easier.) Next, actually write down the two or three quotes you plan to use. At least one of those sources will typically be from a high-ranking company official and the other should be a person with some recognizable expertise in the subject. Similarly, one of the quotes should be devoted to the main theme of the press release while the other can merely mention the topic while making remarks that reinforce the general branding of the company. If you can get a consumer to make a statement, that content can be very effective. Government officials can also be useful, especially for items like awards and Grand Openings.
Next, locate or create any needed photographic artwork, being sure to supply an appropriate caption and perhaps citation. If you do not have the necessary images, you can take the pictures.
The final preliminary content to highlight in this collection of information is the “branding boilerplate” language you want to include. For instance, we chose the following message for our blog:
“Produced by two experienced communication professionals, Brand Building for Small Business is a blog that aims to provide practical, do-it-yourself advice about creating a brand identity from the bottom up. Expect, simple, straightforward tips that can be executed by a single person or a small group on a very tight budget.”
As a result, we try to incorporate at least the substance of this message (if not the exact words) into any press release, knowing such content is the most likely to get cut by an editor.
Finding Your Lead . . . and Shuffling Content in Order of Importance
Now that you have assembled all of your content, you must begin to incorporate the elements into a cohesive story. The first step is to identify your lead. Specifically, read through the 5 W’s you’ve collected and decide which one is the most important.
For instance, “what” and “who” would probably be the elements you introduce first for an employee press release with “when” and “where” being secondary. For example . . .
“The ABC company recently named Mrs. Mary Smith (your “who”) the “Employee of the month” (your “what”). She will receive her official reward on June 14th (your “when”) at the annual company meeting at the ABC corporate headquarters (your “where”). She is being recognized for outstanding customer service (“why”), which reflects ABC’s philosophy of putting the customer first (using this portion of the “why” to tie back very directly to the company’s branding statement).
Once this lead is in place, I’d include a paragraph of biographical detail about Mary’s background and history with ABC. I’d add a quote from Mary about being surprised and honored as well as another from her supervisor about the reasons Mary is worthy and reflects those qualities that are part of the ABC brand. Information about past recipients might also be included.
Finally, I’d explain the process of selecting the Employee of the Month (the “how” in this case), which could create a further branding opportunity by indicating the choice was made by fellow employees or perhaps the company’s customers.
Then, I would insert a paragraph that describes ABC and highlights some of the company’s accomplishments. Within this section, I’d include the quote from the high-ranking company official that is pretty much exclusively about the organization. (The inclusion of this statement will probably increase the chances of the company information surviving the final cut.) Very often, a paragraph such as this one would reflect your company’s boilerplate. If not, I’d incorporate that as part of my closing.
For this particular story, I’d be sure to include a photo of Mary and/or the award ceremony as well as photos of other quoted parties and perhaps an image of the ABC corporate headquarters (assuming the place is closely associated with the company and perhaps a bit iconic).
As I hope this one example above suggests, each collection of details will have an intrinsic order of importance that hopefully makes the progression of the press release both obvious and easy to write. For instance, “what,” “when,” and “where” would probably be the lead of a “Grand Opening” with “who” being used to mention the dignitaries expected to attend. “Why” would almost certainly incorporate some statement about customer convenience that would provide a point of entry into a recap about branding. An image of the new location would be essential.
For a press release about a new product, “what” and “when” would probably provide the essence of your lead with “who” being secondary unless a specific individual was instrumental in developing the new product. Once again, “why” would provide an opportunity to expound upon branding and the ways in which customer needs were being better served. The “how” in this case could talk about the process of development and perhaps incorporate some discussion about the ways in which customer feedback came into play.
As you can see, the 5 W’s are pretty much a part of any press release you’d choose to create. By using these elements to gather and organize your content, your narrative will be half written – you’ll just need to figure out the correct order for presenting the information for maximum effect. Generally speaking, most press releases will be less than 500 words, so taking this approach should be very useful in getting you close to a finished product.
To make sure no information is overlooked, we’ve created a template listing all the important components from this post to help you put together your content. You will ALWAYS have some details to plug into each section. Once gathered, the ultimate order will most often become fairly obvious.
Note: In a future article, we plan to create examples of simple common press releases such as the kinds mentioned in this article (i.e., Grand Opening, New Product Rollout, Employee of the Month Award, etc.).