The Content Marketer’s Guide to Press Releases

PR practitioners have won in the SERPs. A quick search asking “Is the press release dead?” returns several articles defending press releases and advocating for their use in modern media. The press release is alive and well – when used correctly. Here’s a guide for content marketers looking to distribute a release.

Why Press Releases Are Still Relevant

The printed release that gets faxed to newsrooms hasn’t gone extinct, it has just evolved. Content marketers use releases for more than just media exposure. They use them to drive traffic to their websites, generate leads, and increase conversions. Getting the brand exposure on news websites is just a perk compared to the possible ROI. But we will get to that in a later section. First, we need to start with the basics.

shutterstock_91247339When to Write a Release

One of the main determining factors of press release success is determining whether the content is newsworthy. Traditional PR practitioners define newsworthiness as timely, relevant and informative. For example, the time to release your predictions for marketing in 2013 is in January, not May.

Here are a couple ways content marketers could use press releases:

Launching a New Product

Use the release if you’re launching a new product that’s the first of its kind in your industry, if it’s something your company has never done before or if you’re trying to rebrand your company with a different offering. That is all news. What isn’t news is a sale or special deal on your services or a rundown of your product offerings.

New Data or Research

Surprising data about your industry is news. If you’ve found something that hasn’t previously been researched or a new trend that has gone ignored, draft a release. How often do you see something in the news about teens spending eight hours a day on their phones? People like numbers. However, remember to keep your data timely and informative. A statistic that cassette tape use has dropped since the invention of the CD and then the Internet won’t come as a surprise to anyone.

Events

Launching events like a conference or networking meet-up is news. It’s timely, it’s relevant to the industry and it’s informative to readers about when and what it will be. For content marketers with an international reach, consider a press release for your next webinar series. You don’t have to be a local company to promote events.

shutterstock_123115945Potential to Go Viral

This category could also be labeled human interest. If your company has a new initiative to increase productivity and happiness that has never been seen before, it could be news. For example, a release about moving offices across town isn’t news, but moving offices into a dormant volcano is. Be careful with this one.

How to Write a Press Release

Keep in mind there are hundreds of other content marketers sending out releases to the same journalists, who get tons of pitches each day, most of which they ignore. No pressure. Here are the basic components of a successful press release.

Contact Information:

In a perfect world, every journalist or blogger who sees your story will call your company to get more quotes or back-story. Keep the contact information at the top of the page and in clear view so media know immediately who to call to learn more.

Headline:

This isn’t the time for a cute or catchy title, save the puns for blog articles. PRWeb offers tips for writing release headlines for SEO as well as for journalists, surprisingly there’s not much difference. Accurately summarize the content in eight words or less, use important keywords to tell the reader (and then search engines) what the release is about.

Body Paragraphs:

The rule of thumb for press releases is to use the inverted pyramid format. Give the who, where, what, why, when and how right in the beginning. Keep paragraphs short and only to a few sentences and fill in the lesser important information as you work your way down.

Like the headline, the writer shouldn’t try to get creative with the body. Your press release isn’t a space for storytelling, for a creative introduction or a crazy hook. It’s a space to give the facts.

InvertedPyramidGIFJargon:

There are many places where content marketing and public relations overlap, and word choice of press releases is one of them. What media outlets are you trying to target? Are you pitching to general business media or do you want to reach industry specific coverage? The answer to those questions determines how much jargon you can use.

While you may not want to get too technical, there’s no point in making generalizations either. Media get pitches daily describing events and opportunities as exciting, amazing, unique and even really cool. Be specific about why the news is important instead of trying to build hype.

Call to Action:

“Visit [insert website name] to sign up,” “download the White Paper at… “, even “follow us on…” is a better call to action than none at all. Take advantage of the fact that your release is on the Internet with a call to action to direct your audience to the right place. Yes, you are targeting media in the release, but you should provide a source for their readers who want to learn more about the news.

How to Distribute Your Press Release

Now that you’ve written your release, it’s time to send it out. Press Releases aren’t about cold calls, they’re about relationships. Media that has covered your company before will cover it again if they think what you sent out is newsworthy. Here are three different ways to send out  press releases online starting from pitching to a select few journalists and moving into mass distribution.

Email

Press Release distribution: so easy anyone with a Hotmail or AOL email address can do it.

If you’re a content marketer looking to distribute a release to a small group of journalists – usually under ten — consider personalizing each pitch email. It may be worth your time and give you with more coverage if you actually address by name the person that you’re emailing. Not all marketers are catering to such a small audience, but those who are can take advantage by making each email count.

Vocus or Cision

Vocus and Cision are websites that house contact information for journalists and media outlets ranging from small local newspapers to prominent blogs to the Wall Street Journal. For content marketers who regularly send out releases – especially to different markets – this is the software for you. You can create and save lists of contact information for journalists, send out your release in an email blast and track the analytics of media hits for different campaigns.

If it isn’t in your budget to pay for either of these sites, consider adding a list in your email/newsletter database for media so you can send emails of press releases out through that service.

cision1PRWeb

With email you have to cherry-pick which media you want to pitch to while sites like Cision and Vocus make it easy for you to create lists of media in your industry or region, but PRWeb puts distribution in the hands of the Internet. If you don’t have much experience with press releases the site will help you write it out, and then send it to media, RSS feeds and search engines. The developers behind PRWeb understand that marketers are looking for more than just coverage, they want increased traffic to their site and search engines index the content highly.

prweb1How to Measure the Success of Your Release

One of the main objections content marketers bring up when talking about press releases is the lack of results. They find the ROI to be underwhelming or don’t see it entirely. The key to the launch of a press release is to go in with specific KPIs. Here are a couple things to look at when measuring the success of your release.

Open Rate

If you’re emailing your pitches, follow the open rate (either through using a tool like Boomerang or by requesting a receipt in Outlook). One of your KPIs should measure how many of the emails that you sent are opened. This also gives you immediate feedback about what went wrong if they’re not being opened. Did you send your release to the right media to cover your news? Did your headline catch their eye and stand out among the other pitch emails?

Plus, if you find that people aren’t opening your emails, you’re probably not going to get much publicity, traffic, etc.

PRWeb Data

If you’re using PRWeb for your release, they offer analytics of their own to measure success. They tell you which journalists received your release so you know if you’re hitting the right market, how many reads your release is getting and if people are skimming or reading the whole announcement. PRWeb has about seven ways to track your announcement once it’s on their website in RSS feeds.

The two types of analytics above give you data for the release before it gets into the hands of the general public. Now that the media is seeing your release, you can follow the next four types to determine how helpful to your company the release actually was.

Media Coverage

Getting media hits was your end goal with sending out the release in the first place. How many actual stories did you get from that release?

Google Alerts is sends emails daily, weekly, or hourly emails about keyword mentions, and it’s a good idea to keep a Google Alert for your company whether or not you’re doing a media push. There are other services like Meltwater news that charge to track phrases and send daily updates about who’s talking about your company, and some companies that charge for their services will also pull hits from traditional media like radio and TV.

googlealert1Website Value:

Readership is an old-school PR statistic which can be tweaked and used by content marketers. Instead of just checking the number of readers, look to Alexa rankings, tier level and other statistics to see the reputation and size of the website that covers your news.

If both Tech Crunch and an unknown blog with 15 readers pick up your release, your coverage is technically two media outlets, but one will bring more brand awareness, traffic and conversions, which is why it’s important to dive deeper than number of media hits.

Traffic:

Remember the link you added in your call to action when you were writing the release? If you added a release specific URL to track the distribution you can now see exactly how much traffic your release is bringing to your website. Even before you really look at your analytics you can get a number that determines how valuable sending out the release was.

As you further dig into your analytics, compare the media hits that you have with sources of traffic in your analytics. Is one site bringing more traffic than another? Which stories or placements have a high success rate and which ones are just clogging up the Internet?

Conversions:

At the end of the day, what do you want readers to do? If the news was about an eBook launch, how many eBook downloads did you have? Follow the traffic statistics but keep digging into actual conversions.

It’s surprising that some marketers think the press release is dead, because there are endless analytics to help professionals determine whether their campaign was a success or failure. At the very least they can see media placements, but can also place value on the type of website that picks up their stories, how much traffic it brings and the data that really matters: customer conversions.

Final Note

Those who plan out the launch of their press release and track its progress throughout the Internet will reap the benefits. Learn what works for you through trial and error and set your goals accordingly. Soon you will be a master of the press release and blowing through your KPI goals.