Marketing Tool: Press Releases
As newspapers reduce staff time in response to pressures on their business, it’s easier than ever to get a well-written press release published in your local paper. Newspaper coverage is free, doesn’t put you in direct competition with other businesses that advertise in the paper, and being featured in the newspaper carries with it an aura of legitimacy. What follows are tips on writing an effective press release that will get your business noticed.
Develop a List of Contacts
You’ll need a consolidated list of press contacts. Look for reporters that cover the agricultural, environmental, or rural beat. You can also include any marketing staff at the paper that has been in touch with you about advertising. If you are using software for an email newsletter, you can create a separate list of press contacts in that software. Otherwise, Bcc the list through your regular email account.
- You can call newspapers to ask for a contact, or pull email addresses from newspaper websites or bylines.
- Online resources: American Journalism Review and Direct Contact PR both offer searchable directories.
- Bacon’s Newspaper Directory is a comprehensive list of newspaper outlets and contact information that is available at public libraries.
- CISA has a list of Pioneer Valley media contacts that is available to Local Hero members. Contact CISA at 413-665-7100 to access it.
Position your Business
Send an introductory letter to media outlets introducing yourself and outlining your professional expertise. Journalists often rely on more than one source for their stories, so providing them with some background information can help them choose you as a contact for stories. If you hope to be seen as a reliable contact for journalists, be sure to return calls promptly. Journalists are working on tight deadlines, and if you don’t return phone calls, they’ll stop coming. Make sure journalists know how you can help them!
Identify Your Story
Sometimes, you may have big news to share, like starting a new venture on the farm or winning an award. Businesses that are savvy about press releases, though, can spin much smaller events to make them newsworthy. Media outlets always run stories around the holidays, so use that to your advantage by announcing photo opportunities at your holiday events.
Write your release
Format of a Good Press Release
- Make headlines bold instead of all caps.
- List a contact person and their information in the upper right-hand corner of the page.
- Write “FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE” or “FOR RELEASE (date, time)” in the upper left-hand corner of the page.
- For releases issued in advance of breaking news, write “EMBARGOED FOR RELEASE (date, time)” in the upper left-hand corner of the page.
- If the release is longer than one page, type “-more-” at the bottom of every page.
- Type “30” or “###” at the end of the final page.
- Put shortened title and page number in the upper right-hand corner of the second page and on.
Classic Press Release Writing Style:
The “inverted pyramid” writing style, stating facts in descending order of importance, is the classic format for a press release.
- The first paragraph addresses the who, what, where, when, and why of the story, hooks the reporter into reading the rest of the release by isolating the most interesting aspect of the story, and is direct and short.
- The second paragraph amplifies the lead, expanding on information provided in the first paragraph. It answers anticipated questions that you hint at in the lead and reveals the name of the business or organization issuing the release.
- The third paragraph includes a quote from a business representative or third party. This quote endorses the news release message. The final paragraphs provide more detail to the reader in descending order of importance. Don’t put vital information in the last paragraphs, as they will be first to get cut.
Modern Press Release Writing Style:
The current state of newspaper staffing makes it more likely than ever that your press release will get published in full. This is an opportunity to write press releases that are more like newspaper stories – less factual and more engaging. See our Sample Press Release for an example of a press release written in this style. Writing tips:
- Write in the active voice and use short sentences and paragraphs.
- Try to keep it to one page. If possible, follow Associated Press Stylebook rules. Every time you start a new topic, start a new paragraph.
- Proofread your release.
- Don’t include information that is overly controversial or opinionated, unless that is your goal.
- Refine quotes so that they are grammatically correct. Quote source should be placed in a natural break or at the end of a sentence. Don’t put one quote directly after a quote from another source unless one is responding to the other.
Release your story
- Indicate if the event is a press release, photo opportunity, or calendar listing.
- Email is preferred, since it saves retyping time. If you must mail a press release, use letterhead.
- If you are emailing the press release, do not send it as an attachment. Cut and paste it into the body of an email. Type email addresses into the “BCC” line.
- Do not email photos with the press release, but do let the journalist know if you have photographs available.
- Put a copy of the release on your website to make it more widely available.
After the Release
- You must be available if a reporter calls or wants to come to the farm for photos and an interview. Return any calls immediately and be accommodating.
- When you are being interviewed, be sure to reinforce the primary message of your press release. Stay on topic.
- Send thank you notes to journalists for good stories!
Case Studies: Robin Hollow Farm and Crow Farm
Robin Hollow Farm and Crow Farm both get good press, although neither sends out many press releases. Polly sends out press releases in advance of special events, and has felt that they are hit or miss, depending on the news cycle. The magazine piece above, which is from the May 2011 issue of Rhode Island Monthly, is a feature on Polly that focuses on tips for arranging and growing your own flowers. In this case, the reporter knew Mike and Polly and approached them about doing a story, and they came to the idea of framing it as a tutorial together. Polly says, “I do lots of tours and lectures, so I’m known as an expert.” She is positioned extremely well, as reporters know that they can get a great story with an expert opinion, plus beautiful photos, by talking to her, and her press coverage is excellent as a result.
Paul noted that having a good relationship with a photographer for the local paper can be effective. If the photographer is sent out to bring back a summer farm scene and they know that your farm is lovely and you are open to being photographed, they are likely to visit again.
Both Polly and Paul are well-known enough in their communities that they are sought out by reporters and photographers for stories, despite neither relying heavily on press releases. If you are aiming to position yourself in that way, you have to do the legwork to make yourself known to reporters through press releases.
This material is based upon work supported by USDA/NIFA under Award Number 2010-49200-06201.
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