Archive for 8 July 2008

Press Releases for an Audience of One

When I moved to New York it was to work at a textile company that was in the midst of a major restructuring. I was hired to handle communications and because there was a lot going on at the company and the textile business, at the time, was a very tight community, I was kept plenty busy. For product releases the new owner gave me a lot of leeway, but for any announcement regarding the company–new hires, acquisitions, financial info, new accounts, etc.–the new owner was constantly re-writing usually to insert more of him into the release. 

I tried to explain that what he was adding wasn’t newsworthy, and that it in fact detracted from the purpose and meaning of the release…but he bought the company and he wanted the company news to be about him. Needless to say, very few of those business releases were ever picked up and I soon found myself on the wrong side of my boss!

And since then I’ve dealt with many other small business and their communication efforts and it seems as if most  independent businesses never take full advantage of press releases for two main reasons:

1) They don’t think, as a small business, they have anything to say that would be of interest to a wider audience. (Wrong!)

or…

2) They fall into the “look at me!” trap of promoting themselves without taking into account both the primary (the media) and the secondary (the wider public) audience of the release. (Also wrong!)

Press releases are a highly effective tool for small businesses; after all a good story is a good story, right? And with all the new media outlets eager for copy, photos and info for their webpages, newsletters, blogs, etc., there’s more opportunity than ever for coverage. 

But when you’re planning a release you need to set your ego aside and begin by asking yourself some tough questions. “Why would any media be interested in this? ” “What am I offering/telling/showing that’s different?” “Why would someone be interested in reading more about me or this project/product?” After all, you probably flip though your paper and the many magazines you receive, only stopping to read the items that really capture your interest. What about your release would be able to do that to someone else?

So here’s a test to run on yourself if you think you’re writing a release that’s a bit to “look at me!”

  1. Write the release you want, how you want. Then set it aside and move on to something else. Don’t return to it for a day or more.
  2. After 24-36 hours, re-read your release and ask yourself: “Is this something other people would be interested in? Is this a story that would stop a page-flipper?” 
  3. If the answer is Yes, then move on to part two of this exercise. Replace all the references to you, your services, your products, your projects with those from another business. It could be a competitor or try it with a competitor and a completely different type of company.
  4. Set it aside yet again and wait another day or so.
  5. Now read it again. Is it still compelling now that it’s about someone else? If so…congratulations, it sounds like you’ve got a strong release on your hands. If not, go back to the first set of questions and rewrite it, focusing on what matters to “the real audience”–the media whose attention you’re trying to grab and the readers whom you hope to inform and influence.

Self-run and solo businesses often find it difficult to view their accomplishments in an objective fashion. But like almost everything, your press release skills will improve with practice. It’s worth the time investment to get it right, because the payoff can be fantastic.

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8 July 2008 at 4:50 pm Leave a comment


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