The Well-Tempered Press Release


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by Daniel P. Dern

(c) Copyright 1994, 1997 Daniel P. Dern

This originally appeared as my "PR Tips and Techniques" column in the Computer Media Directory, March 1994. CMD was a quarterly looseleaf of editorial contacts and other info.

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Like an Elizabethan sonnet, a Broadway ballad, a haiku, or a meatloaf, 
the press release is a well-defined art form, with certain rules, do's 
and don't's.  

The experienced PR practitioner may decide to bend or break the form at 
times -- but you can only do this once you know what you're doing, and 
why.  And in order to do that, you have to know how to write and issue a 
standard, "vanilla" press release.  In this column, we'll go over those 
basics, complete with a Mad Lib style, fill-in-the-blanks, generic press 
release sample. 

                                    *
The press release is one of the staples of public relations.  It's that 
one-plus page document issued periodically by the Marketing Communications, 
Public Affairs, or PR department, announcing some Very Important Fact. 

Typical reasons for press releases include:

    o New product (announced, available, shipped, etc) 
    o Major new customers, contracts, relationships (signed, shipped, 
      working, etc) 
    o Corporate activities -- CEO, management and other high-level 
      hirings, promotions, reassignments (and leavings -- we've seen a 
      lot of all these lately); layoffs and other "reductions in force," 
      facilities changes 
    o Financials -- quarterly/annual earnings, revenues 
    o Technology updates and backgrounders
    o Events, other new items.

Given a "shopping" list like this, it's easy for any company to generate 
a dozen or more releases each year -- and a big player, such as IBM, Ma 
Bell, Digital or Northern Telecom can easily have that many in each 
week!  And most, in the eyes of their issuers, are important, world-
shaking, stop-the-presses info.  (Some, such as personnel and financial 
announcements, are acknowledged to be pro forma, as much for editorial 
background as anything.) 

Trade press editors estimate that several THOUSAND press releases cross 
their desks each month.  

You don't have to be a rocket scientist to know there isn't room for 
each magazine to print them all.  Heck, there isn't time for editors to 
READ them all. 

But by understanding how to write and issue a press release, you can 
maximize your releases' chances for being opened, read, and used or 
otherwise followed up on. 


CONTENTS: SAY WHAT YOU MEAN, MEAN WHAT YOU SAY

The world doesn't need yet another hype-heavy release over-dense with 
unsubstantiated qualifiers like "unique," overuse of terms like "price-
performance," "functionality," and "customer benefit." 

Mark Kellner, [who at the time was] a free-lance reporter whose credits 
include being former news editor of MIS Week, advises release writers: 

"What nobody likes to see is hype like 'proudly announces' or other 
self-serving phrases.  Concentrate on the five W's -- Who, When, What, 
Where and Why, and try to make it interesting to the editor. 

[ Mark's now a PR person, I believe; we'll see if he's still singing the 
same tune :-) - DPD ]

"Start with the facts -- what it is, who you are, and who/what it is 
for.   Cut to the chase -- and write clearly so that people who aren't 
in your specific niche will get the necessary context, and explanation 
of any jargon and acronyms." 

Jean Young, President of Young and Associates, a nine-year old high-tech 
PR firm in Gaithersburg, MD, observes, "The main mistake I see is that 
the person writing the release assumes too much -- that the journalist 
will be familiar with the product, company, jargon and industry.  Often 
the reader may have this familiarity -- but journalists are reading 
about hundreds of products, industries, etc., every week.  Be sure you 
make statements that the readers can translate and understand your 
company's information easily." 

Consider including a glossary, with your company's terms, and the 
industry ones you use, as an add-on piece.  (I assure you, this is an 
invaluable piece, and may often make the difference in getting a) 
placement and b) accurate coverage.) 

                                    *

Because the press is often on deadline, working at odd hours or 
otherwise not in a position to reach you, the more self-contained your 
release is, the greater the chance of its being used, adds Young.  An 
added benefit -- "Once you've established this level of reliability for 
your organization's releases, reporters will be more likely to grab them 
first -- because they'll know they'll get what they need for a usable 
story." 

Another caveat from Young: "Avoid editorializing in the text of your 
news releases.  A 'news release' is expected to contain news.  
Editorializing belongs within any quotes."  


INCLUDE USER AND ANALYST REFERENCES!

If the press release is a product announcement, few editors will give it 
a first, much less second glance these days unless it includes: 

    o Price
    o Availability/shipping date
    o Beta sites or customer names available for comment.

"The press is not doing rip'n'read, single-source stories any more, even 
on what might be a simple story," says Kellner.  "The reporters are 
expected to contact analysts, users and other expects, and deliver not 
only the facts as provided by the vendor, but also community response, 
and some analytical context.  Wherever possible, press releases should 
include names and contract information for two or three beta sites or 
customers, and two or three industry analysts who have been briefed 
prior to the announcement." 

That late, great American fiction writer, Theodore Sturgeon, advised his 
students to "never underestimate the readers' intelligence, and never 
overestimate their information." 

I have found this to be true in high-tech PR as well.  The trick is to 
assess the current position of the readership's familiarity with up-and-
coming acronyms and terms. 

The best us PR folks can do, as a rule, is write a release that would be 
clear assuming the reader knows enough, and then add just a smidgin more 
information for good measure.   And sometimes lobby for a backgrounder 
to go with it. 


THE ENVELOPE, PLEASE: CONTEXT COUNTS AS MUCH AS CONTENT

Every release should include the following information:

    o Company name and full address
    o Contact name and phone number.  If possible, a REACHABLE public 
      affairs/PR person within the company.  An agency contact is also 
      acceptable -- what counts most is that it's someone who will 
      answer their phone or otherwise respond PROMPTLY to messages, 
      requests for further information and interviews, etc. 
    o SHORT (3-6 line) corporate summary at end, including full company 
      name, headquarter location, and recent revenues. 

In the PACKAGING, don't forget:

    o Your card
    o Company/technology backgrounder, if appropriate 
    o Photo, if appropriate -- with company name and a caption attached 
      in some non-losable way. 

To be helpful, consider putting a sticker or stamp on the outside of the 
envelope indicating "Press Release Enclosed." 


THOSE EXCITING QUOTES

No press release is complete without quotes -- a quote from the 
corporate prexy or CEO, from any other relevant marketing manager, 
someone high up in the customer organization, and an analyst. 

Do these people really say these quotes?  Perhaps.  But just as often, 
they come from the MarComm boilerplate -- usually, variations on the 
same quote will serve for almost all releases --  or are made up by 
somebody like you or me, and passed up the line.   (Really.  We make 
them up, or recyle old ones.) 

Whatever the case, what counts is that the quotees have agreed in 
advance that they said these things.  Getting corporate and legal 
approval for said quotes, particularly from customers and in large 
bureaucratic-intensive places, usually takes up most of the time in the 
process. 


A FEW OTHER DO'S AND DON'T'S:

This will get you started on the road to proper releasing.

** DO: ** 

o Make sure your release has been reviewed by top management, technical 
  management, and any users or other cited parties. 
o Make sure everything is spell-checked 
o Include appropriate copyright and trademark notes. 
o Check your mailing list EVERY TIME before using it, to be sure it's up 
  to date, accurate, and reflects the target editorial readership FOR 
  THIS RELEASE. 
o When in doubt, say "NEWS EDITOR" instead of a name. 
o Include your business card. 
o Be ready to e-mail the text. 

** DON'T: **

o Go overboard on fancy fonts or presentation. 
o Include unnecessary cardboard, paper, or other packaging 
o Fax or courier anything that can go through regular mail 
o Call editors "to see if you got our press release" unnecessarily 
  (i.e., most of the time) 
o Put in too much other materials. 

If you follow this advice, and use common sense, you, too, can write 
press releases the press will open, read, and maybe even use. 

Now here's that "instant press release" I promised:

                ** INSTANT PRESS RELEASE STARTER KIT: **

[ On company stationary, in a clear, easy-to-read font ]
[ Top of first page should include:]

"FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE"

"For more information, contact:"
    <PR or Marketing name, phone #>

[ Clear summary headline, e.g., ]

   BIG WAZOO CORP. INTRO'S NEW RELEASE OF WINDOWS-COMPATIBLE
   MICROWAVE OVEN AND MIXER/BLENDER

   "Blah blah blah," exclaims over-dressed company figurehead.

  

[ Now skip a few lines and start the text ]

        MONTH DAY#, YEAR (CITY, STATE) -- YOUR-COMPANY announced 
today PRODUCT-NAME version VERSION#, its new WHATEVER-IT-IS, for 
WHAT-IS-DOES-AND-FOR-WHO. 

    "By enabling our customers to DO-SOMETHING, PRODUCT-NAME 
strengthens our strategic position in the ____________ 
market(s)," according to NAME, TITLE of YOUR-COMPANY.  "PRODUCT-
NAME also follows our demonstrated plan for ANNOUNCED-PLAN-IF-
ANY."

    Products like PRODUCT-NAME are an important part of the 
growing market for _____________, estimated by MARKET-RESEARCH-
GROUP to be BIG-NUMBER in the coming ## years.  "More and more 
companies are using PRODUCTS-LIKE-THIS in bottom-line, mission-
critical applications," says RESEARCHER.  "PRODUCT-NAME can be a 
major player in this arena."

    Already, YOUR-COMPANY has sold over NUMBER of RELATED-STUFF, 
to NUMBER Fortune 100, banking, government and manufacturing 
corporations (OR OTHER APPROPRIATE NAME-DROPPING).

    Available in DATE, the new YOUR-COMPANY PRODUCT-NAME consists 
of/requires [PRODUCT INFO HERE], and will cost $NUMBER.
                                #
    Headquartered in CITY, STATE, YOUR-COMPANY is a world leader 
in INDUSTRY/MARKET-SEGMENT, with ( over NUMBER users ) in 
( NUMBER cities/states/countries/Fortune 100 corporations/etc ), 
with FY YEAR annual revenues of $NUMBER.  Founded in YEAR, YOUR-
COMPANY has over NUMBER employees, and ANY-OTHER-NEATO-FACT.

    COMPANY-NAME is listed on the STOCK-EXCHANGE as XXXXX.

Beta Site Contacts:
User Contacts:
Briefed Analysts:

Attached:
    Company/Technology backgrounders
    Photos and caption lists
    Terminology summary

                      - END SAMPLE RELEASE -
                           - END ALL -


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Copyright © Daniel P. Dern
Last modified: Tuesday, 16-Oct-2001 11:08:15 EDT