Writing Press Releases: 7 DOs and DON’Ts

Ah! Writing press releases… They are foundational marketing communications documents that lay out the core elements of your story: your accomplishments, your discoveries, your new products, your news. When handled correctly, writing press releases can save you a lot of time and energy when relating with various audiences.

I write a press release when I’m ready to get serious about implementing my communications strategy. I usually begin drafting a press release right after I’ve established my marketing strategy, because with it, I can expand or support all my other communications messages.

Some people will adamantly tell you the press release is dead. I would politely disagree. It’s not, its purpose has just evolved. I write press releases mainly because they save me time when I’m asked to provide a summary of my news, company or update, etc. More importantly, a press release contains your “official” language–the wording that you want media (journalists, producers, podcasters or bloggers) to copy-and-paste into their text, so they don’t miscommunicate your main messages.

Let me be clear. I don’t think press releases will improve my ROI. It won’t–not directly, anyway. I don’t think journalists are hanging around just waiting to hear my news. They aren’t–no delusions of grandeur here!

Rachel Sprung wrote a lovely roundup for Hubspot of “When Press Releases Do (and Don’t) Help Your Marketing” in case you’re still not sure whether it’s worth your time to write a press release.

If you know you are ready  to write a press release, but still need some pointers on what to do and what not to do, you’re at the right place. So, without further ado…

Do consider your audience when writing press releases.

a press release contains your official language. Cynthia T. Luna Let’s consider first that a press release is a news release for the press. When I say “press” here, I am referring to those who consider themselves part of the fourth estate, such as reporters, journalists and freelancers for print media, producers for broadcast media, show hosts for podcasts and also bloggers. (Pretty long list!)

Knowing that, make sure you communicate the “news” in your press release clearly and prominently. Segment your long list of media so that you can target your press release with the hooks and angles that will grab their attention.

Also, news media (should you be so lucky to get their attention) are strapped for time, so keep your press release succinct. Try to stay between 200 and 500 words. If your press release is longer than this, you’re probably juggling two or more news messages worthy of their own releases. Or you’re trying to communicate to too many audiences with one missive.

Don’t write your press release in the first person.

In my many years freelancing, I have proofed and edited too many client press releases written entirely in the first person. This is a no-no for your press release. Blog posts? No problem. Formal letter or a personal email? Have at it. But for a press release: do not pass go in the first person.

If there is only one lesson you take away from this blog post, please let it be this: Do not ever write a press release entirely in the first person singular (“I”) or plural (“we”). Write your press release as if you’re on the outside, looking in. Write it as if you were a reporter for your favorite national newspaper and your editor gave you the assignment of writing the news article (between 200-500 words) about your latest book.

Think locally when writing press releases. Cynthia T. LunaRemember how time-strapped I said journalists are? Say you just sent out a press release that included some interesting data supporting Joe Journalist’s upcoming story. He tried to phone you, but you were on a flight to a seminar. He might just swipe a couple lines from your press release and cite that it was your official perspective. After all that’s what a press release is: an official announcement of your news to the press.

Do tailor your press release for your audience and front-load your news angle.

Even when you intend to release your updates to “the press”, you will still need to cherry pick your reporters, producers and bloggers by beat. Then tailor your news release to their focus. If you wrote and published a book about beauty tips while traveling, for instance, members of the media that focus on travel and/or beauty might be interested.

Don’t forget local media, associations, alma maters, and niche bloggers.

Don't play hard to get.While we’re on the subject of your audience and the media… Don’t forget to add audiences that are more interested in what’s happening in their backyards than in world news. So, think locally. Is there a used bookstore that hosts local writers? Have you shared your news with your schools? What about your local church? Or your neighborhood newspaper? Your university’s alumni association often manages some form of newsletter or means of informing your former classmates. Your “Libatiously Looping Ladies” get-together might surprise you! If any of them ever say, “How interesting! I’d love to share your news with my network,” give them your official press release. They will pass it on.

When writing press releases, do keep the inverted pyramid in mind.

Make sure the first two sentences of your press release are crystal clear. This means, come out with your news first and don’t keep your time-strapped news-hungry readers guessing. I use the Who-What-Where-When-How-Why model. Usually, it boils down to:

  • “Who is doing what” in the first sentence.
  • “When, where and how” can the release’s readers (or the media’s readers) benefit from the news in the second sentence.
  • And the third sentence (if you haven’t suavely integrated this in the first two sentences) handles why is this news relevant to the recipients and their readers. This is usually a reference to the newsworthiness of your release. For instance, you might write, “This is the first book to combine travel and beauty tips for black women traveling south of the equator”.

Here’s the idea behind writing a release with the inverted pyramid in mind: If a publication wanted to swipe your copy and publish it in their paper, they could simply hack off paragraphs from the bottom up without losing the meaning or context of your news. Technically, the first paragraph (the lead paragraph) should be sufficient information for the essence of the release’s news. Following paragraphs elaborate on key components, or provide color to your release.

Do include a quote or two.

Here is where you can use the first person. Include a quote by you, and make it count! Let’s say a blogger decided to write a post on beauty tips while traveling and stumbled on your recent press release through the internet. All she was looking for was a good quote from an expert on the subject matter. And she found your press release! Aren’t you glad you didn’t write, “We think make-up that travels well is great!” Instead you said something informed and knowledgeable. You might have said something like, “Our studies showed nine out of 10 women freshen up their make-up before landing. We were surprised to learn that mascara was the number one beauty product in women’s travel bags.” This is your chance to show your expertise. The blogger might swipe the quote, or might want to find out more about your studies and interview you.

Don’t play hard to get.

Assume your press release will be distributed and published far and wide. So, even if you don’t want to be stalked, do provide some means of contact for people who are interested in your news. Include your publishable and public business details, such as an email and web address.

Back in the day when press releases were submitted by telex, fax and mail, PR people used to include their contact information at the top of the page–after “For Immediate Release” and the date. Today, most media want their press releases by email. Don’t lose precious “preview language” (your awesome lead paragraph) with that language. Make sure you keep your contact information at the end.

That’s it — my top seven Dos and Don’ts for writing press releases.

Writing Press Releases: 7 DOs & DON'Ts / Cynthia T. Luna / LivinginCyn.comNo blog post would be complete without me sharing an example of one of my own press releases. Here is one I wrote for my alma maters, regarding the publication of The Aspiring Author’s Guide: Write Your Marketing Strategy. I tailored this press release for each school I graduated from–so it included the name of the school, the college I graduated from, and my year of graduation. For my blog, I decided to leave this information a bit more general. Last, but not least, as a rule, I never email a press release without a pitch. So, usually, my customized release is copied and pasted at the bottom of my email and accompanies a pitch. This “alum release” was reposted (with a quick comment) in LinkedIn.

6 Book Marketing Goals You Might Find Surprising!

One of the exercises I address in my latest book for aspiring authors handles goals-setting. As time ticked on and people shared their opinions about my success or lack of success, I grew more aware of how important setting goals for myself was. They’re really your only true measure of success.

When you’re publishing a book, you’re also putting a little bit of yourself “out there”. That can be a scary prospect, especially when you have an active inner critic. People will come forward and tell you what they think you should do with your project. They’ll also be telling you why they think what you’re doing works or doesn’t. While their tips may be well-intentioned, much of it won’t resonate with the goals you set for yourself. Please try and remember that–so you don’t let your inner critic get fueled up for an “I told you so!”.

Six Book Marketing Goals that may surprise you

A person I’ve worked with once told me that the best way to share is to show. It might be helpful for me to tell you what my own goals were for self-publishing:

  • GOAL ONE: To one day work for myself as an indie author and a freelancer. As some of you may know, I hold a full-time day job with a nearly three-hour daily commute. I also freelance in the evenings and over the weekends. You may already know that freelance work can be irregular with an irregular cash flow. Holding a steady full-time job for now is necessary for me — but it doesn’t mean I can’t write a book about what I know and share it with people (some of whom may even become prospective clients). This segues nicely into my next goal.
  • GOAL TWO: To create a business card for myself. I have been in marketing communications for several years across a range of sectors and fields. I knew that developing a marketing strategy for my WIP (work in progress) would include a sequence of steps to point me in the direction of what my message and talking points would be, so I wouldn’t run out of ideas for my blog, Twitter account and building my indie author business!
  • GOAL THREE: To be a published author. This sounds silly, I know, but it was important to me to officially have a book on the market, so I could check “get published” off my bucket list and put my inner critic to rest! “The Aspiring Author’s Guide: Write Your Marketing Strategy” was low-hanging fruit for me in that I felt comfortable enough with its content to get it out the door. (I knew that drafting and editing my fiction would take more time, so I put that work on the back-burner.)

Have a practice run.

  • GOAL FOUR: To share the knowledge. One of the biggest traps I see a lot of people fall into when it comes to marketing is biting off more tactics than they can realistically chew. New applications and social media make marketing look easy, but there’s planning and a lot of work involved.

A strategy is an overarching guideline to help you in your approach to meeting your goal. For instance, if you’re in New York and your goal is to get to Hollywood, your strategy is to travel west. Your strategy is not to hitchhike, take a train and a plane and a bus. Those are tactics. Your tactics may be to apply all four means of getting there, but it could just as easily be one. Your situation and circumstances usually define what works best for you.

Developing a marketing strategy can help people see the bigger picture and take a leaner, less “busy” approach to implementing a regular drumbeat of “noise” for one’s product.

So, it just so happened that I had a really good idea of what I wanted to convey in my book and I managed to produce it quickly enough to meet my other above goals.

  • GOAL FIVE: To have a “practice run”. This relates loosely to “be a published author”. Because I had never actually published an ebook, I had no idea whether the timelines I was setting for myself were even realistic. I didn’t know how long it would take me to edit 60-plus pages of my own work, I didn’t even know how long it would take for someone else to do so. I also didn’t know a ton of things surrounding the beloved book-marketing behemoth, Amazon. (More on that in another blog post!)
  • GOAL SIX: To build an author platform with other authors, creatives and readers. Community-building is important to me, because it bolsters my own creativity and helps me keep motivated in keeping my blog going, my novel alive, and also my non-fiction growing. I am in frequent dialogue with my audience via email — and, no, we don’t always chat about marketing.

Goals-setting helped me see the bigger picture

A couple people recently expressed to me their main fear about publishing their debut books: that people are going to criticize it, or them. Well, I’ll share with you a little anecdote.

A few weeks after I had published my own book, I received a long email from a reader who enjoyed my book but noted that it ranked dismally low in Amazon. The person then wondered how I expected to sell any books with such a low ranking. Good question! How, indeed?

I’m not going to lie and tell you I didn’t feel like a failure upon reading this person’s observations. But the marketing communications person in me did the one thing she knew best: I returned to my marketing strategy and looked over my goals. What I found amazed me!

Set clear goals and see the bigger picture | LivinginCyn.com

Absolutely nowhere in my goals is “selling” books listed.

Selling books was an objective — or a measure — of a greater goal, but it was not why I set out to publish Write Your Marketing Strategy or even to write books. Ultimately, I set out to publish because I wanted to establish credibility for myself as an author and to support my plan to work for myself. Sure, selling books would be nice — but at $0.99 or $6.99 a book, I would still have to sell beaucoup books every month to pay the rent! (I think that’s pretty unrealistic (for me) with only one book/product in my sales portfolio!)

Setting the right goals helps put you in the right direction

To continue with my little anecdote… another couple weeks after the above-mentioned email, I received a completely unsolicited email from someone who was looking for someone who could conduct market research and then write a consumer report quickly and correctly!

She found me through social media. But thanks to my book, which she saw on my blog, I had practically scored the job before replying “Yes” to her email. Also, the earnings from that project represented way more than the revenue I would have projected for myself in the first year of sales.

Basically, the publication of that book is supporting my larger goal of building a writing business for myself.

6 Book Marketing Goals that may surprise you! by Cynthia T. Luna | LivinginCyn.comHow about you and your goals as a writer?

Why did you set out to write a book? What do your goals look like? Do your goals keep you motivated to keep writing?

Scroll down and let us know what your goals are/were for being a writer!

Run, don’t walk, to get your First 10k Readers… (Or, How I set up my Author Platform à la Nick Stephenson)

The Aspiring Author's Guide: Write Your Marketing Strategy by C.T. LunaOkay, I rarely say things like this, but I have a huge marketing crush on Nick Stephenson. Why? Well, first a little back story…

Shortly after I finished writing my first book (pictured right) I realized I needed to build an author platform. Basically, I needed to build an email list of people who enjoy reading, who like to read my work/words, and who would be interested in hearing more updates from me.  Continue reading “Run, don’t walk, to get your First 10k Readers… (Or, How I set up my Author Platform à la Nick Stephenson)”

Tactical Tuesday Tip: 5 Essential Plugins for an Author Website (or any Website)

Deciding which WordPress plugins to choose can be pretty daunting. There are thousands. Having launched and set up several self-hosted WordPress sites for myself and friends, I have discovered which plugins I always go back to and load up to my WordPress site from the very first day. Most of them are simple — one is a little tricky. But none of them are difficult or impossible. (If you can keep track of multiple plotlines for 100-plus pages, you can handle this!)

5 Plugins to Activate. Before you even write your first post!

WP Plugin Akismet

1. Akismet

The basic Akismet plugin is free and will filter out so much spam, you’d be crazy not to add this. If you used to have a WordPress.com account, you probably already activated an Akismet API code. You can use that old code, or you can activate a new one. The next plugin, Jetpack (below), will want the same Akismet code. So, at least go with the free version.

2. Jetpack

Jetpack by WordPress pluginJetpack by WordPress.com. This free plugin will add a bunch (not all) of the functionalities you enjoyed as a WordPress.com user. So, if you had and enjoyed your WordPress.com experience, but decided it was time to start self-hosting, this plugin adds similar functions that will make your transition to WordPress.org mostly seamless and also enjoyable. (You might also find this in a search as “Jetpack by Automattic”. They’re the same thing.) Once your Jetpack is installed, there are some great functionalities you can launch right away — and configuring is very easy through Jetpack! I usually activate the following:

  • Access to all my WordPress sites through Jetpack.
  • Site stats
  • Enhanced Distribution
  • Publicize
  • Mobile Theme (Definitely add this if you’re using an older non-responsive theme, like Twenty Ten (you know who you are!!))

3. BackupBuddy by iThemes

BackUp Buddy by iThemes pluginBackupBuddy by iThemes. This one I paid for, and it’s worth every penny. Here’s why: I admit it — I winced every time I found out there’s a new WordPress update, because the first thing WordPress warns before uploading any changes, is that you back up your site. Which I didn’t — until BackupBuddy– because doing so usually meant logging into my host and then having to consider all these other dire warnings about the best place to save my backup to. Decisions like that have a paralyzing effect on me, and makes me lame. Now, I can back up my WordPress blog with the click of a button straight from my Dashboard.

4. Google Analytics Dashboard for WP

Google Analytics Dashboard for WP plugin

Google Analytics Dashboard for WP. The main prerequisite for this plugin is a Google Analytics account, for which you can sign up by clicking on this link. What I like about this, is that it gives me a snapshot view of my analytics whenever I go into my WordPress dashboard, so I don’t have to make the extra trip to visit my Google Analytics account. Usually, when I launch a website, I ignore these stats for the first few months, because the stats are generally not very inspiring — but, if I see a spike — this plugin is more detailed in reporting who (what link) referred a user to my site. Also, when there’s some action, I will check it against my JetPack stats (which have a much more user-friendly appearance that relates directly to the posts you launched and the traffic it generated).

5. The WordPress Editorial Calendar

The WordPress Editorial Calendar pluginThe WordPress Editorial Calendar in ActionThe WordPress Editorial Calendar. The marcoms in me just about freaked out (in a good way) when I finally discovered this tool. I loved being able to write several blog posts and program them into the future. (“Set it and forget it!”) But I always had to get a hold of a traditional calendar, to make sure that I wasn’t overlapping blog posts — setting two on the same day and skipping a week in the posting department. I have a sneaking suspicion that has happened in the past, and it will totally throw off my writing pattern.

 

Why does this matter to you as a writer, a blogger, and aspiring author?

cropped-KNOW.YOUR_.MESSAGE..jpg
At the moment that I typed “The End” into the last page of my work of fiction, a mild panic set in. Why? Because I knew that if I was going to be serious as an author, I’d also have to be serious about marketing my work — regardless of whether or not I would get signed on by an agent/publisher — because every author who wishes to sell and share her work also needs to have a platform on which to offer something of value (her knowledge, her words, her creations), generate followers, readers and just generally supportive people, who enjoy carrying on the conversation. (I have begun a monthly series of posts about desigining a marketing strategy as an aspiring author–that is, before you have any product on the shelves. Check out the first blog post in the series here.)

Whether you’re an author with books under her belt, or an aspiring author still working on your first novel or non-fiction work, it’s never too early to build an author platform. One of many ways to do that is by engaging with other authors, and other bloggers.

Tactical Tuesday Marketing Tips Living in CynMy Tactical Tuesday column is designed for authors and writers to implement easy, strategic marketing tactics to help them grow their author platform. If you’re an author and you have a question, a thought, or a suggestion, leave your comment below, or follow me on Twitter @cynthiatluna with the hashtag #TacticalTues! See you soon!