A Good Press Release Generates Better Buzz

15 November 1999
We receive a lot of press releases here at IGN, and frankly, many of them stink. As an industry publication and recipient of these epistles, we have a vested interest in helping you create a better, more effective press release. In the rush to develop successful Internet businesses, many executives missed the public relations boat. Fortunately, writing a good press release is easy with a little practice and knowledge.

A press release needs to be newsworthy and shouldn't be misleading. Announcing that your company has purchased banner ad space from Alta Vista or that your site won the Top 500 Gaming Sites Award at so-and-so's gambling links page isn't going to cut it. According to Liese Hutchison, a good press release is defined as having:

  • impact; does it affect a number of people, such as legislation prohibiting online gaming in the United States?
  • conflict; has something unusual happened, like the passing of a computer virus through online gambling software?
  • a known entity; does it involve a credible person or company, such as when a site signs on a new celebrity for endorsement?
  • timeliness; is it something that happened recently, such as your company commencing beta testing on its software this week?

"When writing a press release, you need to ask, 'So what? Does anyone care besides me?'" Hutchison said. "It needs to really be news--no puffery, no soft stuff; it won't play," adds Hank Walshak, president of Walshak Communications Inc. (www.aprgiant.com) in Bethel Park, PA.

An effective press release follows the "inverted pyramid" format. The lead tells who, what, when, where, how or why, and gives a brief overview of the topic. All other information follows in descending order of importance, so that the least important information can be cut to fit editors' space constrictions.

With the advent of new media like the Internet, information dissemination has changed. Television reporting is in "sound bites" and news articles read like photo captions. Web surfers are receiving hourly updates of the news. It's important that your press release be short and snappy, making every word count.

"Think headlines. The lead needs to be compelling also. Even think about the how subject heading reads if you email the press release," says Simone Valley, vice president of Shandwick International (www.shandwick.com). Simone says that an effective lead is a benefit when reporters use email managers that preview the first two or three lines, such as Microsoft Outlook.

"People are busy. Automatically assume that people aren't going to read through it," advised Walshak. He recommends press releases being one to three pages long. Just remember that when the news is done, so is your press release. Brevity is important, too.

It also helps to find out how editors prefer to receive press releases. These days, most publications receive press releases via email, fax and mail. Using these tips will give your press release an advantage in getting used.

Next, you need to consider where it's going. Publicly traded companies have certain requirements for releasing information, but it's also important to have a targeted media list according to Valley. To satisfy SEC or other public knowledge requirements, many companies turn to Business Wire or PR Newswire. Both companies offer blitzing options, so that your press release will be targeted to the necessary media. There are other media that need special consideration, however.

It also helps to have a working relationship with publications' staff members. Not only does it help the flow of information, it will stand you in good stead if adverse publicity about your company arises. These are the reporters you may turn to for help one day. It's up to you to build a positive relationship with reporters.

A better story can be written about your company if you're available to answer questions from media. It's possible that a reporter is only calling to clarify a detail in your press release, but it could also lead to a bigger story that will generate more publicity or "buzz" for your company. Stories that are written in industry publications can be picked up by other news outlets, which can lead to additional exposure of your company name. If you've contributed to the story, then your side is better told.

In "Add Punch To Your Media Relations", Walshak wrote,

"A lot of marketers view media relations as a purely reactive process -- answering questions that reporters ask. But the best media relations efforts are assertive in style and generate more of the feature coverage you want more often.

If you wait for the media to come to you, you may be caught flat footed a lot. Worse yet, they may not come to you at all and not write about your company, products or services. Worst of all, they may write about you without your input and perspective.

When a reporter calls, take the call. And provide whatever information you can. Timeliness is important, because reporters often call when on deadline and under pressure to complete a story.

Do not ignore a reporter's call. If you do, you may miss a valuable story opportunity. And the reporter will go to someone else -- maybe your competition -- for the information."

Remember that a press release can add value to your advertising/marketing mix by generating interest about your company or products. A well-written press release reflects well on your company, and is more likely to be used in publications. Plus, using a press release as a beginning, additional positive coverage could be generated from reporters. It begins in your office, when you write the first words to your next press release. We'll be looking forward to seeing it too.

This article is the third of a three-part series on public relations. Click on the links below view the other two articles:
Part 1
Part 3

Vicky Nolan joined the IGN staff in October 1999. She's best known for inventing fire, the wheel and swiss cheese. She can be reached at vicky@igamingnews.com.