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Friday Guest Column: Writing the New Press Release

Sandy Fash, C. Blohm & Associates

Barely a decade ago, communication tactics were executed primarily via postal mail or the fax machine. Pitching to an editor meant picking up the telephone, and a successful campaign resulted in two or three stories embedded in the pages of a few glossy magazines. Today, the Internet has altered the communications landscape for most information industries, including Public Relations, and the press release has evolved along with the industry.

Historically, the press release consisted of five basic components: a catchy headline, an informative sub-headline, a description of the announcement (the “what, when, where, how and why” of the news), a quote from an executive or customer, and contact information for the recipient to request additional details. These components were carefully crafted to fill two or three pages.

With the amount of information daily bombarding the average media representative steadily increasing, it’s reasonable to assume the time spent on any single piece of information has decreased significantly.

Therefore, when communicating with the media, it’s critical you provide the salient facts of your announcement as quickly (when communicating by phone) and concisely (when using e-mail or website text) as possible. The current recommendation is that press release text fit within the height of a standard computer monitor.

To further complicate your life, editors and bloggers are looking for more than just text. The modern press release should include digital content, such as images, podcasts or short videos.

The Internet allows media outlets to employ alternative distribution methods in tandem with their print magazines or newspapers. They can provide their readers with up-to-the-minute coverage on their websites, trend stories via electronic newsletters, and news announcements published on RSS feeds.

It is a good idea to provide editors and bloggers with multiple links directing them to news about related topics or research that supports your announcement. Some progressive theories even recommend including links to del.icio.us pages and Technorati tags.

It’s also essential to provide sufficient contact information so an editor can reach you in a timely fashion. In addition to a phone number and e-mail address, consider including an Instant Message or Skype address as well.

Though both the PR and journalism industries are pushing for these dramatic changes in the press release format, it’s important to note that this new type of release also has a downside. Ideally, your company should be able to send e-mail successfully with attachments and multiple embedded links, but due to aggressive spam-filtering, these missives may be blocked by mail servers. Keep in mind the limit of your e-mail capabilities and those of your recipients, but do not let these “speed bumps” discourage you from providing the best information available.

One thing has not changed: your goal when writing a press release is to offer news that will help the media provide their readers and viewers with the information they need and want.

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