Beginning my press release experience as a reporter choosing press releases to run, there are numerous things I learned about getting a release carried. At every paper I worked for, press releases were faxed in daily, most of which were unusable. But, when we got the rare good one we would run it almost as is. The trick with those was to take out the PR speak and to convert it into AP style. Time after time I did this and finally wondered- why weren't they writing these in AP style? What exactly were they teaching in PR school that made them write press releases that had to be thrown out?
After leaving the newspaper industry, I put my ideas to work to help people around me to get the publicity their companies or events deserved. Every one of them was carried. Every single one. How? By doing what a PR writer should logically do when creating a press release. The object isn't to glorify the client and it isn't to create a ton of information that then has to be waded through and filtered down to its important points. Most reporters don't have time for that kind of nonsense. At least, I never did, so I assume that other reporters don't either. Then, I looked at the local market and considered what kinds of stories had been run lately, and what kind of slant they were usually given.
And lastly, I decided what kinds of markets the press release should be catered to, and how to cater the release to their specific focus. A press release for the city newspaper should have a strong news and/or human interest focus, one for the local entertainment tabloid should have more to do with what about the event will interest locals, etc. Then, I found the fax numbers for the local and regional media outlets that I wanted to utilize. That is ironically one of the hardest parts of print submissions, as many outlets make their fax numbers hard to find. I did find out that a PR book full of contact names and fax numbers comes out every year. That sounded pretty interesting until I noticed that it cost over $800. Without the book, the hunt took considerably longer, but it was accomplished.
Enter the online press release industry...
After changing careers and working in ecommerce for a few years, I came back to writing and PR, where I intend to stay forever. But, the trend now is for clients to commission online press releases. Great! I'll write press releases for the requested markets and email them instead of hunting fax numbers, right? Nope. Online press releases are an entirely different animal. The first few that I wrote confused the heck out of me, as there was no market to write for. So, the release is to be written to...nobody in particular? Pretty much. Many clients who want online releases don't really know who they want it targeted to, and they don't want it sent any further than PR Web.
The online press release is not, as a client recently told me "just an article written in a different format." It is still a press release, and should have many of the same hallmarks of the print release, some traits of the content article, and should come out as a sort of hybrid. To avoid having these releases being simply a resurgence of the useless releases that I once threw in the trash, I had to find a market to target the release to. The release can't be too generic, and must cater to a niche, as much as I hate that word. When writing an online release there is an analysis of the market, much like with print releases. What media outlet would do the company/event/person the most good? What are those outlets running? What are the people on those sites reading? The online market is fabulous because most media outlets display their most read stories, letting you know what their readers like and what they are likely to want to print.
To get the release seen my the right people, especially if the client just wants it sent to PR Web, it has to be SEO'd to the best keywords. If I'm not given keywords I check Overture and see what people are searching on that's related to the topic. You can't go too high, as those keywords present too much competition, and you can't go too low, as those keywords aren't searched often enough. Choosing some lovely words in the middle and getting them woven through the copy to ensure that it isn't too obvious is tough, but it's the best way to get that release out there.
Going back to my reporter days, I remember thinking about how valuable the free publicity from a carried release was. When you calculate the price per inch for advertising, the price of a press release is negligible. I did text ads for a local company last year, and while they got a response from the ads, they were not interested in commissioning a press release. It cost the company more than $800 a month to run ads in the paper- ads that likely didn't get the response that a press release could have gotten them. Getting carried isn't just free publicity- it's coverage that legitimizes the information and makes it more credible. An ad is an obvious sell. A news story is something else all together.