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How to Write A Press Release (and improve your chances for getting it published)

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Seven basic rules to writing a press release that's going to get wide exposure.

The person who receives your press release most likely is a trained professional journalist. As such, he or she has a widely shared idea of what makes news fit to print and what makes press releases fit for instant round-filing. To write a press release that's going to get wide exposure, think like a journalist and follow a few basic rules.

Rule 1: The inverted pyramid

Journalists are taught to write so that the reader gets the basic story in the first paragraph, and then subsequent paragraphs fill in the details. Readers' attention usually declines as they move from skimming the top of the story to whatever comes next. And that paragraph needs to engage the reader's interest.

Example: (bad) The Toothfairy Company, Inc. ("the company"), of Gumville, Virginia, today announced that after 16 years of research, costing $1 billion, and involving partnerships with the Department of Dentistry, Gumville University, headed by Department Dean Harry Molar, an electrostatic tooth drill has been developed, for which patent is pending, that uses laser beams to evacuate diseased tooth cavity areas in a process that FDA-sanctioned clinical trials suggest creates anesthetic-simulated effects in the cavity area for prescribed procedures.

Example: (good) A company has finally come up with a health breakthrough that dental patients the world over have been dreaming about: a pain-free trip to the dentist.

The company is the Toothfairy Co. of Gumville, Va., and the device is a laser-based drill that deadens the tooth and gum as it preps the affected area for filling, removal or other procedures.

The company partnered with nearby Gumville University to develop the new product, which took 16 years of research, $1 billion and years of FDA-sanctioned clinical trials to become ready for patient use.

Rule 2: Make sure it's "news"

News is what people haven't heard before. That goes for the journalist who will be on the receiving end of your release. Whether you're announcing a new product (like the painless dental drill) or personnel changes, or anything else, make sure it's "news." Old news gets quickly tossed and your credibility as a source goes with it.

Rule 3: The same news isn't "news" to the same people

Everyone winds up going to the dentist. But not everyone's interested in the low-flow device your company's just installed to brew beer with less water. Make sure your news goes to those who consider it "news." In many instances that will be general circulation publications. In many other situations it will be to those who share your interest in narrow topics.

Rule 4: This is the Internet Age: Your press release will go beyond your "send" list

You've targeted your low-flow beer brewing device press release to media that specializes in the beer and beverage industries, environmental concerns, and business publications where you would like to get more exposure for your company. But in doing that you've used the Internet and email and probably Facebook and LinkedIn. So that news is now "out there" and easily accessible by competitors, customers and others. Keep the rest of the world in mind before you hit the "send" button so that you're not creating unintended problems.

Rule 5: "Sell" the story

Trying to get free exposure for your company, association, agency, or whatever is exceedingly difficult. Journalists are constantly bombarded with press releases and personal contacts from multiple sources. You have to sell your story to get it past the gate-keepers. Selling starts with having good relationships with your media outlets. Introduce yourself by phone, email or other channel and let them know that from time to time you will be sending them information. When you have a release, make sure the "headline" or the email subject line is a grabber: "Introducing the Painless Visit to the Dentist" "With Beer, It's the Water---and Now A Lot Less of It."

Rule 6: Be accurate and be available

Journalists depend on "trusted" sources. Lose that trust and you lose the news outlet. So don't fudge facts. Don't make claims that won't hold up if a reporter calls you back. And about availability...don't duck the media, even if you know the conversation will be uncomfortable. There's no faster way to anger a journalist (and the journalist's publication) than to not be there when he or she calls and to not reply if they send a message. It's the texting age and no one has an excuse for being unavailable for questions. Your release must have the name and contact information of the person the media can reach. And that person needs to be there when the call or text or email arrives.

Rule 7: Make things easy for your media contact

He or she is as busy as you are. If your release is a mess they have to rewrite it. They're not likely to take the time. If they can't understand the message by reading the first few lines and need to take the time to study it, they won't. If words are misspelled they will question the accuracy of the entire release. If the topic isn't current, it's "old" news and will get dumped. If they need to check sources or do any kind of follow-up, that's not likely----unless you've already done that work for them by including quotes from others, source material from elsewhere and/or links and phone numbers where they can easily flesh out or confirm what you've sent them.

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