How To Write A Press Release For Small Business

Learn how to locate newspapers and write releases that will be noticed by editors and reporters.

You're all set. After months of haggling with the ins and outs of owning your own business, honing your product or service to fit the marketplace, and spending countless nights worrying about it all, you're ready for your first customer. The problem now is that you have to find those customers. Many small business owners are not sure how to approach the marketing side of their business, but one of the best ways to get free and easy advertising is through sending a press release to local newspapers.

Sending a press release that will work to give you free advertising is a carefully sharpened skill that depends on your market and local newspaper interests. Developing the skill for writing an effective press release, however, can lead to valuable and long-lasting relationships. Keep in mind the reasons you want your press release to succeed. First, you want to gain advertising for free. You want to get your company's name out there to potential customers. Second, you want to entice those customers to come to your place of business. A newspaper isn't going to be able to do that without a well-written release explaining your company's product or service. Third, you want to let the public know when you change or upgrade products or when you have a special event coming up. Sending releases routinely works as a marketing tool when you select the right venue.

The first consideration should be which paper to contact with your press release. You are not limited to sending only one release and should, in fact, get the release to more than one paper. There are several different types of newspaper organizations you can consider for your press release. Large, metropolitan daily papers will be unlikely to give your release much notice as they receive dozens of them daily. Examples of such papers include The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, The Philadelphia Enquirer, and The Boston Globe. These papers usually do, however, have listings for business briefs, two to three paragraphs to introduce to the business or tell about the new product or event. Mid-sized papers, which usually come out daily, may be a more likely source for positive press for your paper. These papers tend to have columnists or other special-interest business writers who visit unique businesses starting in their coverage area. Look through the paper for a few days, maybe even a week, to find a writer to whom to address your release. Still, though, you cannot expect more than a few paragraphs butted against information on other businesses unless your business really stands out.

Small and alternative papers are by far your best option. If you live near an urban area, check street newsstands for alternative papers. These have much lower circulation than mainstream papers, but they often reach a diversified audience because they are free and distributed on the street instead of by carriers. As with the mid-sized papers, locate a writer who covers business topics or address your release to the editor who covers business. Do not be afraid to call the paper to ask if you can't tell from the staff listings. A release sent to the wrong editor likely will end up never finding its way to the right person. Alternative presses have a targeted audience that is more focused than mainstream papers, so be sure to look for a paper that may be interested. Finally, small, community papers often look for interesting articles and filler feature stories for their pages. These papers, found either in rural towns or suburban areas, usually want their own residents or someone who can provide for their residents. If you have a connection at all to a town, you should make that clear in your release. Once you've sent the release, which you can usually address to the editor, as the staff won't be large, feel free to follow up with an email. Reporters get tons of phone calls, and emails are often preferred.

Now, you've figured out where to send the release. Sit down at your computer and prepare to give your business a press release worthy of your efforts. Begin with formatting. You should keep standard margins, which means one inch around the paper. The body of the release should be single-spaced with a line between paragraphs. Use a standard font, such as Times New Roman or Arial, instead of something more fancy but harder to read. At the top of the release, in the right hand corner, put the date. As timeliness is important at a newspaper, update the date before you send the release. Then, in the left-hand corner, put contact information for you. The information should be preceded by a statement such as "for more information, please contact." Take those words literally. Be careful to put only contact information to which you respond quickly. If you know you're going out of town and will not be able to check email, do not put that form of contact. If you do not answer phone calls or if you work from home and business and personal calls mingle, make sure you will receive all phone messages or do not give out your number. Reporters hate little more than calling someone who sent a release wanting an article and having that person fail to call back. Also remember that reporters work on deadline. Your inability to contact them promptly may mean they have to troll for other stories to take the place of yours, and your opportunity will be lost.

Now, they know how to find you. What message do you want to send them? Give your press release a solid, catchy title, but do not try to be too cute. Let the reader know immediately what your release topic is. "Suds, suds and bring a bud," is not the best title for a release advertising the grand opening of a new buy one, get one free car wash. Go with something succinct and simple, such as "Car wash grand opening offers deals for customers" or even "Car wash services Westside neighborhood." The cardinal rule of a press release is that people should be able to tell with just a glance what your release is about.

The first paragraph is the most vital paragraph to attract the attention of your reader. If the release will be shortened to use as a brief, the editorial assistant will need to be able to sort it quickly into the stack where it belongs. If an editor or reporter is reading the release, you want him or her to be able to know in the first one to two sentences if it may be worth pursuing as a story. Otherwise, it will head to the editorial assistant's inbox. In your first sentence, be very clear about the purpose of the release. If you are announcing the opening of your business, say that. If you're rolling out a new product, say that. Such a sentence may read as follows: "Brenda's Boutique, formerly a clothing store for infants and toddlers, will offer clothing for children and pre-teens beginning July 1." Now, the reporter knows what Brenda's Boutique is doing and how it is different. Do not assume that the reporter is familiar with your business and what you offer. The rest of the first paragraph should contain supporting details for the all-important main idea. If you were Brenda, for example, you would include information about the brands you will sell and how it will enhance your customers' experience. If you are the only person in your town offering children and pre-teen clothing, mention that. Feel free to brag. Let the reader know why your new line is important. If you are having a reception or big sale for the roll out, let the reader know. Be very clear here about whether receptions or other shows are open to the public and whether the press is allowed. Fill in any questions the reader may have about each piece of your main sentence for the remainder of the first paragraph. The reader should leave that section with some general questions about your business, but the new products or services should be very clear.

The rest of your release should give basic information. The reporter or editorial assistant reading the release should be able to ascertain basic information about your business from the release. The second paragraph should include your business' purpose, location, hours (if applicable), and other pertinent information. Once you are established, you would include any awards or recognition or benchmarks. Such a sentence may read, "Dawson Progressive made more than $100,000 in its first year of e-commerce retail alone." Let people know why your business is special. If you are a home-based business, you may want to comment on that. If your business idea came from something your children said or needed, you could include that. "After struggling for months with my daughter's unmanageable hair and searching store after store for appropriate products, I came up with Easy Bows." This sentence entices the reader to want to know more about your product.

You should also include information about the product or service you offer. Do not bore the reader with mindless detail, but give him or her something to use as a springboard. For example, if you make Easy Bows, you may want to say that you offer the bows retail for $10-$12 and wholesaling options begin at $8 each. You could also include the colors, shapes, and various options for Easy Bows. Make the rest of the release a support for the first paragraph. Never include more than four paragraphs or one page because you will undoubtedly have unnecessary information.

If the release will be condensed into a brief, an editorial assistant will have to pare down your four paragraphs into three sentences, so do not overwhelm that person with information. The reporter will want to be able to ask questions, but including every detail in your release will leave little room for the reporter to conduct an interview. Always entice but never fulfill. Save these supporting paragraphs for later press releases. If you're tech savvy, you may even want to create a template in your word processing program so that you can open it with your contact information and basic business information and add titles and first paragraphs specific to the release you're writing.

The last sentence of your release also should include information about contacting you although the contact numbers and/or email address are at the top of the page. If you have a Web site, you should include a sentence asking the reader to visit you online with the URL noted. You may also say the reporter may call between certain hours and that you are available for answering further questions. Make it clear that a reporter who wanted to write a story about your press release would have an easy time finding you and that you will work to accommodate the paper's deadlines and needs.

After you write the press release, take the time to follow proper protocol when sending the release. You should send it two to three weeks before the event you are announcing. Although you should have determined where and to whom to send the release in the first step, double-check this information. Scour the paper for the staff listings. These listings normally are found in the bottom corner of one of the middle pages, and they sometimes contain information about how to address press releases. Again, call the newspaper's main office and ask if you are unsure about where to send the release. When you have the correct information, get your envelopes together and print out the addresses.

Leave nothing hand-written. At a newspaper office, hand-written messages are a nightmare because someone has to decipher everyone's penmanship. Even if you have beautiful script, take the extra time to look more professional by printing or typing the addresses on the envelope. After you're sure they are addressed correctly, send them off and relax - for a minute. This step in starting your business is done, and by keeping the contact information you have, you'll only need to verify it next time. The whole process will take much less time and energy, and before you know it, writing press releases will be a breeze.

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