The power of the press release

   Business wasn’t as good as it should be.
   In business for four years, the single Mom was worried she might have to close, and then, how would she support herself and her son? It was a business with great potential, in a great location in a growing district, but she couldn’t afford to advertise and didn’t know how else to tell people she was there.
   “It’s my fourth anniversary in business next month and I need to do something,” she implored.
   As a friend, we brainstormed a promotion.
   “Throw your party,” I said. “Get a cake, give free haircuts to anyone bringing a can for the Food Bank, and let’s send out a press release.”
   The press release I sent out was printed in the papers, along with a photo I had taken of her cutting hair in the shop. The party revitalized her business and reminded her customers she was there. A four-year anniversary became a good reason for a celebration and a press release, giving the business the visibility it needed.
   There are lots of reasons to send press releases, but there are rules to follow and ways to do it to maximize their effectiveness and minimize annoying the media. Both are extremely important to do properly, or you will waste your time and energy. You’ll end up being one of those people who complain no one ever prints what you send.
   Trust me. I do this for a living. I teach classes in how to do it. Here is my Christmas gift to you. Here’s how to do a press release in 12 easy steps:
   Give publicity a priority in your business. Treat publicity as part of your marketing strategy, which should also include purchased advertising and the things you do in-house to generate business. Find someone in your business who can write and take pictures and assign them to doing publicity. If you don’t have anyone, hire a professional.
   Identify a story that the media might find interesting. Reasons to send out a press release include promotions and new hires in key positions, business expansion, new products, special events, large or unusual charity donations, awards won, seminars attended and much more.
   Timing is everything. It takes awhile to get things into the papers, especially the business monthlies. Don’t procrastinate sending it out. The media is not interested in printing something that happened 6 months ago. Be timely and appropriate.
   Tie into a trend or season. If your press release has anything to do with a current hot trend, or is appropriate for the season, you are more likely to get attention. For instance, one year I sent out a press release for the Colophon Café announcing the return of cold gazpacho soup for the summer. It was a new product and an interesting seasonal item.
   Focus your press release on one subject. It’s easy to try and throw in news about everything going on in your business all at once. You will just confuse the reporter and probably not get in the paper. Focus on your main issue in the first paragraph and give all the pertinent information right up front. Later paragraphs can flesh it out a bit, but shouldn’t throw in completely new ideas.
   Be complete with your information. Include who, what, when, where, why and how. Don’t use technical jargon or abbreviations that might not be understood outside of your industry. Always proofread spelling and check for inclusion of your name, the company name, address, phone number and Web site. If a reporter wants to call you to expand the story, you must have your phone number in the press release.
   Don’t make it too long. You are not writing a news story for the paper, you are offering up the main information and hoping they’ll call to create a story out of it. Most of the time, the media is only going to print an edited version of what you send and not use it as a big story. Don’t be disappointed. It’s just the way it is.
   Format the press release the way the media likes it. E-mail is the preferred press release method these days. Long ago, back in the ‘80s, when dinosaurs ruled the earth, everyone mailed or faxed press releases and it was acceptable. E-mail is a marvelous invention. Text can simply be copied and popped right into a newspaper. Therefore, don’t use funny fonts that corrupt when sent or all capital letters, or the reporter has to retype it and is less likely to bother with it. Place your text in the body of the E -mail, don’t attach a word document. The only attachment acceptable is a photograph.
   Figure out to whom to send it to. This is the tricky part. All media now have a website listing all of their departments’ and reporters’ E- mail addresses. Send it to the appropriate one. Don’t send it to everyone at the paper. Send each E- mail separately to each media, not in mass. If you know a particular reporter likes to write on that subject, send it directly to them. Depending upon which department it’s going to, your photograph might be only a head shot of someone, or might be an action shot in your business.
   Don’t complain. Do not call the papers and complain about your press releases not being printed. It just creates bad feelings and wastes everyone’s time. Reasons it may not have gotten in can include everything from lack of space, the subject being boring, or the media being tired of printing stuff about you. They shouldn’t have to explain it to you. Just do better next time.
   Be patient. For years I sent a press release to Sunset magazine every six months regarding the Fairhaven Gallery Walks. They never printed anything, and I never called to bug them. Then one year they did a huge two-page spread on the renaissance of the arts in the Fairhaven District. In other words, they weren’t particularly interested in the Gallery Walks, but because I kept subtly reminding them that Fairhaven had many artists, one day they decided to make it into a story.
   Thank the reporter. If the media does something nice about your business, be sure to thank them. Send a little card or call and tell them you appreciate it. They mostly hear from disgruntled customers; a compliment is always welcome. If someone makes your day better, tell them they did a good job.

Taimi Dunn Gorman is the founder of the Colophon Café and Doggie Diner. She teaches seminars at WCC and for the Small Business Development Center, and does marketing consulting and publicity. She may be reached through



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