For the past several years, the question of the continuing value of the press release has popped up in articles, blogs, and online forums like clockwork. Here’s one that states that the press release is dying, here’s another that argues that it hasn’t outlived its purposes, and I rather like the title of this other “it’s still alive” article.
These posts and articles are all referring to the traditional press release that’s been the tried-and-true staple of the PR world, and I tend to agree with the people who contend that reports of the release’s demise are greatly exaggerated. However, technology and the way people access information have evolved, which means that your press release may need to undergo a few modifications, depending on the circumstances. These are a few modernizing elements you may want to consider adding to your release. You don’t add in all these elements every single time, but it’s worth considering the feasibility of each one whenever you decide a press release is in order.
1. Integrate Multimedia
One of the great advantages of the digital age is that it is now very easy to add visuals and multimedia to your press release. According to PR Newswire, adding images increases your press release’s audience up to 92 percent, but a mix of videos, photos, infographics and other rich content increases the visibility of your press release by up to 552 percent.
If you go for a multimedia option like a video, you can show tours of offices or facilities, a product demonstration, an interview with a key representative, etc. Just make sure that it supports and/or clarifies your message rather than being there for the sake of being able to say you included multimedia. One to three minutes should do the trick. Another option is audio clips such as excerpts of podcasts or interviews, etc. If video isn’t feasible, consider photos, graphs, or infographics (as mentioned above).
When you are distributing the press release to journalists, include links to the image or multimedia within the release text. If you’ve placed them in an online newsroom, then you can arrange the text and media all together like this example, a press release about the launch of the most expensive electric violins in the world.
2. Optimize Headlines for Search
Search experts constantly tell us that search engines love short titles and advocate keeping headlines to 65 characters, spaces and all. This PR Daily blog post gives a pretty good explanation why:
When a press release, blog post or article is indexed by Google and shows up in search results, the maximum character count runs between 65 and 80 characters (including spaces) before being cut off. Some rich snippets may show more, some less.
Always plan for the low end, just in case.
If you feel daunted by the prospect of writing an attention-grabbing headline for such a limited space, you’re not alone. The same post cited a Schwartz MSL Research Group study that had found that 80 percent of press release headlines were too long to be fully optimized for search. My take on this is that if your headline is short enough to please Google’s algorithms but too vague to generate interest from actual readers, it won’t matter that it can be easily found. So, if you can’t fit your compelling information into those 65 characters (including spaces), just go ahead and make the headline longer. Always write for people first and search engines second.
Your search-friendly headline should also include keywords or keyword phrases (which should also be sprinkled in the body copy as well, about one keyword per 100 words). So research one or two appropriate keyword phrases. You can use a free resource like Keyword Discovery or Google’s Adwords Keyword Planner, just to name a couple of available tools.
If you can’t make a particular keyword work in your headline, use a substitute. Google is much more sophisticated than it used to be, so its search algorithms don’t need you to use an exact word or phrase in order to include you in search results. As long as the phrase you use is relevant, you should be fine.
3. Tell a Story
OK, storytelling is probably as old as humanity itself. As soon as we developed discernible grunts, we were probably telling each other about the saber-tooth tiger or woolly mammoth we just missed capturing. But since storytelling recently had seen a surge in popularity in PR and marketing, let’s consider it a modernizing element.
This element is usually suited for feature-style press release and “soft” news such as a human interest or trend story rather than hard news releases. However, sometimes a story is just the thing for something that would be normally announced in a pyramid-style format, e.g., a new medical procedure. This is the lead paragraph I wrote a few years back:
Eight years ago, Frank Orgel, a former NFL football player and college coach, was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. Orgel’s quality of life declined to the point that he could not move his left arm or leg, walk or even stand on his own. But, within a few days of undergoing a new stem cell reprogramming technique performed by Dr. Jason R. Williams at Precision StemCell, Orgel’s constant muscle fasciculation (muscle twitching) lessened significantly. Within weeks, he was able to walk in a pool of water and stand unassisted.”
The press release goes on to explain the technique, but the story was a dramatic way of establishing the technique’s effectiveness upfront and generating a great amount of interest.
But you’re not limited to a story in the first paragraph or two. PR Newswire states that “the classic storytelling arc, in which the scene is set, the conflict arises and is resolved in the climax, which then leads to the denouement, is a structure that works for a press release, too.”
You could center a press release story around employees/customers who have some sort of personal experience regarding a trend you’re describing, you could feature a customer who has devised an innovative use of your product, or you could show the human side of your company by focusing on the employee or team responsible for solving a problem/creating a benefit for your clients. You could even include a brief factual anecdote illustrating the problem customers face and your product/service solves.
For more ideas about storytelling in press releases, check out what Bill Stoller calls his “3S approach — Situation/Surprise/Support.” According to this approach, the first paragraph sets up the situation. The second paragraph reveals the surprise. The third paragraph supports the claim made in the second paragraph.
I doubt the press release will ever die. Few tools can communicate your organization’s news in such a convenient and succinct manner. And while some publications do want information about your new personnel, trying to share that information with them via an alternative such as a pitch letter would be inappropriate. But you can’t simply stay on automatic. You need to add or eliminate specific elements so that your press release stands a better chance of achieving your objective.