Press releases have been teetering on the edge of death for years now. But is this right? Should the press release go to its eternal resting place, six feet under, and be forgotten -- replaced with communications channels like Twitter?
A recent study showed that more than a third of journalists still get their story ideas from press releases -- and another 88% of journalists found the press releases they read valuable. So if there’s so much value in press releases, why are so many people ready to throw in the towel?
In reality, it's our rigid perception of the press release -- dry, long, boring -- that needs to be buried. The press release itself, however, simply needs to be reimagined in the light of what we know now: that people don't want dry facts; they want stories.
Why Storytelling Enhances Press Release Best Practices
Many have found that implementing the art of PR storytelling has a profound effect on the way their press release is received by journalists and their audience.
Take a page out of the storyteller’s handbook when you write your next press release, and approach it with a new, fresh look. Throw out that rigid rule book you previously followed, and be willing to create a new, exciting form of press release for the modern era.
"Good storytelling reigns," remarks Kevin Allen, a storyteller and blogger for PR Daily. He continues, "The ability to remain authentic, possess a genuine voice and communicate valuable information in an effective manner will always be a skill in high demand."
Press releases need to grab the reader’s attention, and absorb them with a gripping story.
Yet, how can you accomplish this in B2B public relations when your goal is promotion?
For starters, forget about you and your company. You’re writing for the needs of the reader. What do they look for when they open your press release? What are their present needs?
Don’t limit the appeal of your message with dry language and rigid formatting. This may mean stepping outside of your comfort zone, and trying something different. And remember, different isn’t a bad thing! Think of it as a chance to be daring, innovative, and forward-thinking. The ordinary press release doesn’t get the results it used to, so it’s time to break the mold.
Michelll Dziuban, of Cision Marketing, makes this astute observation, "The human brain is hardwired to remember stories, not to recall facts or data." So step away from that data sheet, and instead take your readers on a journey that will both engage and surprise them.
You may get some initial pushback from executives who want a press release in the traditional sense, and who bristle at the idea of being too out-of-the-box.
Executives may hesitate to implement storytelling when their focus is on brand promotion. What they don’t realize is that storytelling is simply a different, more effective method for a B2B public relations strategy. Storytelling is the bridge that you need to bring those busy readers into your world. It may help to show them some examples of this method in action.
Take this example from software-giant Microsoft. They created Microsoft Story Labs, a special corner of their site where they can announce new developments and introduce members of their team. They do this, not with stuffy, academically-precise language but with multiple visually captivating photos, and stories that engage and touch readers.
This example from Microsoft shows how storytelling can really hit it out of the park. 88 Acres, written by Jennifer Warnick, took an ordinarily dry subject of energy-saving software solution, and told a powerful story of discovery and reflection. It throws out the normal "check out our amazing product" vibe, and replaces it with a story from the perspective of Microsoft's Director of Facilities and Energy, Darrell Smith. and his unique approach to energy conservation. This one story gained Microsoft a world of recognition, and placed it among the leading providers of energy-saving software.
This success is not limited to mega corporations like Microsoft. Companies of all shapes and sizes can benefit from this method. Let's see how you can tailor this approach to your next press release.
How to Tell a Captivating Story with Your Press Release
1. Forget About Yourself
A press release isn’t about your needs, or the needs of your company. It needs to resonate with the the media and prospects. Both want a quick-read story is easy to understand.This should consist of a few short, attention-grabbing paragraphs, and then skimmable bullet points that will enable them to envision their own story.
2. Create a Hard-Hitting Headline
Every journalist has his or her mouse hovering over the delete button, so begin your story with your headline. Avoid the caps lock, and skip the emojis. Make it clear what the story is, and what you want. Leverage a key statistic right in the title, if you have it. The point is to tell them what they need to know, and entice them to want to know more.
3. Brevity is Key
Make your point and make it fast. Journalists and prospects want the facts -- the who, what, when, where, and why. Fluff gets in the way. And, again, a bulleted list is a great way to deliver your information in an easy-to-digest format.
Studies show that journalists spend less than one minute reading a press release -- so you need to grab their attention fast, and keep it short.
4. Use Visuals to Enhance Your Story
We have realized the effect of images on our audience -- a visual component increases readership by an incredible 650%. Yet many writers persist in producing text-only press releases! We need to incorporate everything we know about our audience into our press release writing if we want to engage our readers. So if you haven't already, learn how to create stunning visuals.
5. Become a Narrator
Drop that dry, dusty language, and become the narrator of your story. For instance, instead of a formal quote from an executive, reach out to someone on the product development team to talk about why they love the product, what problems it solves, and why it’s different from similar products on the market.
Why not include a short video clip of the product in action? Or a colorful and easy-to-follow infographic that highlights the key features or benefits of your product?
6. Create a Story Arc
We’re all familiar with the elements of a good story -- the classic crisis, climax, and resolution. Why not add this tried and true technique to your PR tools?
Present a crisis -- a problem that needs to be resolved. Then show how your product or service solves this problem, and the key features that make it superior. Cinch the deal with supporting evidence -- research data that backs up your claim or a quote from a happy customer.
7. Look at It From Your Reader’s Viewpoint
Be ready to sacrifice your viewpoint for your reader. Journalists and prospects have one question when they open your press release : “What’s in it for me?” If you can’t answer that question, you’ll get deleted, and fast.
Think about it from their point of view. What excites them? How is this press release relevant to them -- and their audience or business?
8. Make Your Story Memorable and Relatable
The good stories are the ones that stick with us long after the last page is turned. A memorable press release will begin with a noteworthy subject matter -- one that is striking and unique. If your announcement is about as interesting as an IRS manual and you don't see a way to boost its engagement, hold off until you have a compelling topic.
For reporters, making it relatable means that it fits into a reporter’s beat, or niche. A reporter knows what his audience is looking for, and if your press release doesn’t fall into that category, you’ll be wasting your time and his. Research the reporter as much as you can; know his articles, his voice, and even which articles get more response from his audience.
Even if your press release covers a reporter's subject matter, there can still be room for improvement. Tailor it to fit the person's style and voice as much as you can. Remember, you want to adjust your approach to the reporter's point of view.
9. Frame the Message
Walk yourself through the experience a person would have if they used what you’re offering. What if they use your product? What experience would they have if they went to your event? What would they feel if they used your service? Transport your reader to that experience with your storytelling.
10. Check It, Then Check It Again
Nothing will distract more from your story than spelling and grammar mistakes. So check your work two or three times. We even recommend enlisting a second pair of eyes to go over it in case there are mistakes your brain has glossed over.
Avoid any industry jargon that would get in the way of the story you are trying to tell. You want it to be simple and easy for anyone to understand, no matter their background.
A Few Things to Keep in Mind...
- Make your goal to tell a story instead of sell your product -- present a story-arc and narrate it in the style of a gripping story.
- Include a hard-hitting headline that captures attention and makes people want to read more.
- Keep your points brief, and consider using easy-to-skim bullet points to present the information more concisely.
- Make it relatable to the reporter -- fits his/her beat, and something the outlet's audience will enjoy.
No, the press release definitely is not dead -- just redefined. Storytelling has become the new trend of press release best practices, and should become a part of your go-to PR tools.
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