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Adding a little spice without burning your britches

When something groundbreaking, or often not so groundbreaking, happens in your organization, is there one person who always has the same reaction, “We need to put out a press release”?

As the person in charge of marketing or public relations, it is your job to be the conscience of your organization and make sure that the release that your company puts out paints the best picture. In its most basic form, a press release is your formal opportunity to tell the world about all the great things your company is doing. But beyond that, it should also be a tool to help writers to write your story. Keeping this in mind will increase your chances of furthering your exposure past the wire services to print and the general public.

Even though sometimes members of each group may hate to admit it, the relationship between the press, companies and agencies is that we all need each other. Editors and reporters, faced with tight deadlines, and the need to continually come up with new story ideas, are often looking for fresh information that they can use to get their jobs done. At the same time, they are bombarded daily with hundreds of emails and press releases en masse on the wire. To get noticed, you need to cut through the clutter, without annoying writers and analysts with puffery and other tactics to rile up news. Here are a few pointers that are the basis of all good press releases.

1. Headlines that pull them in: Before you decide whether or not to read a book you read the title and the description to see if it is a good fit. Similarly, a good press release will have a clear, concise title and often a factual, to-the-point subhead to provide more information on what your release is about. This helps the writer to determine if the press release is a good fit for him or her. In fact, many writers regularly scan press releases by title and header, on the wire, daily or even hourly, to find news worth covering, so make sure you sum up your release here.

2. Answer the main questions without having to be asked: A strong leading paragraph anticipates what the writer needs to know and answers the main questions: who, what, where, when, why and how. Police your press release to ensure that your story is ready with a “fact-checking” process similar to the one your mother used to perform before you could leave the house. Make sure you have the basic facts about your announcement that the writer needs to get a handle on the news.

3. Just the facts: Stay honest. Try to avoid puffery and exaggeration. Press releases are intended to be factual tools to help the writer convey your information to the public; exaggerations are easily picked up by the trained journalist’s eye (just like with good ol’ Mom) and can discredit your press release from further perusal. Titles and subheads filled with exaggerations and multiple acronyms, or that try to be “everything to everyone” by using generalizations, should be avoided since they are confusing and may turn the writer off before even getting to the real news of the release.

Needless to say, the headline, “Company XYZ Releases Groundbreaking Product to Revolutionize Air Travel, Online Commerce and Public Education,” may get passed up, unless you have some cold hard facts in the subhead to support it. The places to convey your key points and opinions are in the quotes, and “quote” you should, which brings us to the next point...

4. Add a little spice: Quotes are the oregano or basil of your release and are an opportunity to emphasize your key points, so quoting your CEO or another executive is a good idea. Supporting quotes from analysts and customers add credibility to the announcement and key the reporter in to the fact that there are people available that they might be able to interview for a story.

5. Avoid crying wolf: If you are having a slow news week, or month even, avoid the temptation to “create news” about your company or repurpose previously released information. Writers are a smart bunch and will pick up on this and not tune in the next time you have something important to say. You never could pull one over on Mom…

Keeping these points in mind, will help you to feel more confident about sending your press release on the wire and distributing it to the appropriate media. After you distribute this information, you can follow-up with writers, with the appropriate beats, by offering to provide additional information. This is where you come in again, with making sure key execs are briefed and all set for the interview process…

Hilary McCarthy is a senior manager with McQuerterGroup, a 20-year-old marketing and PR technology agency in San Diego, CA, where she counsels high-tech clients on branding, positioning and speaking with the media. Before coming to McQuerterGroup, McCarthy held senior-level marketing and communications positions at Compuware, CACI Products Company and Polaris Service, now Akibia.

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Hilary McCarthy counsels high-tech clients on branding, positioning and speaking with the media. She has held senior-level marketing and public relations positions at Compuware, CACI Products Company and Polaris Service, now Akibia.  She has also worked in television and radio.  McCarthy holds a Master of Science Degree in Journalism from Boston University.  She can be contacted at