With the rise of social media and content marketing it’s easier than ever to share your news directly with your customers. The problem is, that audience is mostly limited to only the people who are already following you and you need a broader audience if you want to grow your customer base or brand recognition. The best way to reach a broad audience? The media.

By securing earned media or press coverage your news will find a much wider audience, and it will also gain a higher level of credibility as it’s coming from a legitimate news source rather than your company blog or Facebook page. The best way to do that is (still!!) by distributing a good old-fashioned press release. But before whipping out a release, make sure you understand the basics in order to be most effective in securing press coverage.

First, is it really news?

The local newspaper is not your personal promotion machine. Before doing anything, take some time to think about whether or not your news is truly newsworthy and whether or not it will be relevant to the general readership of the publication. While your new website may be the best website you’ve ever seen, it’s probably not newsworthy.

Good Examples: Industry Firsts, Change in Ownership, New Location, Expansion or Acquisition

Do I really need a press release?

The short answer, yes. While many journalists are open to pitches, either by email or phone, a press release ties all of the details you may have discussed together in a neat package for the journalist. This can be done either with a follow-up email that includes the release or if you pitch via email you can simply include the full release beneath your pitch.

What is a press release?

A press release is a short, written statement announcing something newsworthy about you or your business. A press release is not a feature story but rather a way to provide journalists with all of the relevant information so that they can write a story if they feel like it would be a good fit for their audience. Think of it as a way to pique their interest.

A press release is not the same thing as an advertisement; while the press release serves to inform, journalists will write the story based on their own reporting. You do not get final approval over copy. If you want that level of control over content, paid advertising would be a better avenue to pursue.

What goes into a press release?

A press release should be between 2-5 paragraphs long (except in special circumstances) and answer the 5 W’s: Who, What, When, Where, and Why your news is important – without using overly technical or sales-pitchy jargon. It should include an attention-grabbing headline, strong lead that’s clearly defined in the first paragraph, as well as contact information and boilerplate copy about your organization.

For a basic press release template and a breakdown of the structure, click here.

Who do I send it to?

This is perhaps the most important part of press releases. A great press release is worthless if you don’t get it to the right person. Take some time to do your research on who the appropriate contact is for your target publication. Search the website to see who has covered similar topics in the past or check the staff page to see journalist beats.

If you’re reaching out to multiple people within the same organization, be sure to let them know who else who has received the release.

Tell me more!

For more tips on securing press coverage we reached out to Tammie Smith, a business reporter for the Richmond Times-Dispatch who passed along some words of wisdom from herself and the newsroom team:

  • Send a press release or details at least a week before a scheduled event. Don’t expect coverage if you don’t send a release until 24 hours before an event – newsrooms need time to react. If it’s unpredicted news, try to provide as much notice as possible. For larger scale events and news, send a release a month in advance and then follow up again two weeks before.
  • Put the press release in the body of the email rather than as an attachment so that journalists can easily copy and paste the release into other programs (calendars, Word, etc.) as needed based on their particular styles.
  • If you include photos make sure that you have the right to distribute them and include the photographer’s name as well as what the photo credit should say. If you don’t include photos but have photos available on request, make sure you offer to send photos.
  • Take the extra step and follow up on the release if you haven’t heard back. Spam filters can often trip up press releases so don’t be afraid to give journalists a call to make sure that they received it. TV and newspapers have different deadlines/busy times so find out the best time to call and then be considerate of their time.
  • If you’re offering an interview, include interviewee availability beneath your pitch or release.
  • Make sure the contact names at the top of the release are fully versed and ready to speak on every aspect of the release. Journalists often work on very tight deadlines so the contacts need to be prepared to drop everything to turn around a photo or provide additional information.
  • Accuracy is everything. Double, triple, and quadruple check that everything in your release is accurate.
  • If an event is simply promotional, you can buy advertising in which you can dictate what’s in it and approve the content before it goes to print. You can also post events on the online event calendar. A press release is not meant to serve as a sales brochure.


This post will be part of a weekly series throughout the month of March designed to better equip small businesses to DIY their public relations efforts. 

Special thanks to Tammie Smith and the Richmond Times-Dispatch for offering their tips for this post.