A 2006 post from Greg Jarboe on Search Engine Watch recounts the origins of the press release:
On October 28, 1906, at least 50 people lost their lives when a three-car train of the Pennsylvania Railroad's newly equipped electric service jumped a trestle at Atlantic City, NJ, and plunged into the Thoroughfare creek.
That afternoon, Ivy Lee, who some consider to be the father of modern PR, created the first press release. The Pennsylvania Railroad was one of his clients. Following the accident, Lee not only convinced the railroad to distribute a public statement, he also convinced them to provide a special train to get reporters to the scene of the accident.
The New York Times was so impressed with this innovative approach to corporate communications that it printed the first press release—verbatim—on Oct. 30, 1906 as a "Statement from the Road." In the weeks that followed, both newspapers and public officials effusively praised Pennsylvania Railroad for its openness and honesty.A quick definition from Wikipedia defines an online news release or press release as any "written or recorded communication directed at members of the news media for the purpose of announcing something ostensibly newsworthy."
This practice is worth investigating as the digital era has changed the landscape and contours of traditional marketing practices. Particularly, marketing to the military, both to military families as well as to the Department of Defense, has also grown and evolved over time, with major companies utilizing digital media to get their message across different actors.
Yet, while the medium used to distribute "ostensibly newsworthy" news has changed, the spirit of the strategy has remained relatively intact. With the dawn of social media and its ensuing game-changing effect on traditional marketing practices, issuing press releases has remained a consistently reliable and popular marketing tactic used to reach audiences.
What has changed?
Ivy Lee's decision to facilitate spreading the news about the Pennsylvania Railroad incident was revolutionary and lauded by many as a game changing PR strategy. The original press release strategy has been to reach publicists with reports of a particular news, in which details are presented in a way the company would like to communicate.
Press releases are no longer just for journalists, publishers, or the press. Companies use press releases to disseminate company and industry-related news using sites like PR Newswire and Marketwired to reach popular news agencies and audiences that actively tune in to receive the latest news.
What's the key to writing a valuable press release?
We'll take a look at an example of a fictional company, named Oceanic Airways, and the press release that the company feels will get prospective defense contractors to think more favorably about the airline. We'll break down the components of the press release and emphasize elements that help make the news an easy picking for reporters who are inundated with hundreds press releases on a daily basis.
1. Catchy Headline
For the example provided above, the fictional airline company is announcing a massive PR campaign, making it likelier for news outlets, reporters, and day-to-day Internet surfers to catch and read more about online.
Your press release's headline should state the summary of your news. Don't bait your reporters with some dubious headline, as they won't have time to read through all of the potential press releases being published online. Tell them what it is, how it is, and why they should care, but in an interesting way.
Announcements of free offers, revolutionary developments, and major shifts in company focus will obviously captivate the most attention. But certain words work better than others. As you are limited to one sentence, you might want to choose your words carefully. You may not have something free to offer, nor something revolutionary to pioneer, but using power words that employ compelling verbs may help you get an edge over your competitors to pique the reporters' interest.
Put yourself in the reporters' shoes and read your headline out loud. Is it interesting, provocative, sentimental, heartwarming, satirical, engaging, or educational? Think about the emotion you want to evoke, and choose power words that help you populate your readers' minds with those thoughts.
2. Get to the PointDon't beat around the bush. Explain why this press release is relevant and why you should continue reading to find out more.
Essentially, you want to answer the question: "What's the news?" Don't explain the company's history, its origins, the products or services it sells, etc. Save that for later after the reader wants to find out more. Right now, the focus should be on getting the point of the content across in a concise and effective manner. Get the facts out and get them out fast. Your readers are deciding whether to tune out of the rest of your press release after reading the first few sentences of your intro.
3. Quotes, quotes, quotesYour reader knows what's going on at this point. They've digested the introduction, now give them something to quote. The quote is where reporters should get some more context or details for the news that is being announced.
Quote appropriately. Those on the higher end of the ladder should be quoted when discussing key developments, new projects, big changes, etc. Make sure the spirit of the quote captures the spirit of the press release. Does the quote focus too much on caution when the news is a cause for celebration? Does the quote express too much unqualified optimism or excessive pessimism during a time of clear financial difficulty?
Quote effectively. You don't need to quote everyone who was involved with the new contract signing. Get a few and choose 1-2 quotes that can go along with the piece. Get the quote up and in the reader's face as soon as you finish with the introductory details of the news.
4. Expand on details when necessaryMaybe the quote you used for the piece mentioned one particular detail that hints at something without giving the whole picture, or another small announcement was made concurrently.
Use this space to concisely provide extra necessary details that let your readers get the whole picture. You don't need to delve into the particular details to a great extent, only enough for your readers to feel that they've got the idea. This shouldn't be the crux of the piece, so spending too many valuable sentences on details about a particular subject may be counterproductive and off-putting for your readers.
5. Background and contextThis section is where you want to spend a few sentences explaining the nature of the development. What inspired it? Why was it done? Were there subtle shifts and turns that the company took that led to this particular development? Was it a massive overhaul of a previous system? A complete rebranding? Explain it here. Provide the valuable context and background information necessary to explain the why question of the press release.
In other words, why is this becoming news?
6. Who are you?
Here you should explain what your company does, sells, develops, researches, manufactures, provides, etc. Use simple English to describe your company's operations -- don't automatically assume reporters and readers are experts in your industry.
Hyperlink your website to your home page and make sure to provide references to statistics, data, and other quoted materials. Provide proper attribution to those mentioned in the press release.
For more information about creating valuable content for marketing to general audiences as well as for specific military audiences, check out some of previous blog posts about content marketing and using video campaigns.