For Press Releases That Get Results

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November 2013
by Joanna Penn

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Press releases can be seen as an art form (and some are), but mostly they are just news sent to the right people at the right time.

As I’ve learned from my own experience, the key points for writing them are:

  • Identify exactly what you want to say and who your target is.
  • Keep it short, 500–800 words at most.
  • Make it a story that features the book and author, not an advertisement.
  • Focus on the outcome. Consider how people will relate to you when they read the release, and what you want them to do (e.g., go to your Website).
  • Use a quote from someone, possibly yourself, to make a point stand out.
  • Include your contact details and Website links.
  • Distribute your release to print and online media that you have specifically identified.
  • Spend time finding the right publications and blogs, and targeting the most appropriate individuals by name. Read some of their stuff so you know what each one is interested in.

If you send your release by email, do not make it an attachment. Just put it in the body of the email. If you send it in the post instead, also send something that makes it stand out (e.g., a copy of your book or some relevant trinket), but be aware that this will probably end up in the trash.

Put the press release on your own Website as a blog post and/or as part of your press kit.

Post it online at free PR Websites such as PRUrgent.com and PRLog.org, and maybe at some PR sites that charge, such as PRWeb.comPRBuzz.com, and RealWire.com. Media people sometimes pick up releases from these sites, but using them is nowhere near as good as pitching to specific journalists. The most important thing is distributing your release to print and online media people you have specifically identified.

Remember that you can do a press release any time. The launch of your book is probably much less newsworthy than a timely related article you write. Keep an eye on the news for topics pertinent to your book, and issue a press release with comments and facts when you find one.

My Own Press Release Success Story

Just before Christmas some years ago, I sent a press release about How to Enjoy Your Job to 10 hand-picked journalists and to some targeted bloggers. Along with the release, I sent my book and a cover letter explaining why I thought they might find it interesting.

The release—titled “Top 10 Career Related New Year’s Resolutions”—was basically an article that journalists could use in full or copy and paste from. I knew that top-10 lists and tips are popular, since they offer value for readers. Note that the press release was not a sales pitch.

As a result of sending this release:

The print version of my local newspaper, The Queensland Times, did a very positive article that ran with a picture, mentioned both my main Websites, and mentioned my next book as well as the current one.

  • The same article was posted at the newspaper’s Website.
  • The paper ran a profile piece the following weekend (it all helps!).
  • A blog post appeared at Mindfood, which is a women’s magazine.
  • The producer at Channel 9’s A Current Affair (a news program) saw the article in Queensland Times, thought it was a good story, and contacted me. I did an interview a few days later (see below).
  • A month later, an article about the book ran in MX, a free commuter newspaper that reaches roughly 600,000 people a day.

Why did this release work when I had sent out press releases before and had no response?

It worked because:

  • I targeted my audience, sending emails to specific individuals instead of doing a mass mailing.
  • I sent the release at a dead news time—just before Christmas—when journalists working over the holidays were likely to be in need of something to pick up; plus it fit the mood of the season because it was a positive story.
  • I sent topical information that was useful to people.
  • I made sure I would be available to act on any opportunities that came up.
  • I had prepared my Websites and media kit, so when the TV journalist asked what other publications I had been in, my media page made the answers easy to see.
  • I compounded the effects of media coverage by posting links.

Although this was a good experience, I could have made it even better if I had followed up with the other journalists to see why they didn’t respond; if I had used coverage to get attention from bigger news outlets; and if I had had media training for TV so I wouldn’t have been so nervous about going on.

That First Time on TV

The producer at A Current Affair who was interested in my story asked for names of people to contact about the impact of my book. I got permission from some readers, provided their names, and then waited.

A week later, I was called for an interview. I went to the Channel 9 studios and met up with the interviewer as well as with sound and video technicians. They said that their story was about dream jobs and asked me to give some tips for making a current job into a dream job. In other words, the story they interviewed me for was not related to my original press release. I was just top of mind at the right time, when dream jobs came into the news, and having a book branded me as an expert they could pull in to talk about that topic.

Happily, I was able to come up with five tips they could use.

The interview took about 15 minutes, with breaks for water and checking things. The reporter was great, very professional and friendly. It was actually quite easy to forget the camera and sound equipment and just focus on her. At the end, we did some shots of me reading the book and typing (for atmosphere!). We were done in about an hour, and I left feeling positive about the experience.

I had been very nervous beforehand, worrying about what I would say and feeling physically sick. However, once I was on camera, I talked naturally, and there was no problem. I now feel more confident about doing TV again.

Lessons learned:

  • Be flexible and easy to work with and not someone who makes a fuss. The fact that I was able to respond on the fly gave the interviewer confidence in my message while helping her with her story.
  • Plan ahead for visuals; TV is not just about talking. Channel 9 wanted to film me typing, and I wished I had brought a laptop. Next time I’m on TV, I will bring copies of my book and things related to it in case I can do a demonstration.
  • If you’re worried about your looks or your voice, get over yourself. No one is interested in you. They’re interested in how you can entertain or help them. So focus on pleasing your audience and just get on with it.
  • Try to arrange to record the segment when it airs, or get a clip off the station’s Website later that you can use for promotion. Even just a photo taken at the studio will add to the social proof of your expertise.

I now feel empowered to pitch TV more regularly, whenever there is a news piece that I can help with as an expert. Make sure that you start doing the same.


Joanna Penn is the author of How to Market a Book, an Amazon #1 bestseller, and the source of this article. She is also the author of Career Change and, under the name J.F. Penn, of the ARKANE thrillers. Her site for writers, TheCreativePenn.com, was voted one of the Top 10 Blogs for writers for three years running. It offers articles, audio, and video on writing, publishing, and book marketing. To connect: @thecreativepenn.

Recommended Resources

For information on PR, including advice on how to write different types of press release and examples of good and bad releases, visit publicityhound.com. You can sign up there for Joan Stewart’s free press release tips plus the newsletter, which is packed with great information.

Also check out How to Write Perfect Press Releases by Steven Lewis and my interview with him at thecreativepenn.com/2013/02/05/perfect-press-releases-steven-lewis.

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