Start with the Second ‘Why’
Even in the age of social media, press releases remain one of the best ways to get the word out about your business. The press release can be a simple and very cost-effective marketing tool—after all, the publisher or electronic news service is paying for the distribution; all you have to do is tell them your story.
Get started writing your release by considering the famous “five Ws”—Who, What, Where, When, Why. Providing answers to these questions is the basis of journalism and marketing. (Actually, answering or discussing the answers to one or more of these questions is the basis of nearly all verbal and written communications. It is how we convey information to each other.)
Most folks tend to answer these questions in the order shown above. In your release, for example:
The “Who” is easy: It’s you, or your company, or the person featured in your release.
The “What” is easy, too: It’s the subject of your release, what happened or is going to happen.
They “Where” and “When” are simply a matter of relaying the specifics of time and place.
And then there’s the “Why.” Actually there are two Whys: (#1) The Why of what you are writing about, the reason what you’re writing about happened, and (#2) The Why of your reason for writing, your purpose in writing at all.
Although people tend to look at the “Why” last, they really should be looking at it first. In fact, answering the second Why should be the first step you take in doing a press release. Once you have that answer, all the rest is really just a matter of filling in the blanks. For example, let’s say you have hired a new sales vice president and you want to issue a press release. Now answer the 5 Ws in the traditional order:
Who: John Q. Salestar
What: Named new Vice President of Sales
When: Effective September 1.
Where: In your company headquarters location, Anytown, N.J.
Why #1: Because your previous sales manager retired and you needed someone to take his place.
Why #2: Because…
…you want to make the new vice president feel good by giving him some press coverage? Boosting morale and getting a new employee off on the right foot could be a valid reason for issuing the release.
… you want your customers to know whom they should now contact about sales issues? Letting people know that the contact has changed is also a good reason for a release since it avoids having your customers call your previous sales manager, find out that he is gone, ask why he left, ask whom to call now, etc.
… you want to let people know how vested you are in giving them good sales service and how important your customers are to you? Now you’re on to something. Now the release is no longer just about the new sales vice president, but about the value your company provides its customers.
The point is that by answering that second Why question first—why you are writing the release—you will begin to focus not just on the information you are conveying, but what message you want that information to deliver, how you want the reader to respond to it. In the example above, you’re not as interested in getting the name and contact info of the new employee out (although that is valid) as you are about sending a message that your company is dedicated to great sales service.
Focusing on purpose first will enable you to write the entire release with an effective slant. Let’s look at two possible leads for the new hire release. The first is a straightforward announcement, issued just to let people know who the new sales vice president is:
“John Q. Salestar has been named Vice President of Sales for Anytown Printing, Anytown, N.J., effective September 1. He previously served as sales manager of Your Own Printing, Anytown, N.Y., for 20 years.”
This time, write the lead in order to demonstrate your commitment to sales excellence:
“John Q. Salestar will bring 20 years of sales experience to help customers of Anytown Printing meet all their printing needs when he joins the Anytown, N.J., company as its new Vice President of Sales on September 1.”
The first lead is a piece of reporting; the second is a marketing message.
Industry companies often issue releases—or have the releases done for them by vendors—when they purchase new equipment. Here again, look at the difference between an informational release (reporting the facts), whose purpose is to tell people that you’ve added a press, and a marketing message (persuading people) that lets them know what the new equipment could mean to them:
“Anytown Printing, Anytown, N.J., has acquired a new XYZ Brand digital press to replace an offset press the company had used for 20 years. The new press was installed in the company’s main facility last week.”
“The new XYZ Brand digital press installed at the facility of Anytown Printing last week will now enable the Anytown, N.J., company to produce high quality variable-data pieces for clients who want individual, one-on-one targeted messages.”
Why are you writing the release? Not to report to clients you have a new press. They really don’t care what equipment you have. You are writing to tell them you can offer them a new service, new capabilities, and new ways to reach their customers more effectively. In other words, you are sending a marketing message in order to persuade them to use your company for their printing.
In your press releases, don’t just offer facts about your company, provide an effective rationale for working with it. Don’t just inform readers, let them know that there’s a reason they should be interested in reading your release because it does or could affect them in some way.
Issue press releases on a regular basis, i.e., whenever you have a new hire, add new equipment, participate in local charitable or civic events, provide a new service, complete an unusual job, achieve excellent environmental results, hold (or held) an open house, honor an employee for service, etc. But before you put one word on paper or screen, tackle that second Why question: Why are you writing it? (What are you trying to achieve by writing it? What is your purpose? What do you want to gain?)
When you have your answer, don’t lose sight of it, keep it top of mind as you fill in the answers to Who, What, Where, and When, and use it to mold your release so that it will work to achieve your aim.
And if you can’t answer that all-important second Why question satisfactorily, stop right there and reconsider whether it is worth your time to write it at all.