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In case you haven’t noticed, communication has changed.  Dramatically.  It’s time to acknowledge this and make some much-needed changes.

Giving the press release an overhaul is the first thing I’d like to tackle.

Before we even begin, I hear you asking, “Do we still need to do press releases”?  The answer is yes, see this earlier post for the reasons why.

Based on my observations and the insight gained at mononews, a service that hosts and disseminates lifestyle press releases to specifically targeted lists of journalists customized for each release, here are my recommendations:

Write the Press Release as an Executive Summary

A spare but comprehensive factual top-line.  The document should be more like an executive summary that can be scanned and absorbed in 3 minutes rather than a proposal.  It should be as objective and free of bias as you can possibly make it.  The tone should be neutral.

Short and Sweet

Press releases should be in the neighbourhood of 300 words.  This is more than enough to get your points across, if you choose your words carefully.  Edit down your information to the bare bones.  Enforcing the discipline to be concise, clear, direct and reduces the incidences of “sell copy”, jargon and valueless self-promotion.  The stuff, I regret to inform you, that either gets ignored or increases the speed of the mouse to the “delete” button.

Tweets = “Sound Bites”

Information should be prioritized and presented in short paragraphs that would be appropriate to tweet.

Tweets are the 2012 equivalent of the ubiquitous “sound bites”.  Remember them?  Short, digestible statements of crucial information provided to the press to reduce the possibility of misunderstanding or misquote.   Use 140 characters maximum to communicate your key points (although it’s recommended NOT to use the full 140 characters so that people can re-tweet (forward along) – your information with their (brief) comments)  If this is too much of a challenge, then ensure the first line in every paragraph – all 4 of them – meet this standard.

Headline 

Job 1 is to ensure that it accurately reflects the primary message you are trying to deliver.  What is the information you are announcing?  What is the key message that encapsulates the reason for being of the product or service? The crucial element that people need to know — in words that everyone can understand.  Once again, use the 140-character maximum guideline.

Customize – Address Your Audience

If you have a new device or app for tracking blood pressure and heart rate, consider doing two versions of your press release:  one that presents the information about the what it does and the benefits for consumer health — which will interest the reporters writing about health; and another which highlights how the product works — relevant for the tech writers.

Boilerplate = Profile

Write the boilerplate as if it is the profile of your company/organization that you are posting on Linked In or Google+.  “Just the facts, Ma’am”.  Answer the who, what and why effectively, in as few words as possible.  Use it consistently with every release until a significant change necessitates a revision.

Add Photos –  relevant photos that clearly communicate the product.  Make sure they reproduce well.  Standard formats are JPEG, gif, tiff.

Add a YouTube Video Link.  Have good quality footage of the product in use?  This will do wonders to help journalists understand and get a feel for your product.

Add any supporting document that might help the interested journalist write your story.  Product specs?  Research summary?

Add links to your product/company website.   Do you have a company blog, Facebook, Google+ page?  Include the links, it makes it easy to find out more about you.

Contact Information.  Make sure that the contact provided is accessible and available.  I’d recommend that the message on the contact’s voice mail change every day  “This is Robin Thornton on May 29th, 2012…”.  This passes the message that your representative is responsible, accountable and that responding to voice-mail is a priority.

Include your Social Media Contact Information.  Do you have an official Twitter presence?  Is you company on Linked In?  Make sure you include this information as part of the contact information of your release, along with the URL to your website.

Our job is communication.  We should be good at it.  Words are important.  Carefully choosing the correct words and stringing them together to say precisely what needs to be said is the fundamental tenet of good communications.

And, it’s greatest challenge.

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