Small Business Publicity: Writing Effective Press Releases


Julianna Martinez-Barbee

Julianna Martinez-Barbee, Director, NMSBDC at Northern NM College

Professional publicists recommend press releases to deliver business news to the media for broadcast to potential customers. Publicity of this kind is free and can often be done by a business owner or someone who works for her company. If the media publish the story, the business stands to gain the goodwill of existing customers and attract new ones. The result can be increased sales at a cost of only the time it takes to write and distribute the release.

But the average newsroom receives hundreds of emails and faxes every day, only a fraction of which are published. Competition for print space and airtime means press releases need to be creative, factual and informative. They must provide content the media believe its readers, viewers and listeners want.

Front Page or Trash Bin

The difference between a well-written press release and one that is poorly researched and badly written can mean a story landing on the front page or one that goes into the recycle bin. Good research is essential to obtain accurate information, as well as insight into what editors prefer.

Topics or themes a particular editor finds interesting can be gleaned by reading business or consumer stories the newspaper recently published. Articles may demonstrate the editor’s interest in human rights, animal welfare or environmental issues. An editor or reporter who already knows something about business or consumer topics will be able to rapidly judge the importance of the information.

If background is part of the press release, it should be researched and checked for accuracy. Editors don’t appreciate receiving information that is too general, incorrect or impossible to verify.

It’s About the Story

If a press release is about a business, product or service, it should focus on benefits to the reader rather than make a sales pitch. The release should make obvious the reason people should be interested in the story. The old adage, “it’s not about you,” rings true when seeking media attention.

Be creative. Is there a customer with an unusual history that reflects the heart or mission of the business? Focus on the human perspective when telling the story.

Stay current. Does the nature of the business intersect with national trends or current developments in a similar industry? Identify a niche angle in a national story and demonstrate how it is being enacted locally.

Include quality photos. Will visual material add interest and tell the story quickly? If photos will be submitted, make sure they are clear with appropriate background, lighting and resolution. Photos that depict action or people are preferred.

Remember the Web site. Where can a journalist obtain more information? Include a Web site address or another source of background information.

Be a Reporter’s Expert

Above all, reporters want sources or experts they can trust. Be informed and stay on top of industry trends. Become the primary source of industry information in the local business community by adding background knowledge to related news.

Reporters call when they want local perspective, and they often have an imminent deadline. Respond as quickly as possible with concise, easy-to-quote answers

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2 thoughts on “Small Business Publicity: Writing Effective Press Releases

  1. Melvin Prueitt

    Julianna Martinez wrote a very nice article about writing press releases. But she did not say how to get the release published. I am an experienced writer, but I have no idea how to get an article into the right hands. I thought she would tell us about that. Do I take my written masterpiece outside and let the winds blow it across the country? Do I drive to Albuquerque and walk into KRQE and hand it to them? Is there a place on the Internet that says, “Submit your news releases here”? Do I send it to the Associated Press or CNN or New York Times? Perhaps I should send it to Julianna and let her send it to the right places.

  2. financenm

    Thanks for your comment. There are many press release distribution companies on the internet but most charge for their services. If you’re looking for free publicity, paying for distribution defeats one of your goals.

    A cheaper approach is to create your own distribution list by researching industry publications. Search the internet for publications likely to be read by your product’s target market, since that’s ultimately who you want to reach. Sometimes the personal contact info is online; other times you have to call the publication for the name of a specific person to send it to (and their email).

    If you’re looking to have the release published anywhere – not a bad strategy so you can hand out copies of the published article and build a base for more targeted publicity – go beyond your industry for other tie-ins.
    For example, perhaps a founder is over 50 (think AARP magazine). Personal connections might range from alumni assn. publications (if a big & prestigious school) to business start-up publications or foreign language pubs (if a founder speaks another language or spent time in a foreign country). You’re looking for any possible personal tie-in that would make it interesting for the editor/readers.

    Send the press release in the body of the email and send a separate one to each recipient (rather than BCC). Include a personal note at the top telling the recipient why their readers will find the information interesting. For example, the alum assn. will be interested to know how you got from an engineering degree to working in education, and when you graduated.