A Five-Step Approach to Writing a Killer Press Release

There’s no doubt that social media has changed the marketing and PR landscape.

But when it comes to getting your story heard – whether you’re launching a business, introducing a new product, holding an event, or announcing a new hire – you still can’t beat a good news story (or two) to help spread the word.

But how can you make sure your news makes the news?

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An old-fashioned press release can help you make the news!

While a savvy online post or tweet can reach a targeted audience – including the media – when it comes to convincing news outlets that your story’s got legs, nothing beats the good old-fashioned press release.

Luckily, everything you need to know about writing an effective news release can be summed up in five steps:

Write a great headline
Your headline is the hook that will reel the media in and make them want to learn more. So it needs to be compelling and specific. It needs to answer the question: Why should I care?

If you’ve got something exciting to say, put it in your headline!

Summarize your news in the opening paragraph
Your press release should begin with the location and the date, followed by a one-sentence summary of your announcement. Try fleshing out your headline with a bit more detail!

Your opening paragraph should be brief, and should include all the key information you’d like to share about your announcement.

Ask yourself: If people only read this first paragraph, what do they need to know?

Elaborate in the body
After the opening paragraph comes the body – three or four paragraphs where you can elaborate on the who, what, when, where and why of your announcement. The most ‘news-worthy’ information should come first.

Don’t forget to include at least one quote from a company representative, industry expert, or satisfied client.  This gives your message a human voice (and makes it easier for print media to use your release as-is).

The boring boilerplate
The boilerplate is a short paragraph that helps bring journalists up-to-speed about your business or organization. A boilerplate can include your mission statement and any key facts you want to share, as well as a link to your website.

(To identify that it’s a boilerplate, simply write the name of your company in bold above the text).

Put your boilerplate after the body, but before the contact information.

Don’t forget the contact details
It might seem obvious, but don’t forget to include the name and contact information of the best person to handle any follow up questions. Make sure they are able, willing and available to speak with the media!

Phone - contact

Make sure your contact person is prepared to do an interview!

A few more tips:

Include visuals
A photo is worth a thousand words….so if you’ve got a great, high resolution image to help tell your story, include it with your release. Don’t forget the photo credit (if needed)! In today’s online world, a video link can be great, too.

Check your facts
Journalists work on tight deadlines. That means they may decide to pull information directly from your release to write their story, or simply ‘dump’ your release as-is…without doing a follow-up interview.

So before you send out your release, make sure your facts are correct, your sources are happy with their quotes, and that you are properly representing your brand.

Send it to the right people
You can always use an online distribution system like newswire.ca, but getting your release into the hands (or inbox) of the right journalist greatly improves your chances of making the news.

Pay attention to local bylines, and take some time to dig up personal (work) emails. Most media outlets have contact information somewhere on their websites. Or, try picking up the phone and ask.

Sound complicated?

If writing a press release sounds like a lot of work or you just aren’t sure you’ll get it right, consider hiring a PR professional or copywriter (like me!)

How do you get your story heard?

5 tips from the mompreneur trenches

Like most women, I wear many hats. Wife, mother, small-business owner.  And like many women these days, I run my business from home.

I guess that makes me a mompreneur – and part of a growing trend.

In fact, almost 34 per cent of small businesses in Canada are now solely or partially owned by women, and chapters of MOMpreneur Canada are popping up from coast to coast, including right here in London, Ontario.

Balancing work and a family can be a juggling act - especially for a mompreneur!

Balancing work and a family can be a juggling act – especially for a mompreneur!

Juggling work and family is never an easy task. And when you’re a freelance writer, work is ruled by deadlines – deadlines that don’t care about sick children, muddy dogs, plugged sinks and all the other day-to-day distractions and responsibilities that come with family life.

My decision to become a solopreneur was quite deliberate. I took a ‘traditional’ office job (in marketing and communications) so that I could qualify for maternity benefits, going out on my own shortly before my son was born.

That was almost ten years ago, and after a decade in the mompreneur trenches here are my top five tips to staying sane and productive as a work at home mom:

Accept your limitations
Before children, plowing through a to-do list seems as easy as 1-2-3. But once that baby is born just getting out of the house can be a major undertaking.  If you are working from home because you want to be around your children instead of sending them off to daycare, set realistic expectations and cut yourself some slack.

Yes, you may be able to work during nap time. But you may also need to catch up on your own sleep.

And you may not give birth to a napper – my son was a bundle of boundless energy right from day one. While other kids slept four to six hours a day, I was lucky to get him down for 45 minutes. Luckily, he loved hanging out in a sling while I was at my computer as a newborn,  joined me in my office in his Jolly Jumper later on, and started a morning preschool program as soon as he was old enough to be registered!

At one point, an office Jolly Jumper was a must!

At one point, an office Jolly Jumper was a must!

To be honest, I don’t know how I got any work done during those first few years – and I certainly wasn’t earning anything like a real income. But I did keep my fingers in the game.

And mom was right:

IT GETS EASIER…

…and I got more efficient.

Today, I am able to work a regular 6 hour day while he’s off at school – and boy can I get a lot done in those 6 hours!

Get out of the office
This may seem counterproductive, but carving out time for networking and just getting together with friends for lunch is one of the best things you can do to stay refreshed and motivated. It’s also crucial if you want to grow your client base and support network.

Be honest with your clients
I am always upfront about the fact that I am a solopreneur who works from a home office. And it’s never cost me a job.

Some mompreneurs don’t mind working nights and weekends, but that is not for me. My son plays competitive hockey, so countless evenings are spent at the rink.

Win or lose, watching the kids is always fun!

Win or lose, watching the kids is always fun!

In theory I could bring my work with me, but in practice that rarely happens. Watching the kids on the ice is too much fun – and socializing with the other parents is my ‘water-cooler’ time.

If I am up against a pressing deadline, I prefer to wake up before dawn to get things done.  If there’s really no time to take on a new assignment, I ask if the deadline is flexible. You would be surprised at how often people really don’t ‘need’ their copy by tomorrow!

If I simply can’t make it work , I am happy to suggest other freelance writers in my professional network – colleagues and friends who will return the favour!

Be honest with your family
If you need an uninterrupted block of time to finish a project ask your better half or other family member to help out with the childcare duties.  Arrange a play date.  Hire a sitter. Sometimes you can’t be everything to everyone. Especially not at the same time.

Make some me-time
You have undoubtedly read this before, but it’s worth repeating:

Make time to do something for yourself – outside of work and being a mother.

Me-time is not selfish. It’s a sanity savor. Despite my limited available work hours, I give myself permission to do an exercise class at least one morning a week – preferably two. Does it always happen? No.  But it happens more often than not.

As for working mom’s guilt? Just forget about it!

How do you achieve the right work / family balance?

To learn more about my work life, visit me at Spilled Ink Writing & Wordsmithing. 

Speaking as a writer….

Whether I’m writing freelance articles or crafting copy for a website, I essentially spend my professional life telling other people’s story.  Never my own. And that suits me just fine.

So you’d be forgiven for wondering why I spent one Friday this February at the moSpeaker Academy BIG Day – which promises participants that they’ll “come away with a more powerful story and new tools to help you accelerate your success and performance in a multitude of ways…whether your focus is motivational speaking, keynoting, speak-to-sell, informational speaking and training – or changing the world.”

That's the back of my head at the moSpeaker Academy BIG Day, listening to presenter Paula Morand,

That’s the back of my head at the moSpeaker Academy BIG Day, listening to presenter Paula Morand.

While the event may not seem like an obvious fit for a non-fiction writer, I promised myself to make more time for professional development this year. I also recognize that as a solopreneur I am required to ‘tell and sell’ my own story each time I meet a prospective client – and that I sometimes sell myself short.

So off I went, intrigued to learn more about a speakers’ approach to storytelling and hoping to pick up a few new skills in the public speaking department.

Here’s what I learned.

According to momondays founder Michel Neray (who interestingly comes from an advertising copywriting background), any spoken presentation should contain at least one ‘signature story’ – something personal that will stick with your audience.

moMondays founder Michel Neray says every story should have three things.

momondays founder Michel Neray says every story should have three things.

He says an effective signature story must have:

Intention – Why are you telling this particular story? How does it link to your primary topic?
Structure – A cohesive beginning, middle and end that will take your audience on a journey and drive home your message.
Authentic Delivery – Do you have stage presence? Are your voice and movements natural and aligned with what you are saying? Can you ‘go with the flow’ and respond to audience reactions?

Intention. Structure. Delivery. Sounds like the ingredients to any well-written copy!

Then Neray asked everyone to complete a ‘Truth Map’ to identify the challenges we help clients solve.

My 'Truth Map' - a work in progress.

My ‘Truth Map’ – a work in progress.

We brainstormed outward – taking problems like “losing clients due to unprofessional or non-existent web presence” to their most far-reaching conclusion (possible bankruptcy, family upheaval, depression)…..wow…I never realised my words could make such a difference!

This was followed by Paula Morand’s presentation on story structure and timeless plots. You can read more about the seven basic plots here.

Regardless of the underlying structure, Morand said storytellers should ask themselves: What is the moral of this story? What issue is being solved? What is in it for my listener – and how can I make my story engaging?

All good points to keep in mind for a writer.

The day ended with a session on Stage Presence – and this is where I squirmed in my seat.

As an interviewer, I’m used to being (more or less) in control of the conversation, asking the questions, and doing the observing.

I’m not used to having other people scrutinize my body language, facial expressions, and verbal cues.  But I took a deep breath, participated in the group exercises, and came away with a new appreciation of how how I say what I say can affect how my message is received.

Something to keep in mind for my next client meeting!

So what’s the moral of this story?

Acknowledge your weaknesses and look for opportunities to improve.  Don’t be afraid to try something different. Change is uncomfortable, but it’s the only way to move forward.

stock-footage-closing-red-curtain-with-title-the-endWhat have you learned so far this year?

Writer’s Block

Or how I was almost stumped by a birthday speech  

Sometimes people ask me about writer’s block, and how I deal with it. “With deadlines,” is my usual answer.  It may sound flippant, but in almost a decade of freelance writing, I’ve never experienced complete paralysis before a blank computer screen.  As a mompreneur with limited uninterrupted hours for work, I simply don’t have time to procrastinate.

I usually don't have time for Writer's Block!

I usually don’t have time for Writer’s Block!

When in doubt, I take my own best advice:

  • Start at the beginning
  • Lead with the most interesting tidbit or…
  • Set the scene with a person.

It’s always worked, and I’ve never missed a deadline. In fact, pressure seems to get my creative juices flowing. Except for recently – when they froze.

Of course, this wasn’t any ordinary assignment. It was the occasion of my parents (joint) 145 Birthday Party, and my mother asked me to give a short speech.  Since I am a professional writer, the pressure was on to come up with something articulate, engaging, and memorable.

The problem was, I didn’t know where to start.

The pressure was on to write a speech for my parent's 145th birthday party.

The pressure was on to write a speech for my parent’s 145th birthday party.

So, I did what any self-respecting writer would do. I turned to Dr. Google.  “How to write a birthday speech” turned up a few corny examples and plenty of practical advice on structure:

  • Open with a welcome.
  • Share a few amusing or insightful anecdotes about the guest of honour.
  • Close with a toast.

It seemed simple enough, but I was still drawing a blank…and time was running out.

I decided to Google my parents to see what turned up. That gave me a bit of material to work with, but for some reason I couldn’t stop thinking about all the funerals I’ve been to this year.

For some reason the upcoming party made me think about all the funerals I've attended this year.

For some reason the upcoming party made me think about all the funerals I’ve attended this year.

 

So that’s where I decided to start – and then the words began to flow:

I recently commented to a friend that I knew I had finally hit middle age because I’ve been going to more funerals than weddings this year. It makes you realize that not every couple is lucky enough to celebrate their 145 birthday together, so it’s wonderful to have everyone here to share this occasion.

Mom and Dad, we are all here because you are a very special couple.

Always elegant, mom is the artist, the social organizer, the domestic general, and the type of person who can make friends wherever she goes, despite – or maybe because of –  her very  direct style of communication .  

The quintessential academic, Dad says he was too scared to leave school for a job in the real world.  A true opera-lover and would-be orchestral conductor, he is smart enough to take advice on his wardrobe to follow orders around the kitchen, and he doesn’t mind being introduced as the artist’s husband.

I never really understood what dad did for a living – other than forcing poor university students to write essay exams – but after a Google search I discovered that he has published more than 30 books and more than 250 papers. He even has his own Wikipedia page. Some blogger calls him ‘the world’s greatest expert on the history of monetary theory and macroeconomics since the time of Adam Smith.’ Not bad for a kid from Tyne and Wear.  Even I was impressed. 

But although dad may influence economic policy from behind the scenes, it was mom who cornered then finance-minister Marc Lalonde at a garden party at the Govenor Genral’s house in Ottawa – using me as a human shield – to berate him about proposed changes to the tax laws regarding artists and their unsold inventory. I like to think that she single-handedly saved Canadian artists from an unfair economic burden.

Together, they are definitely a formidable pair and make a fantastic team.

And now that you are both officially septuagenarians you might think that you have reached old age. But, I am happy to inform you that the baby boomers have banned that concept. It has been re branded  and is now called the Creative Age – because apparently while the ‘mature’ brain loses it’s short-term memory, it gains a greater capacity for holistic thought. 

So today, I propose a toast to a truly creative couple who are loved and admired by many.

To a couple who have been loving and supportive parents to me, goalie grandparents-in-training to Natan – and the all-time best dog-parents a pooch could ever hope to have.  We wish you health, happiness, and lots of love for another 145 years.

Have you ever experienced writer’s block? How did you cure it?

www.spilledink.ca 

5 ways to boost your writing business in 2013

One of the best things about being a member of the Professional Writer’s Association of Canada is the chance to meet other local freelancers. And earlier this month I had the opportunity to host our Chapter’s first writer’s luncheon.

Held upstairs at London, Ontario’s Covent Gardent Market, we used the occasion to share our writing goals for 2013.

The view from the Covent Garden Market mezzanine.

The view from the Covent Garden Market mezzanine.

Here are five great ideas that came out of the discussion:

Write your goals down
Whether you use pen and paper or an electronic spread sheet, you’ll be more likely to achieve your objectives if you take the time to write them down.  Weekly and monthly to-do lists are a great way to stay on track. In the same way, an annual to-do list can reduce distractions in your long term quest for business success.

Write down how you plan to implement your goals
Goals are no good if they’re just pie-in-the-sky. If you want to crack a national publication or land a new corporate client it’s a good idea to come up with some concrete and measurable steps you can take to turn your dream into a reality. It’s even better if you write them down!

Diversify your income stream
While some swear that niche writing is where it’s at, I’ve found taking on a variety of projects is the key to staying busy.  If you’re good with words as a freelance journalist, you can quickly learn the skills needed to cross over to the ‘dark side’ as a copywriter.

Make time for marketing
While you’re earning a living creating compelling copy for your corporate clients don’t forget about crafting your own marketing messages. In this day and age a website is a necessity, not a luxury. A Blog, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and even Pinterest are other online tools that can showcase your skills and keep your name out there. And don’t forget to make time for some good old fashioned face-to-face networking!

Make time for the rest of your life
It may sound counter intuitive  but taking regular breaks from your work life can keep you refreshed and ready to write. Some people block out down time during the week. Others set aside weekends for family and friends. Just because you happen to work from home doesn’t mean you should always be home working! Set your boundaries and respect them.

What do you hope to accomplish this year?

Learn more about my writing business at www.spilledink.ca

Five time management tips

If anyone is paying attention to my website blog, they may have noticed that my October post is I missing. There’s a very good reason for this – I never got around to writing it!

Between a ten day trip to San Francisco, catching up on work commitments on my return home, and a rotten cold, it just slipped through the cracks. And that got me thinking about the time management challenges faced by freelancers.

So for the times where there just aren’t enough hours in the day, here are some strategies for getting the work done without losing your sanity.

Embrace the to-do list
When my work schedule is over flowing, making a list of everything I hope to accomplish in a day helps me maintain a sense of control. It also makes it easier to decide which tasks to tackle first, and which ones could wait until later – or even another day. Sometimes I plan out a work schedule for the entire week. It may sound silly, but boy does it feel good to watch the list shrink!

Manage client expectations
If you don’t want to work 24/7 then don’t answer emails, or your office phone, outside whatever business hours you establish for yourself. (Of course it’s OK to check in and respond to emergencies, but most issues really don’t need to be dealt with on a Friday afternoon.)

Be honest with yourself and your clients
What if you’re already up to your eyeballs and a great assignment comes your way? Be honest with yourself and your client about whether you can get the job done in the expected time frame. If people really like your work, they might just be able to find some wiggle room – or perhaps you can push another project back to a later date.

Find more time in your day
Sometimes you just have to get up at the crack of dawn or burn the midnight oil. Suck it up and realize being super busy is a great problem for a freelancer to have!

Don’t cry over dropped balls – but choose them carefully
I didn’t manage to write my October blog, but I did meet the month’s other work commitments. Sometimes you just need to make a strategic decision about which ball to drop, and then pick it up later!

I’d love to hear about how you cope with busy times…

www.spilledink.ca