How Do I Distribute a Press Release?

Press release distribution Once you’ve written your press release, what is the best way to distribute it to the news media?   There are some excellent resources online for this, such as WikiHow’s “How to Submit a Press Release.”   One thing to note is that is more than one way to distribute a press release.  You can call, email, or fax your press release to reporters.  The key in this case is to research which reporters will find your news interesting.  The biggest complaint journalists have about press release is the large volume of irrelevant inquiries.  You don’t want to waste people’s time – or your own.

Choosing a Press Release Distribution Service

If you watch movies from the 1940s, you’ll see that classic image of the newspaper spinning up and showing you the headline as reporters speak urgently into phones saying things like, “Get me rewrite!” while teletypes and Morse-coder bang out the news on the “wire.”  That world no longer exists, but the idea of it is still with us.  That’s why, when you submit your press release to a “wire service” it actually goes out by RSS, not Morse Code, but the act is still called “hitting the wire.”

“Get Me Rewrite!”

The major press release sites (the “wire services”) such as PRNewswire and BusinessWire, are useful but they are not the only way to get your news into the hands of reporters.   Two press release distribution service reviews that might be helpful in assessing with service is right for you are Best Press Release Distribution Services – June 2015 and Reviews of the Top 10 Press Release Services.  Most of these services operate web sites that publish press releases.  News organizations subscribe to their news feeds.  For example, let’s say you distribute your press release through Service X.  Newspapers and magazines may subscribe to Service X’s RSS feed.  Editors at these publications will see your press release in the news feed.  Service X may also offer sub-feeds with specializations, such as financial news, entertainment news, and so forth.  Service X may also directly email your press release to lists of reporters they maintain.

For any service you use, you should understand how the service will realize your particular goals.  Most of the major services offer different distribution packages geared to news niches.  For example, you can select whether you want a regional circuit, like newspapers in the Northeastern US, an industry circuit, such technology publications, etc.

Press Release Formatting and Length

Most of the press release distribution services expect you to have your announcement formatted correctly before you submit it to them.  However, they may also do a final edit on your press release to make sure it is correct.  They may reject it for formatting reasons, as well, so the more ready you are, the better off you will be.  The Associated Press (AP) style is one of the main standards for press release formatting.  Here’s a great article that explains how to adhere to the AP Style for a press release.

How long should your press release be?  It really depends.  Most press releases are between 300 and 400 words, with some going up to 500-600.  You can have a perfectly good announcement at 200 words.  More than 600 words is usually for major news or multi-part announcements.  Remember, if you have a very brief bit of news, such as announcing an executive speech at a conference, you can always send a media alert, which is a very succinct announcement that tells reporters what is happening, when, where, etc. without all the formality of a press release.

Pre-Briefing and the “Call Down”

The act of writing a press release (AKA an “announcement”) and distributing it through a wire service is generally not an effective way of getting reporters to write articles about your news.  If you’re already well-known and you have very interesting news, then the simple process of distributing a press release can get you picked up in the press.  But that’s not most people.  If you put a press release on the wire that said, “Ann Coulter Plans to Invade North Korea,” reporters would be interested even if you didn’t reach out to them directly.  But, that’s not you, right?

In fact, for most press releases, coverage results from directly (but politely) approaching the journalists who are most likely to be interested in your news.  This is usually done with a process known as “pre-briefing.”  A pre-briefing involves speaking to a reporter about your news before you officially announce it.  It’s sometimes called a “pre-announcement briefing.”  To understand why it’s important, you have to get a sense of the overall flow of events that occurs between a company deciding it wants to make an announcement and actually getting press coverage of that announcement.

Most of us need to work pretty hard at getting reporters to pay attention to our news.  We need to brief reporters on our announcement to get them interested in covering it.  We need to be able to answer their questions, either in person or on the phone.  For major news, you might hold a press conference.  However, as most of us understand, reporters are busy, so unless you’re the Rolling Stones announcing a new album, you won’t get reporters to come to you in person.   You need to reach out to them personally, which is typically done today through email.

Then, we need to respect the fact that reporters generally need some time to write an article about your news. It’s helpful to tell them what you are going to announce a couple of days in advance of your news actually going out.  The pre-briefing request is an email or phone call that asks if the reporter wants to hear about your news in advance of it being distributed on a wire service.  PR people call this the “Call Down” – you’re calling down your list of potential reporters.  This gives the reporter some time to write the story before you make your announcement.   Reporters usually don’t like to write about news after the announcement.   Soon, it’s old news and not relevant. But, most reporters are busy enough that they can’t write a story about you the same day you make your news.

When you show a reporter a press release in advance, it is known as giving it to them “under embargo” – with an understanding that they will not write about your story until the press release goes out on the wire service. Pre-briefing is common in corporate PR. In politics and more regular news, it’s pretty rare. There is always a risk that the reporter will leak your news but usually that’s not a big issue.

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