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Writing a Press Release with Julie Harris

Last month Scratchpad welcomed to its headquarters Julie Harris, a community editor from the Bangor Daily News with over 39 years experience. At scratchpad she taught the entrepreneurs how to craft press releases and other community news so it will be published. Julie explained in depth the role of community news as “the heart and soul of what a newspaper is”.

Understanding the difference between news and ads:

The most important aspect of community news for businesses to understand is that newspapers are NOT marketing firms. The function of the press is to report news and release information to the public, not special offers or new products/services a business offers. Too often, recalls Harris, she has to shift people to the paid advertisement section because they do not understand the difference. Here are some clarifying examples of each:

  • News: Personnel changes within the company, location changes, community service that the company has performed, awards won

  • Advertisements: Pushing new products, reporting upcoming sales, writing about the mechanics of the business

There is a fine line between the two, and it can often get confusing for business owners. Even if something looks like news, it may have some underlying themes that are merely meant to promote the business. The publisher’s decision is somewhat subjective, but Julie warns to err on the side of caution to avoid delaying getting your information out to the public. She also suggests skimming over other business stories and comparing to the advertisement section to familiarize yourself with the biggest differences and things to avoid.

How to use the press to your advantage:

The next step in building a press release is to understand how to make it as impactful as possible. Newspapers have requirements that differ from every other medium, and press releases should be written in accordance to how they will be perceived most favorably. This can be accomplished by crafting interesting content that focuses on the story of your company. In order to stand out, you need to engage the reader by hitting them on a more personal level. Our entrepreneurs can do this by incorporating what makes them special, what drives them, and how they got to where they are today. For example, Dianna of Sofia Fima decided to partner with the Olympia Snowe Women’s Leadership Institute because she prides herself on being a female leader and business owner. This partnership is in line with her brand and personal initiatives, making it an impactful narrative to add to any potential press releases that may come from the partnership. Adding these personal touches makes all the difference, and will earn more interest than a simple report.

Including media when reporting your event can be extremely worthwhile, and each medium relies on a different form. The needs of each depend on their means of communication: radio depends heavily words, TV on images, newspapers on both. Due to this, newspapers are held to a higher level of accountability with written word as its main focus. In order to effectively use the press, everything in your press release must be foolproof, fact-checked, and free from false reporting.

In addition, make sure the language of your press release is easily understood by the average reader. Using industry specific jargon will only serve to confuse the reader, and make your story unreadable.

How to catch the attention of the publisher:

In addition to engaging the reader, companies should concern themselves with grabbing the attention of the editors who make publishing decisions, like Julie. Our entrepreneurs got a glance at what the inbox of a editor looks like, with thousands of pending stories and press releases waiting to be read. It is easy for things to get buried, so it is important to differentiate yourself in the one thing that is often skimmed over: the subject line. It is important to stay away from being generic in your subject line, and try to be as specific and interesting as possible in just a few words. For example, phrases like “Personnel changes for x company…” or “x company gets award for…” are more likely to catch attention than “Press release for x company”.

Getting the most miles out of press opportunities:

Another service offered through local newspapers is press coverage on conferences and events that concern the public. If there is not a professional available to cover the event there should still be someone taking advantage of every visual opportunity by taking photos and videos. This way, you get plenty of supporting media for possible stories that might be published.

Create a mailing list of contacts that you believe will benefit from hearing about your event and may possibly attend. This way, every time you hold a gathering you do not need to search through you contacts or have to worry about missing anyone.

In addition, companies can make the most of press opportunities by writing both pre and post-event press releases. Pre-event articles serve to invite the public and spread awareness of the event, and post-event press releases inform them of what was accomplished during it. Publishing both is an efficient way of getting your company’s name into the hands of consumers as often as possible.

Increasing exposure:

Creating buzz around your company can be easily achieved by creating positive, newsworthy occurrences within your company. For example, sponsoring non-profits or local events is a great way of drawing attention. Especially in a philanthropic state like Maine, many people attribute positive feelings toward companies that play a role in their communities. This is especially effective when companies use their expertise to do good. Companies like Home Depot are using this tactic to partner with charitable organizations like Habitat for Humanity, where they can use their building and construction proficiencies to make a difference.

Overall, Julie advised the companies to utilize the press as frequently as possible and to always be persistent. She is always appreciative of phone calls and reminders when things get lost in her increasingly busy inbox. There is never any harm in submitting a press release!

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