By Anthony Hardman, Director of Public Relations
How many times have you had a client, or boss, question you on whether or not using news releases is an effective use of the marketing budget? Usually, this question comes in the form of an article forwarded to your inbox written by some expert declaring the release dead.
If you’re like me you may roll your eyes, do a little research and try your best to validate the large amount of money being spent on distribution. Unfortunately, you know that it will only be a matter of time before the subject comes up again.
With so many naysayers, you may even question their value yourself, but the power of the news release has been ingrained in you since your first newswriting class in college. Believing that they are no longer valuable is something you simply can’t accept.
Don’t panic. I can alleviate your fears and prove that the news release is actually more powerful now than it ever was.
Know Your Audience
We have all been taught that the first thing you need to do before you write any piece of content is research your audience. So who is your intended audience when you write a news release? Media? Wrong.
The majority of people reading news releases today are not journalists. They are potential customers.
In 2013, I worked for SecureState, an information security firm, and of the 17,996 total news release views we were able to track, only 575 were media views.
That means that only three percent of our audience were journalists! And, I can count on one hand how many of those media views actually turned into an earned placement.
The good news is that 97 percent of my audience were people who wanted to read our news. Sarah Skerik, Vice President of Content Marketing at PR Newswire, has been saying this for a long time, and this is validated proof that she is right.
When I figured this out, it completely changed the way I used releases.
Distributions That Earn Results:
For me, the first step was redefining my audience and adding news releases as a distribution tool in my content marketing strategy. I use releases in two different ways. The first way is by distributing news directly to my audience, and the second is to promote branded content.
Each method requires a separate strategy.
To effectively reach your target audience, you have to stop treating news releases like news releases. Instead, if you have a new product or service offering you’re trying to promote, write your release like a news article using the inverted pyramid structure.
Traditional releases are written in a very formulaic way:
Company ABC, a leader in alphabet identification, is proud to announce why they are so great.
These types of releases are still very present in today’s media landscape, likely a result of what’s being taught in college.
Here is an example distributed on May 15, 2014, from Infinity Incentive Group in their attempt to promote travel insurance for summer cruise vacations:
Writing your distribution in article format breaks away from this mold, and tells a story in a way that’s interesting to the reader. Southern Shores Realty did exactly that in their release titled, “Brand New Vacation Homes Looking for Their First Dates on the Outer Banks, N.C.,” which was also released on May 15, 2014.
In addition to having a snappy headline, the body of the release doesn’t even mention Southern Shores Realty until the second sentence, and by that time I’m already invested in reading the content.
Pro Tip #1: Increase social media engagement by creating a tweetable lead sentence, with tools like click to tweet.
Another thing this release does is present calls to action (CTAs) in the form of links to the homes they are promoting, early on. This is important because adding your CTA near the top of your release increases your chances of converting readers into referral traffic. If the person reading your release never makes it to the bottom where you’ve asked them to click for more information, you have no chance of referring them to your website.
Pro Tip #2: Create targeted CTAs. Don’t just drive people to your homepage; instead, send them to a relevant landing page. It’s even better if you can send them to a landing page with a lead capture form.
Pro Tip #3: Write the full URL of the page you want people to visit. When releases are reposted on other sites, the hyperlink doesn’t always follow.
Promote Branded Content:
Direct distribution is great for promoting news about your business, but releases can also be used to promote branded content and further thought leadership.
When you write a blog, I’m sure you post it to a variety of social media channels in an effort to increase awareness. You may even pay to promote it in hopes of furthering your reach. Well, you should also promote your article with a web-based distribution.
Web releases, like PR Newswire’s Webmax Plus, are highly effective at promoting branded content when structured correctly, and they are the fraction of the cost of a wire release; though you will still reach targeted trade media.
How to do it:
- Just like with a wire release, you need to write headlines and lead-ins that are catchy and interesting.
- Use the lead-in to capture the reader’s attention and provide some background on the story. You can pull out a quote or some other interesting snippet from your article.
- Drive traffic back to your site by providing a clear CTA.
Below is an example of a release I created for SecureState, which was designed to point readers to a blog entry on the subject of chip and pin credit card security.
In this example, you can see that I led with the news I wanted to promote, and not the company promoting it. SecureState isn’t even mentioned until the second paragraph.
I also included a clear CTA prompting the reader to take action: “To read the full article on the specifics of chip and pin technology, and how the industry should move forward read: Why Chip and Pin Isn’t the Answer to Retailers’ Problems.”
Normally, I will place the CTA higher in the release, as previously explained, but because this is particularly short it worked well at the bottom.
When potential customers follow this link, they enter the first part of the content marketing funnel and will hopefully become a lead that can be nurtured.
So how does all of this translate into measurable results? It starts with referral traffic.
Google Analytics and marketing automation dashboards like Hubspot can easily track the links you place in releases.
From May of 2012 through the first quarter of 2014, news releases were the highest source of referral traffic for SecureState, excluding LinkedIn, and those were mostly people looking for jobs.
This data demonstrates real, tangible results. How often do you get that from an earned media placement?
Using news releases as a part of your content marketing strategy will improve your SEO through backlinks on third-party sites, increase your referral traffic via targeted CTAs and give you the opportunity to convert those referrals into leads that may eventually become customers.
So the next time your boss or a client questions the value of using releases, explain the correct way to use them, and back up the statement with a Google Analytics report.
This article originally appeared in PRNews’ Writer’s Guidebook, Volume 1. If you are interested in purchasing the guidebook, they are currently offering $50 off the purchase price with the promo code FriendWriters14.