Archived entries for

How to Write a Press Release

A good press release is made up of good parts. This means a headline, a dateline and answers to the 4 basic journalism W’s & the 1 H -Who, What, Why, Where and How.

Begin by writing a headline for your press release that sums up the content of the release in one to two sentences. Be sure to either do this on company letterhead or include the name of your company in the headline. It is also helpful if you include contact information for someone at your company at the top of the page.

A press release should be approximately one page long. Begin with the city, state (also called a “dateline”) in which the release originated, or where your company is located.

After the body of the press release (detailed below), include a short paragraph (3-5 sentences is plenty) about your company, including your company’s website.

What to Say

Remember that the idea behind submitting a press release is to tell the reader three things:
1)    Why it will appeal to his or her readers.
2)    How it is unique and the ways it is difference from things other people or companies are doing.
3)    Anything else about the event or product that might be interesting

For example, if your press release is on a new product, you should address the following:

  • The name of the new product
  • The date the product will be released
  • A description of the product, including any special features that differentiate it from the competition. The longer the description of the product and its features, generally the better (within that one page limit).
  • What issues or problems does this product solve for the end consumer?
  • Since I work for a trade magazine, what benefits does your product offer a retailer?
  • What is the product made of? This is especially important with clothing- does it feature reinforced stitching or some other special feature to improve quality?

Remember
The idea here is to make the product sound as positive as possible. And you undoubtedly know more about the product, service or event that the reader does; try to answer any questions they may have. That means thinking about Who (will be interested), What (the release is about), Where/When (the product will be released or the event will happen), and Why (the editor should care – ie. Why their readers will care).

Here and here are some samples. Also, check out my portfolio. Feel free to contact me for more information or email me if you’re interested in having me write your press release – my email address is mbreau (at) jargonwriter.com.

Partnering for Success – How I’ve Done It & You Can Too

As I’ve mentioned before, collaboration is essential to succeeding as a freelancer. I’ve been capitalizing on that idea a lot this week.

I recently networked with the folks at Dsgnr Unlimited, which offers, among a wide variety of other things, website hosting. In return for doing a few projects for them, they are helping me by hosting my site. Which leads directly into the next way that I am collaborating.

One of my dear friends is a web programmer. So last night I spent several hours on his couch while he helped me buy my own domain names (I bought www.melissabreau.com and www.jargonwriter.com) and began setting them up. At the moment there isn’t anything at my namesake website, but we started to set up jargonwriter.com – the content isn’t all set up over there, but eventually we’re going to transition from this free wordpress blog to a self-hosted blog running a wordpress blog (I’ll let you all know when it’s up and we’ll transition gradually… for at least a week or two I’ll be posting new content on both sites).

In the past I’ve worked with a graphic designer, trading a sales letter (the one included in my portfolio) for a few business card design ideas. The other thing I’m currently working on is doing guest posts on other blogs – hopefully to increase my exposure. On Monday, I’ll have a guest post up on Andrea Lewis’ blog, Hello. {Work}.

Ideas
With the exception of my web programmer, who I’ve known since high school, all these connections were made in the last few months. So How did I do it?

Social Media – not facebook and not twitter, though I expect twitter will be useful for creating these kinds of relationships in the future (when I get it set up – I know, I know, how can I not have a personal twitter account yet?) – at least Andrea’s post on social media ROI certainly seems to suggest it can be. Mostly, I’ve used Brazen Careerist, which is still small enough to make real connections and via their network system set up it’s VERY easy to find people with similar and tangential interests. So, use social media, make connections.

Talk to people – As I mentioned in my last post, talking to a freelance art director and a freelance photographer I learned about a number of interested services. In addition to all the things I mentioned learning about in that post and how mutually beneficial it was, I gained a sense that I could do this – I am struggling in some ways, but after talking to two other freelancers (even though they are in other industries) I felt relieved that my obstacles were no bigger than anyone else’s.

Craig’s List – Yeah, believe it or not, applying for jobs on Craig’s List lead to the great opportunities I have with Dsgnr Unlimited. And that’s how I found the graphic designer who needed a sales letter. Don’t be afraid to response to a listing with, “I can do x, would you be willing to trade services?” – most of the people on CL are excited about the idea of doing something that they enjoy doing (ie. their business of choice) in exchange for getting what they need (ie. the services YOU offer, by choice).

Networking Events - While I STILL haven’t attended any of these, I’m planning on doing so. And I anticipate making a number of connections. With any luck, at least one new job will come from this! (My goal is to attend one event this month, but we’ll see – unfortunately, I have to travel to Fla. for work this month and that’ll take me out of commission for a while).

A Snapshot – talking to other freelancers

On Monday I attended a photo shoot for the magazine I work at – and it reminded me of something important. Casual conversation rocks – and it’s especially beneficial when it’s with other freelancers.

The photo shoot was for the quarterly publication I work on at my day job (we also produce a bi-monthly and a monthly). I’m in charge of product collection, so when the magazine director can’t personally be on site for a photo shoot, I’m next in line to attend.

Our art director for the publication is a freelance designer who works with us as an independent contractor – she used to work for one of our sister publications but when ad sales dropped and they were forced to do layoffs she went freelance full time.

The photographer we use is also a freelancer. So the three of us got to talking about the business of freelancing.

A Different Perspective
I think each of us learned something valuable during the shoot. It began, surprisingly enough, with talk about taxes. The art director mentioned that she hadn’t done hers yet – and that she was sure they’d be complicated this year, since she’d been primarily working freelance and hadn’t filed that way before. She wasn’t too worried though – she has a tax attorney that she highly recommended. I’m planning on getting in touch with him, even though he’s not conveniently located. So I gained a potential tax attorney who has worked with freelancers and who comes well recommended.

From there we began discussing websites. As I know well and as many people have noted, the biggest differences between working for a company and working freelance is the need to market yourself and to have a website. The Art director isn’t, according to her, very good at this. Despite knowing she needs to get a site up she just hasn’t done it yet. I’m in the process of setting up marketing tools for my own business (as soon as it actually exists – though after all that research earlier this week I am definitely one step closer!). We talked about some web design options and she said she needed to acquire dreamweaver so she could get back into practice.

I told her that you can download a trial version of dreamweaver from adobe’s website for free – and I believe she is now planning on doing so.

The photographer, who has been freelancer much longer than either myself or the art director, has had a website and web marketing tools in place for quite a while. He told us that he recently changed hosting services and is now on www.aphotofolio.com. Since he doesn’t know much about web design, they offer an easy to set up and update option with unlimited galleries, a useful thing for photographers.

I shared that one of the people I’ve been networking with (post on this to follow) is starting a hosting service – dsgnrhosting.com – with very reasonable rates. They both wrote it down to check out later.

To get to the point…
Networking is not just essential because it helps you find work. It also leads you to paths you didn’t know existed, which can then help you find work – or help make running your business easier.

Has there been a time when a casual conversation turned up a great new avenue for you? Tell me about it!

Registering a Sole Propietorship (in NYS)

Parker includes several links to check out: www.entrepreneur.com, www.smartbiz.com, www.nolo.com and some IRS website that didn’t load.

www.entrepreneur.com – I like their magazine, so I started here. Unfortunately, however the link I clicked on their site led me to state-by-state business guides for sale on www.smallbizbooks.com, which cost money and then have to be mailed to you. No fun. I’ll consider buying one, but I wish either 1) they were free and online (or at least a detailed summary was) or 2) they had an e-book available for about $10 because then I probably would have bought it right away (the NYC guide was $24.95). I found a ton of great articles on their site (like this one on how to create a logo or this one on the ABC’s of business cards) but nothing about the paperwork I need to do to become registered as a real business.

www.smartbiz.com – Despite having a google summary that matched my needs, the site wouldn’t come up. I kept getting an error message. Not sure if it’s just temp. down or if it no longer exists.

www.nolo.com – The site had an interesting piece that explained really well what a sole proprietorship is and gave me the closest thing I have come across so far to a list of possible things to do (though I still had no idea how to do them).

The site says you have to do register the general registration requirements for any business, which will likely include registering and paying a minimum tax (a self-employment tax) and getting a business license or tax registration certificate. If you’ll have employees (I won’t) you might need to obtain an employer ID number from the IRS. You may also need a seller’s permit from the state and a zoning permit from the local planning board. Oh, and that DBA I mentioned earlier.

My Research

Since Parker’s links didn’t turn up anything particularly useful, I did some of my own research and found this site. It’s a government site – who knew they could do something THIS right?

DBA – HERE they have a list of requirements BY STATE for registering a fictitious name (a dba). It says in NY a Sole proprietorship using a name other than the owner’s name should file a Business Certificate with the County Clerk’s Office in the county where the business is located.

EIN – Employer Id Number requirements are neatly explained, and a link is included to this handy chart to determine if you need one (I don’t).

The “State Taxes” page listed the most common types of state taxes and links to each state. This lead me to a document download, which lead me to a wizard NYC apparently has to help you find out what you need. Who knew? I was very impressed.

According to the wizard in order to be a legally operating business in NYS I need to file:
- With the county: a DBA
- With the Federal Gov.: for a EIN  (the fed gov. site disagrees)
- With the city: Documents on Zoning
- With the city: Portable fire extinguisher requirements
- I have to comply with: smoke free air act & waste removal & recycling
- With the city: unincorporated business tax (UBT)
- With the Federal Gov.: IRS Business Tax (which as a Sole Proprietorship should be on my personal taxes, I believe)

The site also provided me with a few other links it thought I might find useful… and it took under 5 minutes to fill out the wizard and have it feed me back my results. As I said, I am impressed!

Registering a Small Business (Legal Mumbo-Jumbo)

Chapter 4 in Parker’s book is about becoming legit. As I’ve mentioned before, this is a topic I’ve been avoiding … but it’s time to get serious about it.

She starts out by telling us that while many freelancers set up the business half after they’ve been working for a while, that is a mistake (oops!) namely because there is a potential for “property use violations, fines, back taxes, business name lawsuits and issues of business ownership.” Albeit she allows that registering is more important for writers serving corporate clients (in case, for example, you were supposed to charge them tax and didn’t – you’ll end up paying for it).

What Kind of Business Should You Be:
The important decision is deciding what type of business you (or I) am going to have: a sole proprietorship, a partnership or a corporation. Then, figuring out what needs to be done to dot the i and cross the t. Most freelancers probably work as a sole proprietor – you claim your income from freelancing on your personal taxes and are solely responsible for your business (including any debt you incur in its name).

A partnership would involve bringing on another person – the main difference here is when filing taxes. Partners are still liable for debt incurred in the name of the business, and either partner can be held responsible for any expenses (meaning you could end up paying for your partner’s charges). Arrangements vary greatly, and if you are interested in this for some crazy reason, I recommend doing a lot more reading. If you decide to go this route, set up your partnership agreement very very carefully and I highly recommend you consult a lawyer. Parker recommends Form a Partnership:The Complete Legal Guide from Nolo Press.

There are a couple of intermediary options – limited partnerships and LLC (limited liability company). Limited partnerships involve one of the partners being less liable. Limited liability companies are a good option if you’re worried about the risk you may be taking and its potential impact on your personal finances (in my opinion, less important for a freelance writer than, say, a food product manufacturer, where you could accidentally poison someone and get sued). A LLC works like a sole proprietorship in terms of income taxes but like a corporation when it comes to liability (essentially, it’s limited to the business’s assets).

Finally, there is the corporation, “a legal entity in itself.” The benefits include: limited liability, insurance options. Disadvantages: a LOT of paperwork – and regular paperwork at that.

My Decision #1: I’m going to have a sole proprietorship. I haven’t decided yet if I want to work under my own name or if I want to have a “company” name. If I choose to use a company name (even if I just add “editorial services after my own name) then I have to register as a DBA (doing business as).

Resources for a New Freelance Writer / Sm. Biz. Owner

At least once a week I want to share links to some of the great articles I came across that week. Check them out – there are some great pieces here!

4 Measures to Put in Place so Your Freelance Writing Clients Won’t Rip You Off
Contracts, kill fees, late fees and deposits help make sure you don’t do the work and then never see your money.

And from the same site …. Do You Know What You’re Selling? Successfully Marketing Your Online Freelance Writing
This piece talks about how important it is for a writer to define their own business – after all, if we can’t put our own company into well written words how can we expect anyone else to trust us to do that for their company?

Work Smart: Increasing Productivity & Efficiency – I would love to write for this site at some point in the future – but this is a great piece from Young, Fabulous and Self-Employed. We all have enough distractions – the key to being a successful entrepreneur (and, as a “freelance writer” that’s what I am) is to prioritize and set up systems to get things done.

Writing a Sales Letter – or cover letter or query letter…

The idea of a sales letter is to convince someone to buy a product or service. A query letter is a letter written normally to a magazine editor proposing an idea for a column or article. A cover letter generally accompanies a job seeker’s resume during the application process.

In all three cases the letter is trying to convince its reader to take a specific course of action – to buy a product or service, to pay a writer to do a story or to hire the applicant, and all three types of letters have a lot in common.

The First Step – Research
Before you put pen to paper or type the first letter into that word processing program you need to know what tone to take, background information about where you are sending the letter and who (as specifically as possible) will be reading it.

For a sales letter, you need to know information about who the letter is representing (assuming your not writing it to represent yourself and your company) and about who that company’s target demographic is; for a query letter you need to know who at the magazine you’re writing to, what the publication’s audience is and the tone (formal vs. informal? friendly vs. expert? Slang vs. Jargon? How-to vs. general interest?); with a cover letter you should know who you’re contacting, who that company’s primary clients are, what kind of services or products they offer, any recent news they may have released or have gotten press coverage for (ie. you should have Googled them) and, if possible, some information about the company’s culture (formal vs. informal?).

The Hook
Once you have all that information, it’s time to start writing. Your goal with your first paragraph is to hook your reader and create a desire in them for the goods/services/article/job seeker you are writing about without actually directly mentioning the thing you are pitching.Instead, you show the reader why they have a need for the unique thing you want them to be interested in (unique angle in a story, unique features in a product, unique skills or talents for a service or in a job seeker).

example 1: Achieving just the right look for your business is important. Your look is the first thing potential clients will notice about you. It’s what will create that lasting first impression. Do you have the right look for your business? (Sales letter for a graphic designer).

example 2: Is this letter a waste of paper? Yes – if it fails to get the desired result. In business, most letters and memos are written to generate a specific response, close a sale, set up a meeting, get a job interview, make a contact. Many of these letters fail to do their job. Part of the reason is that business executives and support staff don’t know how to write persuasively. (Query letter lede used by Robert Bly pitching a piece to Amtrak Express and included in his book Secrets of a Freelance Writer.)

example 3: A masters in publishing requires learning about the publishing process as a whole and having a through understanding of the different steps it takes for a book to go from idea to physical product. A general knowledge of the overall process would be invaluable for a production assistant responsible for moving the book through each step of that process.(Completely made up lede for a cover letter, applying for a position as a production assistant at a book publishing house).

Your lede paragraph should point out a need the reader didn’t know they had, but that now they want a solution to. And that’s where the second paragraph comes in.

The Line
Now you offer the good/service/job seeker/article as exactly what the reader needs to fill that previously unknown gap. Take our cover letter example – now the hiring manager wants someone who has knowledge of the general overall process of book publishing. How many entrance level employees can offer that knowledge? Not many.

In this paragraph you answer “what/who/how” it is they need – what the article is going to be about (the solution is a process called AIDA – Attention, Interest, Desire, Action), who has that skill and how they got it (ie. I have a masters in publishing from Pace University or as a graphic designer for the last 5 years, I have experience developing the perfect look to represent a company…).

The Sinker
The last piece of a pitch letter is what writers who work on ad copy title the “call to action.” A call to action is a few sentences on what you want the reader to do next. With a sales letter the goal could be “call xxx-xxxx for more information” or “visit www.domainname.com” or even “place an order by x-y-z-ing.” With a cover letter, the next step is you want the reader to call you for an interview (if you’d be interested in further discussing how my experience can benefit xyz company, I’d be happy to come in for an interview. You can reach me at…), and with a query letter, it’s about following up and choosing to accept the article idea (I’d like to write this piece on xyz, if you are interested I can be reached at….).

Pinocchio Syndrome

Pinocchio wanted to be a real boy. I want to be a real freelance writer. Don’t I wish there was a good fairy for me…

In a recent post I discussed Making It Real – the idea that even if it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it’s still possible not to feel like a duck. In my case, even though I’m building a client base, have begun making some money freelancing and am taking (slowly) all the right steps, I still didn’t feel like a professional freelance writer.

So, in an attempt to gain a ruler by which I could measure myself, I turned the question around and asked the members of one of my small business online networks what they saw as the first 3 steps to establishing a company’s existence. At what point does a company become “a company?”

Rachel Vincent, Vice President of Kikini, a new social matchmaking site that will launch this spring, responded with the following:

(1) formally organizing the company under state laws. Is it a corp, LLC, sole proprietorship (probably the last as a freelancer). There are lots of websites that can do this quickly if you want something simple.
(2) sit down and decide what your brand looks like (visually & verbally). What are the 2-3 most critical points you want people to know about you.
(3) a website (could as simple as adding a page to your blog). I’d say a phone can wait. You can always change the greeting on your cell.

I thought she made some really great points. I’ve been actively working on part three; part two still needs a little bit of work but I’ve gotten started on it; part one I’ve been actively avoiding. Parker talks about the legal issues of starting a home business in Chapter 4. So I’m going to continue procrastinating on that one until next week.

However she did inspire me to do a little research. I ordered two books today that I think will be helpful on several of those points. The Complete Book of Business Plans: Secrets to Writing Powerful Business Plans by Covello, Covello and Hazelgren and Start Your Own Business by Lesonsky. I’ll let you know if they are worth it.

And, while I agree those three things will help make my business become a “real” business, I had an ‘ah-ha’ moment recently where I realized I was further along than I had thought. When I was working on yesterday’s post, Creating a Press Kit, I uploaded examples of client work I’ve done, and that required going through different client projects I’ve worked on thus far. I was surprised by the number of assignments I’ve already done. Even if I don’t yet have a full-fledged and certified writing business, I am definitely a freelance writer – and now I feel like one too.

Creating a Press Kit

A press kit, or media kit, as defined by Wikipedia is a pre-packaged set of promotional materials of a person, company, or organization distributed to members of the media for promotional use. They are often distributed to announce a release or for a news conference.

I would add to this that press kits are one way (some) companies can introduce themselves to new clients. A well-developed press kit will showcase the company’s accomplishments and make a convincing case for why a client should utilize them. While this wouldn’t be appropriate for a retail store, it would definitely be appropriate for a b2b company or a freelance writer’s press kit.

There are two general physical formats a press kit can take – it can either be in the form of a booklet (stapled or bound together) or it can be a folder with multiple pages inside. There are advantages and disadvantages to each type.

A booklet generally looks more professional; it is more permanent and has a polished, finished appeal that encourages clients or the media to take you seriously.

A folder format, while less professional looking, can have pages swapped out (so you can include up-to-the-minute information)as a company gets press coverage, releases new products or other news-worthy events take place. They can be printed out on any color printer, while a booklet needs to be printed by a professional (although some Staples / Office Depot locations may offer this service). Finally, when press information is in a booklet format editors or clients are likely to consider it as one piece – a whole – and judge it as such. Meaning it gets glanced at once and then either tossed or kept. With separate pages in a folder each piece is generally judged individually.

No matter which format is chosen, a press kit consists of the same basic elements.

A basic press kit includes the following: (included are some download-able samples I’ve done)
A Company Bio which discusses how the company was founded, why and by whom. How it has changed since that time. What products or services (briefly) the company offers and any recent company news. If the company is still very new, the founder(s)’ qualifications or past experience can also be included (attached is a company bio I did for an events planning company).

Press Releases on anything the company has recently created a press release on. This includes events the company has hosted, new products or services it is now offering, new hires, sales or special promotions,  anniversaries and/or any other occasion (attached is a release I did for an author on the release of his book). If the press kit is being printed in a booklet or brochure format, then it may be more appropriate to include a single page that includes a brief blurb of recent newsworthy events.

Samples of Company Work can be included where appropriate. For example, as a writer my press kit will include all the samples attached to this blog post plus some sample articles I’ve written. I may even reformat one or two of my posts and lay them out to include in my press kit. Some other samples that could be included: posters for an event the company sponsored or hosted, design work or statements from satisfied customers.

Services Offered should appear in a list format somewhere within the press kit. Including pricing is optional, but personally I recommend it. One of the leading reasons that people do not buy a product or service is that they cannot find a price. That’s a silly reason not to gain a client (IMHO). In this post I listed (w/o prices) the services I offer.

Contact information should definitely be included. Ideally, each page will have at least the company website across either the top or bottom of the page – but a complete header or footer might include a contact email address, website and phone number. A business card can also be included if desired.

An Intro Letter that pitches the company’s products or services can be on top (in a folder) or on the opening page (in a booklet). Essentially, an intro letter will basically be a sales letter, making a case for why the editor you’re sending the press kit to should write about you or why the client you’re soliciting should be interested in your services (attached is a sales letter that I did for a graphic designer – this is an example of what you’d use for a client-focused press kit).

OPTIONAL: A CD with high-resolution images of products, a company logo, a head shot of the company founder, or image from a recent news event / sale. Be sure you have rights to the images you include; the idea here is to offer the editor an image to include with his/her story.

OPTIONAL: An Expert Interview / A Helpful Article on a topic of interest to potential clients and/or an editor. This can take the form of either a Question and Answer article with the company founder on a topic tangential to the company’s products or services or an article discussing a related topic. For example, I could include a piece on SEO when pitching web content writing to a new client. An event planner might include a piece on picking the perfect venue – the idea is to position a company employee / the company as an expert in its field and to illustrate the benefits of its services / products.

Types of Writing Jobs

Chapter 3 is both one of the most useful chapters and one of the least interesting – in it, Parker lists 60 bread-and-butter (or, as she calls them meat-and-potato) jobs for freelance writers. The idea is to think objectively about the types of jobs a new writer can get and the types of jobs that pay the bills… and to find where the two intersect for you.

One of the worksheets in chapter two asks each of us to critically analyze our skills – what we bring to the table as a writer that is unique. What we are qualified to write about and who we might know that we can work with. Chapter 3 looks at who we can work for.

Parker asks the reader to look at the jobs and decide if each job is something he or she would like to do, could do now or could learn to do …. and, if the job is something he or she has no interest in, it’s assumed that she’ll just ignore it and move on.

The jobs I could learn to do (and would like to do):
*if you are reading this and have a job in one of these areas I will offer you a discounted rate in exchange for the experience
Advertising Copy
Collateral materials (order forms, spec sheets, invitations, etc.)
Direct mail packages
Radio & TV ads & promotions
Telemarketing Scripts
Annual Reports
Policies & procedures writing
Catalogs & Product sheets
Conference & Trade show materials
Manuals
Menus
Contributing Editor Assignments

Things I can do now:
Brochures
Sales Letters
Public Relations services & materials
Resume Writing
Personal Statements (though this involves a very in-depth interview and takes up a LOT of time)
Website Content
Blogs (clearly illustrated here)
Editing
Letter writing
Newsletters
Press Releases & Press Kits
Proofreading
Proposals

This week I’ll go through some of the more common of these (things I can do now) and discuss how to do them and what differentiates a “good” piece vs. a “bad” piece.

If there are any in particular you’d like to me discuss please leave a comment.



Copyright © 2004–2009. All rights reserved.

RSS Feed. This blog is proudly powered by Wordpress and uses Modern Clix, a theme by Rodrigo Galindez.