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Writing Press Releases an Easily Learned Skill

August 02, 2000|KAREN E. KLEIN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Q: I have a Web site devoted to herbs and health. How do I find someone who knows about this topic to write a great press release so I can get some publicity for the product?

--Bill Supina, Mar Vista

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A: You know more than anyone about your work and you can probably write a strong press release yourself, with some simple feedback from an objective source who knows less than you do about the topic.

If you know someone who works professionally in the communications field--either in marketing or journalism--ask him or her to look over your draft press release and comment. Revisions are important, so give yourself enough time to go through three or four drafts before you have a final product.

Press releases are best conceived when they have a time-sensitive and newsworthy element to announce: A new launch, an event, a breakthrough in your field, a new key employee, an acquisition or merger, greater distribution of a product, expansion of services, etc. But if you just have a "concept" pitch, you can still construct an interesting release, especially if your product or service is truly special in some specific way.

Try to state the significance of your products in 25 words or less. Answer the five "Ws"--who, what, when, where and why. Don't forget to include a contact person, with a telephone number and e-mail address, who will be immediately accessible to the media.

Another tip: Take the term "newsworthy" very literally. Is the content of your release something new? Is it "worthy," i.e. is it worth the time for an editor to review and consider or select for his or her readership? Putting a title on your release takes careful thought. Be clear and succinct but try to make an exciting, compelling reason for the journalist or producer to read on. Editors and producers are inundated with releases on a daily basis. Don't use hackneyed expressions such as "unique" and "empowering."

I am a great proponent of the business owner writing his or her own press materials. It requires some skill, but it is nothing that cannot be learned with some time and perseverance. Give yourself a two-month period in which to get feature-style media coverage and remember that most monthly magazines have a three-month lead time for their stories.

You can peruse many current press releases from health care companies at: http://www.businesswire.com/healthlink. Reading other releases will give you a good sense of what works and what doesn't.

--Ellen Weis, principal,

Weis Public Relations, Berkeley

Research Is First Step to Launching Firm

Q: I want to start an executive search firm that specializes in finding international sales and marketing executives for U.S. companies that export products or would like to. How do I start marketing my service? Is there a publication or organization that can help me find an appropriate mailing list?

--Emery Udvardy, Palmdale

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A: The first step in starting your company is research, which will help you find out about available lists. Your research should include: Understanding the market--size and dynamics, including growth potential, economic influences and legislative influences, which are especially important in international commerce since staffing regulations vary from country to country.

You must also educate yourself about your competitors and their specific sales propositions. How do they position themselves in the market? What are their areas of expertise, price and speed of service, among other things? Then you should decide whether you will have a tight prospect focus, a niche in which you choose to operate, or whether you will have a more general market approach. This is particularly important as you decide how to market your service.

Identify some competitors that can serve as a benchmark: Look particularly for public companies where you can get some sense of the economics of the business--margins, costs, profit. Of course, a public company will have different economics than a small or start-up company, but diligent reading of 10Ks and annual reports can uncover very useful financial information.

The Internet provides a wealth of information. Use your favorite search engine. There are literally hundreds of thousands of entries (Alta Vista alone has more than 600,000 for a search defined as "international sales marketing executives"), so you'll have to refine your search.

Another productive research approach is to call prospective hiring managers, telling them you're planning to start an executive search firm and you'd like an information meeting to find out more about the marketplace. In addition to providing good anecdotal information, the people you meet could be business prospects for you in the future.

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