The press release has always occupied a key role in B2B communications throughout the move from paper media to increasingly digital online platforms. Its delivery may have changed – the mail, fax machines and printed press packs have given way to newswires, email and social media – but its strategic importance should never be in doubt.

Analysts at newswire and journalist database provider Cision have just produced a ‘2020 State of the Press Release’ report which scrutinized over 100,000 press releases distributed over its newswire from June 2019 – June 2020. The aim was to track common themes such as distribution times, composition, keywords and topics.

Here we provide an IBA opinion on four key takeaways from the report:

1. Timing – going behind the viewing figures to stand out from the crowd

One of the first areas highlighted in the report is timing. From a distribution perspective, the highest volume of news is sent at 1PM BST Monday – Thursday, with a spike on Tuesdays. Taking that a step further, 52% of copy is sent on the hour and half hour. For recipients, the Cision data shows the highest views on press release copy are seen on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday.

For the most part the IBA team would agree with the Cision summary that distributing news earlier in the week is likely to generate interest throughout the next couple of days – it also means you can send a follow-up pitch at the beginning of the following week. With journalists receiving hundreds of press releases a day (many irrelevant), avoiding popular distribution times on the hour and half hour is also a good tactic to stand out from the crowd.

But high eyeballs do not guarantee your release is reaching the right audience. Getting your news through to your target audience requires getting past the journalists at the publication which matter most to your industry focus. This is where the composition of your release is hugely influential.

2. Content – accuracy is key and a picture tells a thousand words

In one of its more self-reverential report statistics, Cision prides its accuracy and proof-reading capabilities as part of its newswire offering – accuracy rate for the entire year was above 99.82% every month. The key things which often slip the net in ‘final’ versions of press release drafts ranked as hyperlink errors, day/date discrepancies, misspellings and punctuation errors.

An agency worth their salt who actively pitch releases on behalf of their clients should also be able to provide a quality proof reading service. In fact, agencies can offer a further layer of expertise than the armies of proof-readers from newswire services – they have much more context on their client, their solutions and their industry terminology. There’s nothing worse for a seasoned journalist than a glaring industry faux par due to incorrect spelling or word use – see ‘materiel’ vs. ‘material’ in the defense sector as one example.

Unsurprisingly releases with text and one image receive double the amount of click-throughs than text-only, and that number more than doubles again when a release is shared with multiple images rather than only one. These simple steps help hugely boost the likelihood of your release being noticed by a journalist and shared with their audience – your key prospects. 

3. Copy length ­– grab their attention and keep it

The Cision analysis revealed some interesting insights in terms of headline and overall release length. Data showed the majority of releases were 400 words or less, but the average length of a press release is 686 words – with significant drop off in reading time for extra-long releases. Average headline length is 88 characters, with Cision recommending keywords should be included in the first 70 for visibility.

The IBA team has strict press release structure and methodology for this reason. Our internal dictum is to remember that reading is democratic, people vote with their eyes, and if a journalist cannot quickly scan a release for key information they will move on to the next item in their inbox. We also use two tier headings and bullets to help get the main focus of the release through before the body text.

The first paragraph should succinctly explain what a company announcement does new for whom. The second paragraph should expand on the ‘how’, with a deeper dive into the details behind the announcement. The third paragraph is a good time to introduce a quote from a relevant company expert. Following this formula ensures releases stay short and are easily consumed by hard-pressed journalists. The same benefits apply to readers once a release has been published.

4. Topic – the agenda goes far further than a single release

Finally, the Cision team analyzed keywords across the 10,000 releases and this gives an idea of the type of stories regularly communicated by organizations – ‘launches’, ‘expands’, ‘partners’, ‘appoints’, ‘research’ and ‘acquisition’ all ranked highly.

Agreed, but rather than taken in isolation, we believe that it’s the hidden agenda of a series of press releases about a customer win, new product, partnership or research results that will signal success and ensure your single release continues the narrative of your company momentum.

The real value of the press release comes when these types of stories are communicated over a period of time to demonstrate leadership, position a company around a key market development and paint a picture of growth and success. Journalists spot patterns, and although the first releases you distribute may not receive vast coverage levels, the journalists themselves are becoming subconsciously aware of your organization and you will reap the coverage rewards in the long-run.

Elevate the press release to the next level

When drafted, reviewed and delivered effectively, a single press release can be a strong tool to keep journalists in the loop about company developments. But when multiple releases are incorporated into a pre-planned ‘pattern of activity’ as part of your PR campaign and distributed on a regular basis, they are elevated into a powerful communications tool to get past a ‘gatekeeper’ and deliver clear and concise messaging to their readership – your customers, partners and prospects.

Jamie Kightley is Head of Client Services at IBA International.

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