There’s an art to writing press releases, but that art is separate from getting them actually picked up and acted upon by reporters and editors. I’ll get into what makes a well-written solar press release in a bit, but regardless of how well your release is written, you still may get coverage for the following reasons:
- You have a relationship with the reporter, editor, or publisher. If a reporter knows your brand’s PR contact or you've “worked together” as a source for articles, this is PR gold. Don't mess this relationship up. Many press release mistakes wil be forgiven and you will get favorable attention simply because you have contributed to a past article.
- You’ve advertised in the media outlet before. I’d like to think that there’s no pay-for-play in the media, but the reality is that you will be on an editor’s radar if you’ve advertised in their publication. That doesn’t mean your news automatically will get published or that you’ll be interviewed for an article, but at least the editor has heard of your solar brand and may have more patience to read beyond the headline and subject line.
- You’re a brand name solar widget company. In the B-to-B solar world, there are plenty of “name brands” that get attention simply because they’re known and/or have been around the solar business block for years. I’m not going to name any panel manufacturers or inverter co’s here. We all know the top tiers, and it’s often of interest to read and report on what the “leaders” are up to, even when it appears to be routine. Same goes for the large national installers who have invested a great deal of money on PR and advertising. As a reporter, you have to at least see what these companies are up to and perhaps report about it.
- You’re lucky it’s a slow news day. Sometimes—especially in the print world—there are empty pages that need to be filled and no freelance articles to fill it. Your press release can be the lucky filler, but don't count on luck for consistent publicity.
- It’s automatic. RenewableEnergyWorld.com is just one of many sites that will publish your unedited solar press releases. So, regardless of how well it’s written, it’s out there for a reporter to (hopefully) find.
Of the above methods for getting press attention, the most powerful on the list is #1. If you’re relied upon as a source and have proven yourself knowledgeable, accurate, and relatively objective, there’s a huge likelihood that the reporter will continue to look to you as a source for solar news for the appropriate story, and/or sum up your press release for a quick news story.
But what if you haven’t proven yourself as a useful solar source, or you’re not a veteran solar brand, or you don’t have a big ad budget? That’s when the art of the press release gives you a fighting chance for publication. And publication is so important. Being mentioned by a reporter gives your brand authority from an objective voice—the reporter.
The good news is that reporters need news stories. That’s their job, so on the one hand, you're providing a valuable service. On the other hand, you’re one of many solar companies trying to provide that service, so try to adhere to these tips and tricks for writing news-worthy solar press releases:
- Write a compelling title and summary paragraph and be as superlative as possible. This is obvious, yet most important, especially for small or low brand recognition companies. With so much news filling up email boxes, reporters have a very short-attention span. So, you must grab their attention with a bold headline that is somehow “ground breaking.” If you’re not an established brand and have just completed a 10 kW install, that’s not going to grab much attention. However…if it’s the first 10 kW in Little Town, USA, or the largest, or any other extreme superlative, then your chance to get noticed dramatically increases. Similarly, something “new” is eye-catching, but your opening paragraph better succinctly explain why that new thing is so innovative and what it means for the audience you're trying to reach. Another good subject matter: Jobs. Everyone loves an increase in job story, so when possible, celebrate and write about growing solar jobs.
- Keep it as simple as possible. Solar can be complex, but it’s your job as a press release writer to make the topic as simple as possible, yet not generic. If the writer doesn't understand your product or service, that's a bad start, so avoid hiring interns and generic PR companies to write press releases on topics they don't understand. On the other extreme, don't be so technical that you make the reporter have to read the sentence twice. Use technical words and acronyms only when necessary. Give brief examples or make analogies to explain relevant concepts.
- Proof it. We all make mistakes, but you can only make one first impression. A single typo—especially in the first paragraph or two—can be enough to make a reporter hit the delete button, especially for low-radar companies. Don’t give editors any excuse to dismiss you as being an amateur. How your press release is written reflects on your entire company, which is counting on you to do your best. So, be sure to have someone else read your release carefully for typos before you send it out. Finally, don't forget to test/click on all embedded web links!
- Include important search terms. Reporters often use search engines for research on a topic, so you want your release to come up on the first news page. The proper key words, especially in the title and opening paragraph, push your news to the top of the solar news heap. (That’s another reason RenewableEnergyWorld.com's Total Access press release service is valuable; the site is highly ranked on Google.)
- Tell stories. Have a beginning, middle, and end. If you don't have a "first," or a "new" item of news, tell a story about how your solar yada-yada somehow affects people or even the animal kingdom. Reporters are non-fiction story tellers, even when it’s about the solar business. So, frame your press release with a challenge and how your solar product or service overcame that challenge with a happy solar ending.
- Be sure to include your "About Our Solar Company" blurb and contact information at the end. Don’t make reporters and editors hunt down your website to learn about who you are and what you do. Give them a brief paragraph at the bottom of every press release. This provides easy context for what they may write about you. Naturally, an email address provides a direct way for them to ask follow up questions. Including a phone number works too.
- Forget writing that you’re "a leading" solar widget company. I wrote an entire blog post about why saying you're a "leading" solar anything is a useless distraction. Bottom line, if you’re really a leading solar company, then the reporter knows that. If you’re not a leading solar company, then ...you’re not—and the reporter knows that too. Either way, it's unnecessary. So, just nix “leading” and get to the meat and potatoes of why you’re an important piece of solar news today.
Of course, there are more tactics, but at least pay attention to the basics above. The more solar companies make news and gain positive press, the better our industry will survive the news attacks from gas/oil/coal/nuke-backed politicians and their news and blogosphere lackeys. So, please, write effective, newsworthy press releases, tell solar stories, and…UnThink Solar.
Tor Valenza a.k.a. “Solar Fred” develops social media strategies and advises solar companies on marketing, communications, and branding. Contact him through UnThink Solar or follow him on Twitter @SolarFred.