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January 23, 2015

Go on – Toot Your own Horn!

Caroline Smith

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I don't have much experience of writing press releases, but I certainly have a lot of experience of reading them!

In my previous job, I used to write company case studies on different areas of HR best practice for an online publication. This meant I regularly had to find examples of organizations that performed well in a particular area of HR, such as employee engagement, stress management, or employer branding. The purpose of the case studies was to enable our readers – typically HR directors and managers – to incorporate what they'd read into their own organizations.

Many of the organizations we featured were ones you might have expected: large multinationals, with huge HR teams and lots of money at their disposal. However, I made a conscious decision to write about a range of companies, including the smaller ones, because a) our readership was diverse, and I wanted our case studies to represent them, and b) not all HR teams have the resources to emulate the larger corporations, but still have the talent and imagination to do things well. Plus, c), I always found it quite fun to find out about, shall we say, random organizations!

But while discovering what larger companies were up to was always easy, because they'd regu:larly feature in other HR magazines or in the national press, the smaller organizations were harder to research. But one way I found my leads was by looking for press releases on whatever subject I happened to be researching at the time.

For example, I once featured a small but growing debt-collection company after I had read a press release on its website about a fantastic internal communications project that it had just launched. Despite the challenging industry it was in, it had developed a really positive culture and employee engagement was high, largely thanks to its focus on recognizing team members for their hard work and achievements.

Following the publication of my case study, the company used it to enter the Best Internal Communications Strategy category of a national HR award, and won, despite being the smallest and least well-known company in the running! It just goes to show how a well-written and timely press release can help raise an organization's profile and reputation, and how important it is for companies – large and small – to toot their own horns every now and then, when the time is right. You never know what the consequences might be.

Today's article is about how to write a good press release, and we consider all the things you need to think about when writing one, including how to decide whether your story is newsworthy. We explore what journalists tend to look for when deciding whether to use a press release, such as a human interest angle and the ease with which they can turn it into something that people might want to read.

The article guides you through writing and structuring your press release. This includes the embargo (whether you should specify a date and time for it to be published), how to grab your reader's attention, what information you should include, and the language you should use to achieve maximum impact.

We also look at the best way organizations can use press releases to communicate in a crisis, including how to decide what information to include and when to send them out.

For example, if you're faced with an emergency, the key is to release something that will set people's minds at rest as quickly as possible. Even if you don't have all the answers, it's better to send out a holding response because, otherwise, people – especially the media – will speculate, and may jump to the wrong conclusions. And, equally, it's important to keep those inside your organization informed, so that they are reassured and will know how to respond to any questions they may be asked.

Question: Do you have any tips on how to get the most from your press releases? We'd love to hear from you, so share your experiences below!

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