How to Write a Press Release Part 3: Distribution

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This is the third of four posts on how to write a press release. Each post will focus on a different aspect of press release writing. This post focuses on distribution.

First, a quick invitation to our writers from other countries to offer ideas on press release distribution in other countries. Though I have a couple of international clients, there are only two, so I’m sure that others can offer some additional ideas for distribution in the U.K., Europe, Asia, Canada and other markets.

No, distribution isn’t technically “writing,” but if you’ve written it and no one sees it, does it make an impact? No. Maybe the client will be satisfied that the release has been written, but unless it gets some notice, the client is unlike to stay with you long.

Now not all releases will grab the attention of the press, as mentioned in the first of these posts. At times, the release is little more than fodder that is unlikely to get any attention beyond your client, but needs to be written anyway because your client thinks it’s important.

Even good, well-written press releases might not be picked up if the news of the day is particularly heavy, particularly if the release is time sensitive. Releases that are more evergreen may be used by the press in subsequent days, or may be able to be recycled as part of a pitch about a related feature.

To enhance the chance of the release being used, it’s important to target the right press outlets. Typically, PR Newswire, Business Wire, and Canada Newswire are the top choices because they’re available to all interested press. Most of the information on these services will be picked up by aggregators like Google News, but could be buried in the search engine listings. The wire services are pricey – not a problem for a PR firm of some size, but a serious issue for someone with only a couple of clients.

Another drawback from the wire services above, though I’ve used them all as a journalist, is that there are so many releases that yours could get lost in the noise, even if it is among the best of the day.

So whether these services are too pricey or not, it is good to send electronic releases to targeted press. A quick, though again costly, way to find the right press contacts is through Cision, formerly Bacon’s Information.

But it’s best to rely on your own resources. If the target is the local press, that’s easy enough to find through the newspaper and local electronic media information. If looking to go national or local, determine the end audience that the information should reach (consumers, professionals or a mix), then determine what press reaches those audiences. A little Google research is helpful here. Beyond that, you’ll want to confirm via e-mail phone who should get releases at different publications and Web sites. Just don’t inundate targeted press with releases, otherwise they’ll fall into the background noise of the hundreds of wire-based releases the press sees every day.

What are your thoughts?

Phil Britt is a 30-year writing veteran and has operated his own firm, S&P Enterprises, Inc.,(  for the last 17 years, with articles appearing in many national publications, primarily in financial services and technology. He has worked with companies and PR firms from around the country, some as a journalist, and others as a subcontractor (never working on the same item “from both sides of the desk.”).

This series on press releases was due to popular demand from the FWJ community. What would you like like to learn about?






5 responses
  1. doubleM Avatar

    Speaking as someone who has a foot in the freelance writing pond and the PR pond (as do a lot of us), I think it’s a good idea to specialize in certain sectors, if you’re going to be getting into the business of distributing press releases. Here’s why:

    Reporters receive (through various media) dozens, sometimes hundreds, of press releases a day, depending on their beat. We can talk at length about ways to make your release stand out in the inbox, and there are some good ways to do that; every little bit helps. However, having a catchy hed or a solid lede, or even *gasp* content relevant to the reporter’s beat isn’t always enough.

    The best way to turn a press release into a story is to pitch, pitch, pitch. For some of us, pitching a reporter is outside the lines for a freelance writer, for others it’s part of the services we offer. I tend to evaluate on a case-by-case basis, in large part dependent on whether I’m comfortable with the client and my knowledge of the sector. How to pitch a reporter is a blog post in and of itself, and perhaps beyond the scope of this blog as well. But I reiterate, the best way to turn a press release into a story is to pitch it.

    That’s why choosing to gravitate around a couple of sectors is crucial. First, it enables you to target. Having a health insurance story isn’t enough. Should it go to the reporters who cover the consumer side, the technology side, the policy and political side, or something entirely different? Let’s assume it’s a consumer story – is it a tips and tricks? A trend story? You can see where this is going, so I won’t belabor the point. Knowing some things about a particular sector, the reporters who cover it (and what aspects they cover), etc, is invaluable, because it enables you to be a useful provider of content rather than just another press release.

    The other, related, and more important reason is that specializing in certain sectors helps you build relationships with the press. That’s good in a couple of obvious ways. First, it helps get your calls answered and emails read. Having an existing relationship with a reporter, plain and simple, gives you a better chance of turning your client’s release into a story.

    Second, relationships help you give more value to your clients. Let’s take our health care example again. Say that, over the past year or so, you’ve pushed a few releases around, pitched them well, and gotten some stories. Then, out of the blue, a reporter you’ve talked to a couple of times shoots you an email – do you know someone he or she can talk to in the next hour about ways to save on health care for families with teenagers? Well, you’re not a flack, but it turns out you have a client who would be perfect for that, and you set it up. You’ve just given your client a mention in the press for the price of a phone call or an email on your part, and dramatically increased your value to the client.

    And third, it can help your bottom line. Back to the reporter query in the previous paragraph. If you’ve done enough writing in the health care industry, maybe you can be the reporter’s source, and you’ve garnered a nice clip to show off to potential clients. You’ve added value to yourself as a freelancer.

    And finally, who knows? If you don’t have a foot in the PR pond yet, you might find it’s something you dig. I came into this business through the back door, going from PR to freelance writing, but I still do some PR consulting on the side, because I enjoy it immensely.

    1. Phil Avatar


      Very good points. Most of the growth of my business in last three years is from PR side. While I generally stay in prime niches, I’ve been a business writer, which provides a good background for various releases (editors and reporters want to know the benefits, not the features).

      Actually, my next post on this is going to touch on some of what you mentioned, namely, follow-up.

  2. Nick Shin Avatar

    Disclosure: Search Marketing & Social Media Specialist @Marketwire.

    You didn’t mention Marketwire so I’m wondering if you have tried Marketwire for press release distribution?

    Aside from that, a very insightful post. I agree with many of the things you said, but have to disagree with this: “there are so many releases that yours could get lost in the noise, even if it is among the best of the day.” At Marketwire, we don’t pick and choose which press release to concentrate on, it is based on the targeted reach that you select, e.g., financial outlets only or the state of Illinois only, etc. Based on that, your press release gets pinged to the blogosphere and news outlets like Yahoo!, CNN, Google News, etc. The process is the same for all press releases. So my point is that it isn’t a matter of press release volume, it’s a matter of how engaging the news actually is.

    Hope that helps.

    Nick (@shinng)

    1. Phil Avatar

      No, I have seen Marketwire, but am not as familiar with it from the PR side. I know there are a few other outlets as well. The post was meant to be a basic distribution post, as someone gets more involved, they’ll learn more outlets — and they will change. For example, I hadn’t dealt with Bacon’s since the name change.

      Thanks for bringing this to our attention.

  3. Rachel Ezekiel-Fishbein Avatar
    Rachel Ezekiel-Fishbein

    The first response gave some dead-on advice, although I don’t agree that you have to specialize to be able to pitch effectively. You do need to know something about the media to whom you’re pitching, so you don’t just look like an idiot and in turn, make your client look bad.

    I find one of the best ways to build a good distribution list is by taking the time to make some phone calls before you even begin distribution. Go ahead and use a service to create your list (I recently used VOCUS, rather than Cision, based on a lot of research), but take the time to make some calls to make sure you have the right people at each media outlet. You’ll begin building relationships just by making these calls and asking questions that make it clear that you are trying to build a relationship and don’t want to dump press release upon press release upon the wrong person. Now, this really works best when you’re trying to build a long-term relationship for a client, not just sell one story. I’ve never met a journalist who didn’t appreciate being asked what type of information they find helpful, how they like to get it and the best time to call. Usually somewhere during that conversation, I am able to find some personal connection with that person that makes this more than a basic query and makes me a little less forgettable (setting the stage for the pitch call).

    One final note … I find many of my PR clients think distribution means sending out a release over a national wire and forgetting about it. I suppose that might work for a huge company that will garner press regardless, but for most companies, I find the personal touch of a targeted media list and a lot of phone contact is what it takes to get that story.

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