There's a general assumption that getting your company mentioned in the local paper is free publicity. Yes, it's publicity — but it ain't free In fact, if done poorly, it can be a most costly experiment in futility.

The vehicle for most public relations efforts is the tried and true press release. Press releases do work. The Columbia Journalism Review found that a single issue of the Wall Street Journal had 111 stories taken from press releases word-for-word and only 30% of these stories had additional facts collected by reporters. More to the point, an estimated 80% of all published newspaper and magazine stories began as a press release to promote a service or product and build image.

A press release is a written document with a clear headline, quotes and facts with attribution to support a news story, background on the featured company, release date, and basic contact information for followup.

Can the average remodeler do his own press release? Without question he can. The question is, should he? If he understands the process, absolutely, but that's a big if. Most remodelers have no experience and lack the skill sets required in journalism, making the result less than satisfactory.

Here are eight tips to help you prepare your next press release and increase your chance of seeing it in print.

  • Make sure it's newsworthy. Avoid blatant, self-serving “puffery.” That helps you lose credibility with an editor.
  • Write it so it doesn't have to be rewritten. Save the editor time. Make it stand on its own.
  • Use a style guide. Most newspapers follow the Associated Press Stylebook.
  • Develop a great lead. Make the editor want to read further.
  • Use the “pyramid.” This means the most important information is up top; the least important, at the bottom. Editors are forced to select articles that fit the column inches available. With the pyramid approach, the editor can cut off as much as they need to make it fit without diluting the message.
  • End with a boilerplate paragraph about your company — who you are, what you do, and contact information.
  • If photos are available, include them either attached to an e-mail, on a disc, or in the form of prints.
  • Proof carefully. Then proof again.
  • If this is all more than you bargained for, there are good reasons to hire an agency: An agency provides experience; it can prepare the press release in a manner recognized by an editor as professional; it's seen as a third-party submission; an agency may have a relationship with editors and maintain a media list; the cost of a professionally prepared press release (not an in-depth article) is small compared to the level of effort for an internal job; and, most important, staff at an agency know how to spell and punctuate. —Stephen Wilson is a partner in Biz-comm Inc., a marketing/communications firm specializing in the needs of America's remodelers, [email protected]. Download free press release samples at