PR Writing: the Product/Service Release
(From Week Four lecture notes)

    Product releases are a different type of announcement release – but for all their differences, they are still among that wide category of press releases known as announcement releases. That is, they are not

      Spot news, or
      Bad news, or
      Response/reaction releases

    or other types of releases where you, the PR writer, do not have control of the release date.

    For Product Releases, you do have control of the release date , as with other announcement releases. But you have to take a slightly different approach.

    What is a product release? It is an announcement release that you do as part of a marketing campaign for a new product or service – in our growing service economy, you're more likely to promote a service than a product.

    Obviously, a new product or service is going to be 'news' in a trade magazine – and often you'll get listed without even trying, in the "new products" columns of the local papers. But that's not the objective of a product release.

    Even an intern who mails out a brochure to the 'trades' will get the product noticed – But PR Writers worth their salt are not going to be satisfied with the trades or the "new products" columns – that might be good enough for the grad students at other schools, but Columbia College professionals are going to strive to put their client's new product or service on the front page – or at least the front page of the business section – or education section, or food section – as news!

    In order to make it 'news' you have to give your story a sharp news angle as you prepare your Message Planner. With a product release, even more than other types of release, you can expect the editor to ask "So What?" There will be a lot of skepticism that you are simply trying to get a free ad out of it, rather than helping the editor with a good news story. You have to anticipate that skepticism, and head it off. Good thing you know what editors look for in a news story, isn't it...?

    Now you have to go the next step, and write your press release 'backwards' so the editor doesn't throw it away as a cheap marketing ploy. If your release looks like a product promotion flier, why should the editor entertain it for a minute? He or she is all about news, not pushing new products. 'Backwards', in this case, means going from the general to the specific.

    Now, this is very important to keep in mind: Instead of leading with the 5 W's in your first paragraph, your release will begin by establishing the need for your product or service. What problem does it solve. What need does it fill? Why is it "news" that a social value is crying for attention, and your product or service is just the solution that folks have been waiting for?

    Once you've established that need, without hype, then you can work your way back to the wonders of the product itself. This may mean that the brand name of the manufacturer or service provider – that is, your client – may not get mentioned until the second page of the release.

    Every marketing campaign for a new product or service highlights a USP – a unique selling proposition, which gives the product its market niche. Your new soap isn't like any other soap. It floats! Oh, there's already a soap that floats? Then yours floats and it's half the price of the other one that floats. There's already another half-price floating soap? Then yours is cheap, floats, and is shaped like a cell phone – get the picture? Hopefully your USP will be a little more persuasive than my example...

    Whatever your USP, your job as a PR writer will be to set the stage for the product – in effect, to create the context for the features your product promises... If your product is the answer, what's the question?? – or another way of remembering this

      PR = Problem / Resolution
      • ...what's the "problem" that creates a need for your product or service, and
      • ...what is the resolution of that problem made possible by your product or service?

    But remember – you can't tout your product too obviously. To get the attention it deserves, your story must be NEWS, not promotion. So don't mention the brand name in the lead. For example, let's say your product is something like the one described below. Here's a lead you would not want to go with:

      Natgo, Inc., has developed a conversion kit, selling for only $150, that will enable cars to operate on natural gas instead of gasoline – at a savings of about $50 every 1,000 miles.

    Now that happens to be a great lead graf for a news story – it's the graf you would hope a reporter would write once your press release has done its job – but if YOU wrote it that way, the editor might throw it out before a reporter even gets a chance at it, because it's so obviously a promotional piece about a company, Natgo.

    Instead, here is how a product release might finesse the editor:

      Would you be willing to pay $150 for a conversion kit that would let your car use cheaper, cleaner natural gas – and give you savings of $50 every 1,000 miles? A new product on the market promises to do just that, and its manufacturer is betting that there are millions ready to make the switch.

    As you will learn in a later lesson, there are different kinds of lead that work better for certain kinds of press release, including feature releases and product releases. The second graf of this release might continue to describe the need or desire for a product like this one, or its advantages (for example, environmental implications) and still not mention the company itself. The more you can paint a newsworthy picture without mentioning your client, the more likely you are to win the editor over to your story. Don't worry, the manufacturer – your client – will be included – but as news and not as a product plug.

    It is rare, but conceivable, that a product release won't even mention your client's name – not likely, but it happens. For example, if your client manufactures printer ink cartridge refills, you might do a release about a new generation of printers, and talk all about Epson and Hewlett-Packard, without ever mentioning Hubert's Ink, your client. Or a dairy association might promote recipes using dairy products without identifying itself in the release. We're not talking about deception here – after all, the letterhead of the press release makes it clear where the story originates – but the content of the story might well omit mention of the client.