The press release is a powerful but under-used communications tool that when executed correctly can raise the profile of any medical practice. Most important is ensuring that a press release zeroes in on what newsworthy and timely, and avoiding marketing language.
Every medical practice strives to bring in new patients, build its reputation, and become a respected member of its local business community. Marketing makes that happen, but not all strategies are created equal; the best strategies use every tool in the box to maximum effect. The time-honored press release is a powerful but often neglected means for generating the kind of “buzz” that can elevate a medical practice’s profile. The trick is knowing how to write one that hits all the right notes.
Writing an effective press release doesn’t require extraordinary abilities.
The good news is that writing an effective press release that journalists find interesting enough to read and perhaps even follow up on doesn’t require extraordinary abilities. If you can write well and know how to distill a newsworthy message to its essence, then you’re already halfway there.
WHY PRESS RELEASES?
Alongside a modern, responsive website and strong social media presence, a public relations campaign is the third component of a well-rounded marketing strategy. The goal of the press release is to share timely news updates with journalists and the public. That “news” doesn’t have to be earth-shattering; it only needs to be something happening right now that people may want to know about.
When journalists decide to write a more in-depth story based on a press release, that is when you can see remarkable return on investment. Being featured in local or national mainstream media is the most cost-effective way to funnel patients toward the practice, establish oneself as a thought leader and innovator, and inch closer to becoming a household name.
DECONSTRUCTING A GREAT PRESS RELEASE
According to press release distribution service eReleases.com, following the established format makes journalists happy.1 Getting creative with the text is okay, but an “experimental” format just looks unprofessional. To that end, all press releases have certain major elements in common:
- Lead sentence or paragraph;
- Body and quotes;
- Boilerplate; and
- Contact info.
The headline of a press release is your first, best chance to grab a journalist’s attention and encourage him or her to read the announcement in its entirety. Make it honest, relevant, and engaging. At all costs, avoid a headline that sounds like the spiel of a used car salesperson. On that note, some words you might want to avoid are:
- Unique; and
- Best, most, or greatest.
Any claims about a product or service must be supportable. It is “fantastic” if you think your practice has the best customer service in town, but the statement means nothing if you can’t prove it in some objective way. Subjective language should, therefore, be avoided.
In the age of Twitter and other social media, it is a good idea to keep headlines under 140 characters. Some journalists will quickly share an intriguing story with their own networks, which can, in turn, put your news in front of “influencers.” A snappy headline coupled with a shortened URL can spread like wildfire in the Twitter-verse.
A subhead is an optional element directly beneath the headline, written as a complete sentence. If there is more information to relay than can reasonably fit in a headline, or if the headline just needs some elaboration, then a subhead can do that job. But think carefully about whether the lead sentence of the press release can’t do this work by itself. As we’ll see again and again, less is more.
The dateline, the first element in the body of the release, simply conveys the location from which the news originates and the date of the release. Standard format for datelines on PRNewswire, the leading electronic distributor of press releases, is city, state, month, day, and year (e.g., Baltimore, Md., June 12, 2017).
The Lead Sentence
After the headline, the first sentence of a press release is the most important element in terms of communicating the announcement and expressing why it is notable. It should be provocative and memorable without being cliché — a strong hook is made of facts, not fluff.
Here is a litmus test for the first few sections of a press release: A reader should know exactly what the story is about after reading the headline and first sentence. If the picture is still hazy, then the writing is not as “tight” as it should be.
Many writers find that it is more practical to compose the body text first, saving the headline and first sentence for last. After fleshing out the whole narrative, it can be easier to then produce a succinct headline and introductory sentence that precisely summarizes the announcement.
PRNewswire recommends placing a bare URL (not anchored text) in the first paragraph.2 This should be a link to the page that has the most relevance for the story at hand. In many instances, this will be the practice’s homepage.
Body and Quotes
When it comes to the body of a press release, less is indeed more. Consider that journalists spend all day reading these sorts of announcements. Writing 1000 words when 450 would do the job is not an ideal tactic, no matter how much you have to say. Consider whether you’re trying to shove too much into a single announcement; if you have two releases’ worth of newsworthy information, then write two press releases.
Providing a quote from someone at the center of the story adds a human element and lends authority to the person being quoted. It is completely acceptable for quotes to be personal and emotive. This is especially effective for a human interest–type story, such as a patient’s incredible recovery from a serious illness or injury.
The boilerplate is a short paragraph presenting the broad details of the medical practice, such as when it was founded, and the types of procedures performed there. You may have a ready-made boilerplate on the company’s “about” page. The convenient thing about a boilerplate is that you can reuse it verbatim on future press releases.
Sometimes, journalists or other people in the industry will read a press release and be so intrigued they’ll want to go straight to the source—namely, the publisher of the announcement. Therefore, the very last item of a press release should include at least:
- The media contact’s name and title;
- The company name;
- The company or media contact’s phone number;
- The company or media contact’s e-mail address; and
- The website URL.
STYLE AND SUBSTANCE
Let’s clear up some common misconceptions. A press release is not:
- An overt advertisement;
- A feature story aimed solely at general readers; or
- A jargon-heavy, technical article more suited to a research publication.
The best press releases are written in plain English and get directly to the point. Waiting until the middle or end of the release to share the newsworthy information (i.e., burying the lead) is a surefire way to get an announcement ignored by the very people you want to see it.
It is acceptable, even desirable, to inject some personality and humor into a press release. Just don’t go overboard. Think about the type of news being discussed when deciding on the tone of the release.
MAKE A STRONG CALL TO ACTION
Most, but not necessarily all, press releases need a call to action, in either the first or last paragraph, or both. Typically, this is the “Do you want to know more?” aspect of the announcement. It is an invitation for the reader to investigate further, gather more data, cultivate some follow-up questions, and so on. For medical practices, this usually consists of pointing to a URL. The key is to make the call to action apparent without coming off like an elevator pitch.
For a single medical office in Anytown, USA, it usually is not necessary to blast an announcement from sea to shining sea. It is far more useful to make sure that all the best-known local and regional media outlets in your area get your news. To that end, tailoring a message with localization in mind is a smart move. For example, imagine how you might address a specific demographic group or speak to a need that is especially pressing in your community today.
IDEAS FOR PRESS RELEASES
Although it may not seem that a medical practice generates much in the way of “news,” that would be a misconception. All it takes is a little brainstorming to come up with multiple ideas for announcements. Some general suggestions include:
- Big changes at the practice: Purchasing new equipment, adding a new and innovative procedure, or expanding or renovating the physical space are all newsworthy events.
- Major milestones: Numbers are always compelling, so spread the word when a procedure has been successfully performed by the practice 100 (or 500 or 1000) times.
- Promotions: Free examinations, seasonal discounts, enticements for new patients, and related special offers can all be newsworthy when presented the right way; just avoid advertising language.
- Community involvement: Highlight donations of time or resources to underprivileged people or sponsorship of a fundraising event. The goal here is to position the practice as a member of the community and raise awareness of local issues that may be underreported.
- Awards: Whether for the practice as a whole or for individual practitioners, it never hurts to brag just a little bit about being recognized for excellence.
- Timely, topical research: To show that a practice is at the cutting edge in its field, comment on a relevant (and recent) study. Readers appreciate it when the technical language of medical journals can be recrafted into plain English while preserving the major points.
HOW TO EXTEND THE REACH AND POWER OF PRESS RELEASES
Thanks to the Internet, press releases can now reach a vast national audience almost instantly. Or course, that immense reach is a moot point if the press release is not well-conceived and deserving of attention to begin with.
Make social media work overtime for you by encouraging staff to share links to press releases within their own networks.3 Even more powerful would be a patient electing to share this kind of information proactively. The potential for the organic spread of news items has truly leveled the playing field.
Done right, a press release is an efficient way to generate interest in a medical practice, enhance its standing in the community, and, ultimately, reel in new patients. The most important points to remember are these:
- A press release is not an advertisement.
- Journalists want facts, not jargon or sensationalism.
- Wordiness is frowned upon.
Keep those lessons in mind, and your marketing strategy will be on the path to success.
Finally, quality should always be the number one priority. Although it is true that the Internet enables just about anyone to reach a vast audience, that audience won’t pay attention if the content isn’t both relevant and well communicated. Nowhere is that more true than with press releases.
1. How to get better media coverage for your press release. www.ereleases.com/pr-fuel/get-better-media-coverage-release/. Accessed March 1, 2017.
2. Optimizing press releases: SEO is now about natural writing, social sharing & interesting content. PRNewswire.com. www.prnewswire.my/knowledge-center/online-public-relations/optimizing-pressreleases-seo-is-now-about-natural-writing-social-sharing-interesting-content-emea.html. Accessed February 22, 2017.
3. 4 ways to get your medical staff into PR mode. Ragan’s Health Care Communication News. www.healthcarecommunication.com/Main/Articles/15609.aspx. Accessed February 22, 2017.
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This article was published in The Journal of Medical Practice Management®, Volume 33, Number 1, pages 55-57.