You’re hip-deep in trying to get the second season of your podcast off the ground and focused on improving your audience reach. Your listenership for season one was either disappointing, not too shabby, or surprising, or maybe even as expected, but no matter what, you want to be reaching more people’s ears. Figuring out how to do that is a nightmare for the indie podcaster, because marketing your podcast is a minefield of research articles–not detailed enough, overwhelming, too many buzzwords, geared towards the wrong style of community or genre of podcasting, business-oriented and not indie-oriented. But something’s clear: you’ve got to reach out to reviewers and reporters somehow.
One of the best tools in your media outreach arsenal is a press release, and a well-written and constructed press release is a key to a reporter’s memory.
What exactly is a press release?
A press release, generally, is an informational bulletin for the press about a company, product, event, or creative work that you want journalists to be aware of, think about, and hopefully publish an article to help both your outreach and your brand. Pulling from Wil Williams’ review guidelines here is pretty helpful for looking at what it might mean for podcasts and freelance reporters:
Press releases are short notices of something newsworthy about your podcast or network, usually relating to a new release, a new season, an exciting actor being cast, etc… they should be thought of as a way to keep me informed of important updates on your podcast or network.
At its core, a press release is for when you have an announcement, something major that might hook a reporter’s attention. This means news like:
- launching a new podcast or network
- dropping a new season or a special series
- launching a crowdfunding event
- your podcast joining a network
- an adaptation deal and updates pertaining to it
- a live show or other promotional event
When you look up press releases, you get a ton of articles telling you about the six, seven, nine, different kinds of press releases and they don’t all appear to exactly agree. They’re all mainly geared towards public relations for companies and businesses and organizations, and not towards freelancing creative work or independent creative producers, like podcasts. Additionally, they tend to that heavy use of buzzwords that public relations professionals have to learn.
What’s most important is having an idea of the general content that has to go in every press release, no matter what, and to look up any specifics if you think it’s necessary. That means this article is going to focus on what’s usually called an “announcement release” or “general news release”, with minor variations depending on what’s necessary for podcasts, and will teach you some important terminology.
What should I expect from a press release?
Manage your expectations. A press release is only one step in your press outreach toolkit (comprised also of things like your website, a press kit, a press list, and your elevator pitch) and it can only do so much. I do think that a press release is one of the first steps, because a press release is standardized, happens only once, and you can email it to any number of media outlets and reporters.
From just a press release, you shouldn’t expect immediate attention and an article, especially if you aren’t working for a popular and funded network or organization. Someone might follow-up, but reporters and critics receive press releases in droves and following up on all of them, even with a reply email, is unlikely because then they’d just spend all day doing that. The chance of someone following up increases with the effectiveness of your press releases and the focus of your pitch.
If your press release is professional, well-worded, and considered, the reporter may do some light rewriting and publish it just as you’ve sent it to them, which is the preferred method for many outlets. It’s rarer, in my experience, that someone will email you back asking for an interview.
Actually writing the darn thing
All these things in mind, you do still have to actually write a press release. If you like templates, here’s one you can copy and modify as you need to. I based it slightly off of a template provided by Erin Kyan, creator of the Love and Luck podcast (which we’ll be seeing some examples from later). If you prefer to create your own template, here’s a handy checklist based on what I’m going to be discussing below.
Three Core Rules
- No One-Size-Fits-All. What works for one podcast will not work verbatim for another. We’ll be looking at some examples here from different podcasts, but be sure to write it from the stance of your podcast.
- The Five W’s. Every single press release needs to answer the five W’s of journalism: who, what, when, where, why. We’ll go over this in more detail when discussing specific aspects of the press release.
- Keep It Short! Press releases should never be longer than one A4 page. Key to having a successful press release is having everything in the right order, to the point, and professional. And I’ll be honest: press releases from big companies break this rule all the time, sometimes good and hard, because they can get away with it. Don’t use them as an example.
Let’s drill down into the specifics. How do you write this looming beast of a press relations necessity? Below is an outline of the central component of a press release and some best practices for formatting. You should consider these guidelines! Many things in terms of placement and content are fluid; you just need to be sure that all of your important information is present and its organization is logical.
I. Release Date and Media Embargo
This information goes up at the top of the page or at the beginning of the body, somewhere prominent, because it’s the date that you go public with your news. Sometimes, you’ll see things like “FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE”; this means that it’s public right now and press doesn’t have to wait to publish. Without this or an embargo date, a journalist will default to assuming this is material that can be published immediately.
What does “an embargo” mean?
A press embargo is a requirement from a source (that’s you, the podcaster) to the press that certain information not be released to the public until a specific date. Releasing information before the embargo means that press outlet or person will have restricted access to information about the source’s work in the future, potentially banned from information entirely.
For perfect clarity, I suggest writing something like “embargoed until [date]” and making it red, if you don’t want anyone to talk about before a certain date. There’s nothing worse than waiting to release some big news and a journalist getting the jump not only on their competition, but on you and messing up your entire marketing plan.
Getting those press releases done early and setting an embargo helps you coordinate the public release and helps journalists prep for a more in-depth look about your work. However, embargoes are really only useful for certain things: you’ll want to hold back on information about your TV adaptation deal, but probably not on your donation drive.
II. The Title
Remember two things:
- press releases are often only lightly rewritten before publishing, especially if they’re labeled ‘for immediate release’
- your need to grab the attention of your reader
The best way to snag someone’s attention is a snazzy, but explanatory, title. It needs to not be very long, and it needs to intrigue readers while delivering the main point of your press release. Writing titles is hard, and this is important because this is what’s going into your email subject line, so spend some time brainstorming and trying titles out. Send them to your friends and your team for input. They’ll get easier with practice.
When in doubt about how many details to include in your title, make a subtitle. I don’t personally think subtitles are mandatory for press releases, but they’re useful to help further engage a reader. They’ll be a little more detailed, can be a little longer, and will add a bit of context if you feel you need it.
So by now, you should have a top heading that looks something like this:
This is the header portion of a press release from Love and Luck, for a preview session of their very first season in association with a local festival. They’ve got all the information that’s needed and some exciting key words (new! Australian! LGBTIQA+!) including the logo of the festival and a wonderful banner image of their podcast artwork (we’ll discuss more about images later).
III. The Text
Here’s where things get a little tricky. You need to write a quick summation of your newsworthy event and you have to deliver all of the important information while not sacrificing the central goal in favor of expediency. The general order of information needed is the dateline, the podcast and event in one sentence, the five W’s, and attention devoted to why.
What’s a “dateline”?
The dateline is the very first part of your press release’s body, which indicates the when and the where of the podcast release. That means the city the podcast is centrally produced in, the state and country if necessary, and the day of the public release.
Some press releases remove either the day form the dateline, if it’s a same-day release, or the production city, especially for remotely-handled productions that may have multiple cities involved. That’s fine! Most major outlets will prefer that be formatted according to the Associated Press guidelines — that means the city in all caps, and the state abbreviated, and the country spelled out entirely if necessary. Here’s an AP style guide cheat sheet and a detailed cheat sheet for handling countries other than the United States. Isn’t the internet wonderful?
Right after the dateline, usually following a dash, is the first paragraph of your press release, a vastly important component of your text. This is the part that will encourage a journalist to keep reading. The first sentence needs to head straight into the point of the press release, the what, and the paragraph should have lots of hooks to make sure it snags people’s attention.
The rest of this section should be no more than one to three small paragraphs, hitting all the major W’s as fast as possible and spending some time lingering on why. What your actual text looks like will vary depending on what it is you’re announcing or releasing, but you should always make sure to explain why — remember you’re writing this to gain new listeners and supporters, so spending time on the why of your event is going to make people think about why they would want to join your audience!
Take a look at this section from Hug House Productions‘ announcement for their inaugural podcast Scoring Magic:
The purposeful and evocative lingering on what the podcast is going to sound like and aim for engages the imagination. This is the kind of content you want most in your press release: a memorable depiction of what you’re all about and why whatever it is you’re doing matters.
IV. The Boilerplate
You’ve definitely already written up something that can be lightly edited to become a boilerplate if you’ve already created a press kit or a podcast website.
What’s a “boilerplate”?
The evergreen “about us” section of a press release, which remains consistent across any and all future press releases.
The boilerplate goes after all your text, with a small header that says “about” or “about us” or similar, and shouldn’t be any longer than one paragraph (around 100-125 words). You should include the following:
- a description of your podcast
- your tagline
- the audiences you serve
- impressive statistics, like download numbers or chart placements
- awards you’ve won or been nominated for
Check out this great boilerplate from Accession’s press release about their crowdfunding campaign for season 2:
V. Contact Information
Slap all of your contact information into a section in the corner that best suits your layout (usually the bottom right-hand corner). That means the name and job title of the person(s) to get in touch with to ask for an interview or more information, your podcast’s website, email, and social media handles, a phone number if possible, and relevant links to a press kit and an event page if you have one.
Do not put a line about getting in touch for an interview or hoping to see a review directly into your press release text. The contact information block and the email itself will do all that work for you. If someone wants to follow-up, you’ve given them all the tools they need in order to do so. For gentle encouragement, you can label the content block as “For media enquiries, contact:” instead.
The biggest problem when writing your press release is figuring out how to make it engaging and interesting when your best option to be as to-the-point as possible. Quotes, images, and links are the best options for keeping your body paragraphs active.
You should have at least one quote from someone related to your podcast, so that people reading can get some insight into what went into it. You can quote yourself, talking about the design or goals you had for the podcast, or your sound designer, your actors, and so on. The people like quotes.
You can also include quotes from listeners, either from previous seasons or beta listeners. This is especially great in press releases for new seasons or special episodes. Remember that this is not just for journalists, but also for potential listeners who may read this press release when published.
Images drive engagement! Make sure to include a nice banner photo or picture of some kind, either art associated with your podcast or a photo of the creators. Ideally, also include your podcast art somewhere if you haven’t already so that people can identify your logo when they go to subscribe.
Links within your text are important so that people who are interested can just click on through for more information. Be sure to link to your website in the contact information box or within your text (you need a website and no, your podcast host’s automatically generated page is not your website). Don’t use too many links, however; some places have caps on how many links you can include and, in general, they’re just distracting.
One primary link is plenty, with a couple more if you are doing things like selling tickets or accepting submissions. Essentially, make sure you have links to key, important actions that you want your audience to take, like listening to a trailer for instance. Take a look at these great press releases from Death in Ice Valley and Crooked Media’s This Land.
Sending the Press Release
I don’t know about you, but every time I send a professional email with an attachment, I freeze up when I get to the body and subject line. What do I write? Do I snazz it up? Keep it short? Explanatory? Do I copy-paste everything and send it in the body text? And then I end up pressing the send button and realizing five minutes later I forgot to address the person I’m talking to and, oh there’s a blank space where I should have written a word.
What do I put in the email?
You’re going to be sending your press release, along with any other material (advance episodes, logos), as an attachment. Keep the body of your email short and to the point, like you would with any cold pitch: introduce yourself, tell them to see the press release for your podcast, and let them know you’re happy to answer questions and are available for interviews and quotes. It’s generally good practice to also copy-paste the body of the press release under the email after a line break. This makes it easier for outlets who like to copy-paste press releases directly to their website (a fairly common practice, remember) to do so.
Remember that some email clients cut off subject lines after the first five or so words, depending on what client they’re using. Those first five words have to be the most meaty of the subject, so don’t write “Press Release: The New Podcast from This Popular Indie Podcaster You Like” because all they’ll see is “Press Release: The New Podcast”, and that’s boring. Be smart with how you title. You don’t need to inform them in the subject line that it’s a press release.
Do I personalize the email?
It depends. The best practice is to write up a form email that you can modify slightly and personalize for each outlet or journalist you send it to in order to clue them into why they might be interested and get their attention. Remember that the email text is point of first contact! You want to show that you’ve done your research.
However, it’s also fairly common, at least in some areas, to write one email for everyone, but then use a mail merge so that it looks personalized (exactly how some newsletters look like they’re being sent directly to you). Here’s a link to how to do that in Microsoft Word.
Press Release: Success!
Congratulations! You’ve gone and created a press release!
Create a template for your productions that you can easily create new press releases from and that way you aren’t starting from scratch every time. Update your website to include a page for the press that has links to PDFs of all the press releases you’ve sent out; it’s a seriously useful record. Remember to tweak your language as you grow and learn; there’s a lot more to press relations and marketing than I can fit in this how-to! The most important lesson of all, however, is this:
Send that press release. You never know what could happen.
References and More Examples
Here is a list of all the podcasts and productions whose press releases were sampled from. Also, there are some links to more press releases posted online so you can check out variety in style, formatting, layout, and topic. Special thanks to Erin Kyan of Love and Luck for providing editing, insight, and the first sample template that got me started.