Over the last 20 or so years in my career as a journalist, I have seen the best and the worst kinds of press releases.

There’s the long, verbose kind that are full of images large enough to crash your inbox to those that are so scant you can’t really tell what they’re about. And then there are those that are snappy, interesting and fun to read.

As a small business owner who may not be able to afford a publicist to contact media on your behalf, you need to find cost-effective ways to let journalists know about you, what you do, and why they should be interested in you.

Here are five tips to writing a release for your business, event or perhaps about yourself as an expert for hire that will make a journalist sit up and take notice.

Find your story
Have a think about what it is about your business that’s interesting and special, and what would make others interested in it too. Not everyone is going to reinvent the iPod, introduce life-changing fintech or launch the next Uber, but every business has a story. It could be the needs you meet or the problems you solve. You might head up a family-run business that’s been operating for generations or you may specifically employ older/disadvantaged people. Sometimes what makes a business stand out is a really simple thing.

Find the best media contacts
The best journalists to write about your business or event aren’t always the ones who have the highest circulations. They’re the ones whose stories reach your demographic. So who are your customers and where do they get their news? Are you a bridal dressmaker pitching to women who might be getting married soon? Bridal magazines or lifestyle sections of newspapers might suit best. Local business? You need newspapers, bloggers and even council newsletters in your area. Do the legwork and start a spreadsheet of journalists and their details as well as deadlines, or add them to your contacts list.

Decide what you want your release to achieve
Generally, a press release can do two things: attract attention to your business, products or services or events; or establish yourself as a subject matter expert. In the first instance, bear in mind journalists are inherently chasing anything that is new – when you are writing it, consider what new idea you are offering to them. In the second, journalists are always looking for experts to quote for stories on a range of issues and topics. This is a very powerful tool. It doesn’t mean you need to hold a PhD in rocket science – you simply need to leverage off your experience. It’s also great for bragging rights on your website, ie: “As seen in Better Homes and Gardens…”

Write a media release that will grab attention
Keep it short and snappy. Journalists are incredibly time-poor; they just don’t have time to wade through reams of information.

Here are a few pointers:

Subject line – Your email will sit in a busy inbox of hundreds of unread emails so this is your first and best chance to grab attention. Make it count.

Headline: Make it one line only. This is the main hook and for consistency of message, it can be very similar to the subject line.

Main text or body: Start with your main message – your angle. What you want to convey, what you want the journalist to write about. Go back to your story and your point of difference. Don’t write a novel – keep your press release to about 300-400 words. You can use dot points or subheads to break up the copy and to highlight your message.

Contact details: Triple check your digits – It’s no good sending a release if the journalist can’t call because you included the wrong phone number.

Be social: A journalist will always check your online presence if they are interested – include links to your Facebook Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn and Pinterest accounts, if they are relevant to your business.

Images: Include at least one image and ideally a link to other images in a Dropbox or similar folder to showcase what you are trying to ‘sell’.

Hit the ‘GO’ button, but don’t go too hard

Send your release to your selected journalists via email – and include a personalised message. Hopefully soon you’ll be a media sensation! If you haven’t heard from anyone within 24-48 hours, follow up with a phone call, but absolutely not before. Remember, not every release will result in coverage, so don’t be disappointed if it’s a ‘no’. Think of it as the first step in relationship building. If a journalist says they are not interested, it’s a great idea to ask why.

All feedback helps!