Although this topic is not one specific to digital marketing, writing press releases is something I’ve frequently found myself coaching other business people about, so I thought I’d set it down in writing, too.
A press release is one of the most fundamental ways to send out your company news. The two most critical components are the headline and the first paragraph. Why? Because they will have the greatest impact on whether or not your press release is read and acted upon by a journalist or editor. Hundreds, potentially thousands of press releases and newswire items cross a journalist’s desk every day — you need to make yours stand out. The headline needs to grab attention, while he first paragraph needs to substantiate it and summarize the purpose all at once.
- Be as concise as possible (don’t exceed more than 2 lines)
- Every word should help tell the story (avoid small, insignificant word like prepositions, articles and pronouns)
- Keep it in active tense (“XYZ Company Executed…” vs. “…was Executed by XYZ Company”)
- Punch it up (with stats, humor, intrigue — one of the greatest responses I ever got was from a press release with the headline: “How 10 Years of Stuffing My Face Led to Internet Enterprise”)
- To summarize the facts for the journalist receiving your press release you’ll want to answer the “5 essential W’s + one H” of public relations — Who, What, Where, When, Why, and How?
- Start by giving the geographical location of the news story source in parentheses (ex. Aberdeen, MD) — that’s the where.
- Then write a first sentence that really wows the reader (you want them to say in their minds, “Ok, you’ve caught my interest. Now I’m ready to read more.”)
- For Internet purposes, be sure to include a hyperlink to your site or to a specific page of the site. NB: Don’t forget to use “http://” before your url because not all email readers automatically translate urls into clickable links without this.
Don’t quit after a great headline and strong opening paragraph. Keep the momentum going by polishing off the rest.
- You might want to quote a top official involved in the news of your release. Get something substantial so it’s worth reprinting.
- If there’s nothing to quote, you can also try the industry statistics approach. Don’t forget to include the source of your statistics so the reporter can double check your facts.
- Write a standard blurb about your organization like what you do, how long you’ve existed, your purpose/mission, other noteworthy points.
How to End a Press Release:
- Vestigial from days of old, characters or codes were inserted at the bottom of a press release to indicate that the reader had come to the end. These codes are still common practice today. Acceptable are three number signs in a row (# # #) or -30-.
5 Ways To Ensure Your Press Release Does NOT Get Read:
1. Unless absolutely necessary, DO NOT exceed a one page press release. More often than not, a long press release will simply find its way to the trash faster. If you’ve got more to say, try directing the journalist to your site instead (setting up an online press kit is also great for maximizing their on-site opportunity.
2. It’s CRITICAL that you use spellcheck and read for proper grammar (otherwise, you look like an idiot — all the more reason for your news not to get any play).
3. Avoid technospeak and industry jargon at all costs. Don’t assume that the reader of your press release knows anything about your industry. Concentrate on making all the information easily comprehensible
4. Don’t embargo (distributing a press release and then asking the press to hold it until a specified future date) a press release — you’ll potentially set yourself up for newsleaks (especially if your information is really newsworthy and members of the press are jockeying to scoop one another on your story).
5. Avoid blast emailing your press release out to every man, woman and child in the media (well ok, maybe there aren’t any children in the media, but you get my point). Be selective, sending relevant news only to reporters covering that specific topic. Better still, try to develop an ongoing relationship with journalists in your field. Earn their trust and respect by your professional manner, and it can do wonders for your publicity.