Actually, that isn’t the question, it’s the challenge
While some bay for the death knell to sound, I still firmly advocate that the press release has its place in the communications portfolio –but only if it’s done well.
To be valuable the press release has to be carefully constructed. To do that takes a perfect blend of elements. Get it wrong and your prose is unlikely to see the light of day but, get it right, and you’ll generate interest and ultimately coverage.
With that in mind, here’s my tips for effective press release writing:
Grab the attention: The headline, and subject line if sending via email – which we all do, are the most important things to get right when writing a press release. You should use no more than 10 words that scream how interesting your release is to the recipient.
Journalists have hundreds of press releases flooding their mailboxes every day – or hour in some cases! Your release has to shine out against all the other dross. But that doesn’t mean you should be flippant, nor gimmicky – the journalist has to understand that a) it is a press release, b) what the release is about, and c) deem it relevant, if they’re going to open your message and read on.
Assuming you’ve passed this first hurdle, your opening sentence too has to keep the reader’s attention if the remainder of the release is going to be read. The golden rule here is that the opening sentence summarises what’s in the rest of the release, in less than 20 words, and reads like the opening line of a news report. Simple really – actually, that’s quite a skill.
It has to be newsworthy : There is absolutely no point writing a press release if you don’t have any news. Regardless of the demands a client, or even account manager, may make – if the subject isn’t genuinely new, interesting, innovative or surprising then a press release is not the best tactic. Instead, either combine this announcement with something that is newsworthy, or use a different PR tool.
Find your hook: Every editor needs a hook to pin your story around. The best press releases will include this – ideally in the opening paragraph. For example, is a journalist interested in Company A’s new whitepaper? I’d wager not. But, if Company A has uncovered a previously unknown vulnerability in Software X and has published a paper on its research – then the hook is the vulnerability with the whitepaper referenced.
The Five W’s: In the opening paragraph it’s imperative that you cover the five W’s – the who, what, where, when and why that this release details. If you can get this into the opening sentence then perhaps you should consider a career as a news editor :-)
Don’t waffle: While it might be tempting to put everything you know on the subject into a press release, don’t! The ideal length is one A4 side – approximately 400 words, or four paragraphs. Any more and you’re not writing a press release, you’re writing an article. Pick up any newspaper and look at the news section – short and snappy is the typical style and that’s what your release should emulate. If the journalist is interested, and needs more information, then they’ll ask for it.
Include a quote: And don’t say ‘we’re delighted/excited/pleased or thrilled ….’ of course you are but that’s not insightful. I also recommend that you read a quote out loud – if it sounds like you’re reading then it’s not a quote – you’re aiming for something that sounds natural and flows easily.
Complete the package with an image: Publications are screaming out for images to brighten up their pages so include one. Make sure, if you’re approaching a print publication, that the resolution is high enough, and try to make it interesting – a head shot of a spokesperson is not going to cut the mustard.
However, don’t attach the file to your message as this will annoy journalists struggling to keep their mailboxes a manageable size. Instead, a simple ‘Notes to Editor’ at the end of the release stating its availability will suffice. While on the subject of notes, you could include additional background material for the release in this section.
Include your details: There is nothing more frustrating to an editor, who’s fast approaching a print deadline and needs to verify a fact in a story, if they can’t immediately reach you. Include all the ways you can be reached, and that includes out of hours numbers.
One Size won’t fit all: So, you’ve got the lot – the interesting news hook, eye catching headline, and perfect quote. While that’s 95% of the secret formula, the bit that’s missing is the tailoring for each publication on your list. Take the time to write to each contact individually, detailing why the release is relevant to the publication’s audience, and highlighting the salient points. Again, keep it succinct and use bullets if it helps.
Get it proof read: There is nothing more frustrating then something littered with typos – it’s unprofessional and some journalists claim that they will delete releases with spelling errors and grammatical mistakes without reading them.