Press releases are the oft neglected, redheaded stepchild of the world of copywriting. Few writers relish the thought of composing one; and reading press releases is the uncoveted chore of the low level journalist or online content manager. On the other hand, a press release can be an invaluable tool for public relations and investor relations professionals. Consider this bombshell of a press release from 1995:
At first glance, writing a quality press release may seem easy enough. After all, you’re just telling people the Five Ws—who, what, where, when and why—of some newsworthy event or occurrence. So, since you know the facts, you just string the newsworthy points together in a coherent fashion and, presto!, press release magic. Sit back and field calls from the New York Times and Wall Street Journal.
Unfortunately, there are millions of unseen and unread press releases out there that prove otherwise. While it isn’t rocket science, writing a great press release is an art form and takes some practice to do successfully. Here are a few pointers that will help you or your communications manager craft a press release that will turn the right heads every time.
Headlines are critical.
Headlines are a lot like highway billboards. Since your readers is most likely scanning a list of headlines, you’ve got a fraction of a second to gain their attention.
Your headline must be brief, to the point and catchy. The purpose of the headline is to summarize your news in a single phrase. Leave out all extraneous details that belong in the body of the press release. In most cases you want to state the company name, and then what they did:
Acme Resources wins discovery of the year
Zacme Resources invents widget to increase productivity
Much of the time, you want to lead with the most interesting bit of information. So, in the latter case, if Zacme had been proven to increase productivity by 50%, you might want to add that to the title:
Zacme Resources widget increases productivity by 50%
However, if productivity was only increased by 2%, you would save that detail for the body of the story and qualify it with something to bolster the meagre increase, such as a quote explaining how significant an increase 2% really is.
Think of your headline as the first opportunity to win over (or lose) your audience. Don’t blow your chances for coverage with a weak start.
Lead with the lede.
After you’ve coaxed your reader into the story, give them your top points right off the bat, to clinch the deal. This first paragraph of your press release is called the lede summary. Whether you lead conventionally with, “Acme Resources is proud to announce…” or something else isn’t really the point here. The point is to get to the meat of the story and win over your reader as quickly as possible with the facts. Typically, you’ll put the most important of the Five Ws here, and follow up with the rest in the body of the press release. Try to limit your lede to fewer than 50 words.
Mistakes can be disastrous
One of the mistakes I see most often in press releases is simply poor editing. Many CEOs will write a press release themselves and pass it along through the chain of command for a second and third pair of eyes, none of which belong to a trained editor. This risks leaving sloppy and unnecessary mistakes in the final edit for your readers, who may judge the poor penmanship harshly. Always be sure to share your press release with a trained editor, or at least someone with a keen eye, before sending it out for distribution.
Leave out the filler
As they say, “Keep it simple, stupid.” It’s called the KISS theory and it does apply to writing press releases. Long winded press releases with pages of details are beyond the scope of a press release. Keep in mind that your ultimate goal is to gain traction on the story from media, bloggers or others who might help you achieve your goals. Even for a highly complex story, a few paragraphs with links to further information or contact details is all you need to achieve succeed in your mission.
Quotes should sound human and give perspective
Many press releases use the quotation as a filler that doesn’t accomplish much. To a reporter or a blogger, the quotation in a press release has a single purpose: To make the reporter sound as if they have interviewed the relevant person. Canned quotations carry no weight and read terribly. Instead, give your reader something natural sounding and genuine. Something that you might actually say to someone if you were telling them the story. Often the quote will help to put the news into perspective, for example, by clearly identifying what will come next for the company and who will benefit and how—for example, shareholders or other stakeholders.
Make the contact reachable
It never ceases to amaze me how many companies spend the time and money to write and distribute a press release, and then make it quite impossible to contact the designated contact person. The whole point of the press release is to entice them to contact you to find out more. If that’s not possible, the whole exercise is for naught.
There are many other aspects of writing a press release, and writing more generally, that could contribute to a successful campaign. Moreover, once you’re written the press release, you have to get it into the right hands… another conversation altogether. As always, if you need any help in writing or editing your press release, don’t hesitate to call Bighouse Productions.
Bighouse Productions: 778 895 1755