In the age of digital marketing, social media and short attention spans, it’s tempting to think press releases have had their day. But whether you send them to hundreds of journalists, stick them on your website or simply use them to ensure a consistent message, being able to write a good press release is still a prerequisite for the successful PR professional.
The act of writing a press release enables you to practise (and hopefully perfect) 10 important skills:
- Recognising what makes a good news story
- Getting to the point quickly
- Communicating succinctly without wasting words
- Adopting good interview techniques
- Writing factually in Plain English
- Understanding the six ‘w’ questions (who, what, where, when, why and how)
- Establishing a consistent message across the organisation
- Reaching different audiences
- Making it easier to sell your story into the media
- Generating media coverage
My one-day workshop ‘Writing Effective Press Releases’ takes you through the entire press release process. It includes understanding what news is and isn’t, finding and creating appropriate stories for your target media, structuring press release correctly, differentiating between writing news and writing features, and selling your stories into the media. It even gives you ideas on what else you can do with them so you can make the most of your efforts.
But if you’d like to improve your press release writing here and now, here are a few basics you can adopt immediately.
Stop mailing everyone
Too many PRs use media databases indiscriminately. They search for a topic (e.g. art) and send the release to every journalist with the word ‘art’ in their credentials, regardless of duplication, publication or relevance.
Don’t be lazy. Do your research. Read/view/listen to your target media and establish their interests and approaches. If you keep blanket mailing everyone with irrelevant stories, you run the risk of being deleted (without being read) even when you do have something good.
Present the most important information first
Forget scene-setting, backstory or putting the subject into perspective. All of that can come later, if at all. The first thing you write is WHAT the story is about.
The media don’t have time to plough through why the world needs a new widget or how it was developed; they simply want to know whether or not your new widget is of interest to their customers.
Your headline should sum up what the story is about (Chemistry student develops world’s first 2,000 hour battery) and your first paragraph should expand the headline to give the whole story in one or two sentences.
“A 19 year old student from the University of Nottingham has succeeded where mobile phone manufacturers have failed by creating a smartphone battery with at least 2,000 hours usage between charges.”
The classic ‘inverted pyramid’ format has worked for decades so stick to it and you won’t go far wrong.
- Short, clear headline tells media what the story is about
- First para sums up the entire story in one or two sentences
- Second para puts story in context – why it’s important
- Third para presents details – who’s involved, how it came about, etc.
- Fourth para includes a relevant quote to add information, credibility and/or opinion
- Fifth para shows where people can find more details, buy product, get involved, etc.
Stick to one story per release
If your press release has gone onto a second page, you’ve probably got two or more stories. (Or you’ve padded it out with irrelevant, self-congratulatory quotes from ‘important’ people you’ve been told have to be included.)
Discipline yourself to recognise when one story ends and another one begins. And don’t weave a weaker story into your strong one. You’ll simply dilute the good one.
If you must add extra information, put it in ‘notes to editors’ at the end of the release. Or write a second press release.
Write a decent quote
Too many quotes are put into press releases simply to acknowledge the presence of a CEO, partner, sponsor, client, etc. There’s nothing wrong with having endorsements, just make sure they say something worthwhile.
“We’re delighted to be working with… to have won… to support…” add nothing to a release. Quotes need to do one or more of the following:
- Provide useful information/details not included elsewhere in the release
- Explain why a particular product/service/partnership is of benefit to people
- Give credibility to an unknown product/service/partnership
- Express an opinion (ideally different or controversial) on an important issue
- Not sound as if they’ve been written by the PR department/consultancy