Write a Press Release the Right Way

Press releases are perhaps the most unexciting material to read. Many people don’t know how to write them, and many of those who do are unfortunately tasked with making something insignificant sound like news.

Take a moment to reflect on that word – news. In order to be news, your press release must contain new information. A press release should include information about, for example, a new product, a new study, a new business, a new staff member, a new award, a new development, a new discovery … a new something.

In the real world, writers of press releases often must create new buzz about old news – in other words, market the same old, same old, in a fresh, new way. Depending on the subject matter, the methods for accomplishing this are innumerable. I won’t go into the different ways of spinning an old topic; instead, I’ll give you an example of what not to do when attempting to generate new interest. I recently received a release with this headline: “‘ABC Product’ Celebrates 17-Month Anniversary.”

That’s not news. That particular press release was briefly diverted from its otherwise inevitable downward flight into my trashcan, simply because I first felt it necessary to show it to my coworkers so we could all giggle over its absurdity. And then? It went into my trashcan.

So, how do you put together a press release that stands out from the flurry, catches an editor’s fickle attention, and creates new buzz? For the most part, that’s something most people have to figure out for themselves, but here are a few basic pointers.

1. Personalize your release.

Don’t send out 1,500 emails all at once addressed to “MEDIA OUTLET.” Anonymous mail bears suspicious resemblance to junk mail. Editors are human. They like seeing their names used properly – and spelled correctly. They like their mail to be addressed to them, not the past editor who got fired two years ago. Although these gaffes don’t alter the message of your press release, they automatically sour an editor’s mood. Take two minutes to research the correct department and the current editor, and your recipient probably won’t notice. Don’t, and your recipient will be annoyed with you before even scanning your headline. Along those lines, try to have some sort of idea about the subject matter the publication accepts. Sending a release on new geographic survey data won’t be of much interest to a publication specializing in information for new dog owners.

2. Don’t be boring.

Don’t write thirty-six word headlines and then re-word it in the first paragraph. Don’t fill your headlines with organization names and acronyms. Press releases bore editors, in case you missed that point. Put some serious attention into your headline. It should convey what the release will reveal, but it shouldn’t tell the editor everything. The editor, somewhere deep in her hardened heart of stone, should on some level, for some reason, feel a spark of intrigue and the inclination to read the first sentence. If the headline doesn’t cause that spark, your press release will probably embark on its short trip to the trashcan within seconds of exiting the envelope or popping up on the screen.

3. Keep it short and sweet.

Tell the editor what’s new, tell her what’s new about it, tell her why she or anyone else in the whole wide world should care. Then provide all your contact information and call it done. If the editor has questions or wants more information, she’ll contact you. If she wants to run the release or parts of the release, she will. If she doesn’t, she won’t. And while we’re on the topic, editors don’t like it when you call nine times to harass them about your particular press release. Again – if the editor is interested, you’ll know. If she’s not, your press release has already been recycled, but she doesn’t want to tell you so because that would be rude. Don’t add more stress to an editor’s life. Send your press releases and be gone.

Note: Yes, I know, all the marketing people who think they know something say following up with editors increases your chances of inclusion. That may be true, after you call and annoy the editor and she spends ten minutes trying to remember the release in question amongst all the other releases she’s trashed, and once she covers up by saying she must not have received it and can you please resend. Then, yes, perhaps your release will be included when it might not have otherwise. But this shouldn’t discourage you from learning to write a proper release editors will accept the first time they see it.

4. Write a complete article.

But – didn’t I say keep it short and sweet? Yes, I did, and you should. Short and sweet, and complete. What, who, when, where, why. Remember those factoids? Use them every time. Sometimes, if an editor is looking for filler and your release is written in proper article format, she may drop your full release into print. Or, if your release is particularly outstanding, she might actually like it and wish to use it in its entirety. And if you’re just super-duper at writing press releases, you may even get a byline. You might just be that lucky. As a general rule, the higher the frequency of a publication, the more an editor stresses over producing enough copy by deadline. If your releases are well-written and useable, they’ll stand out amongst those that are not.

5. Don’t be boring.

This point bears repeating. Above all else – personalizing releases, harassing editors, writing decent copy – you must present the editor with something that will catch her attention. This means timely information of interest to the publication’s target readership which provides “new news” in a concise, factual, interesting format. Most releases read something like this: “The most recent Institute of the Few People Who Care About This Stuff study results, announced last month by So-and-so, the Blah-Blah in Charge of Blah-Blah at Such-and-Such Company, based in Ho-Hum, Idaho, showed” no editors are going to read past this point, because they’re already snoring in their desk chairs. If nothing else has made an impact, please at least remember this: Don’t be boring, for your release’s – and the editor’s – sake.

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