If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you know I’m not a huge fan of press releases. But let’s face it, they are a necessary evil for most of us working in public relations.
Why write about press release writing when there are already so many books, posts, tweets, and about 29 million other resources on this topic? Have you seen some of the press releases floating around today? It’s clear there are still a few of us that could use some good old-fashioned press release writing tips.
Rather than limiting the advice in this post to my personal experience, I thought it would be better to ask some journalists for their advice. After all, who knows better what makes a good press release than the people that have to read them every day? Whether you’re about to write your first release in your internship, or you’ve been writing press releases since I was in diapers, I hope you’ll find these tips useful for writing your next press release.
The first batch of tips comes from my sister-in-law Jocelyn Broder. Jocelyn worked as an editorial assistant at The Oregonian early in her career. As part of her job, she reviewed incoming press releases and routed newsworthy items to the appropriate reporters. Today she works as a public relations manager for a public relations agency. She understands press release writing from both sides of the table. Here are some of her suggestions for writing press releases:
- Keep It Short. A press release should be one page, no longer. If a reporter wants more information, they will contact you.
- Keep It Relevant. Research the kind of content a reporter you are pitching covers. A reporter will feel “spammed” when you send a press release that is not relevant to their beat. Go beyond researching a reporter’s “section”. For example, at my newspaper we had a Family section of about 20 reporters; four covered schools, three covered events for families, one covered family life, another covered impact on family/children when catastrophes in the area happened, etc. Simply sending it to a “Family” reporter is not effective.
- Include White Space. One page may not seem like enough room to convey all the information. That does not mean making the entire release 8-point font with quarter-inch margins. Use at least half-inch margins and 10 point font. Make sure there are spaces between paragraphs, headlines, etc. Ideally, the release should take only a glance to discern what it is about.
- Add Stat/Info Box. Create a small text box with bulleted content that adds relevancy to the story. I once covered KISS (the rock band) because I needed to fill six inches of Halloween fun. The KISS release used a stat box of how many gallons of fake blood and makeup had been used at concerts since they first started. The point of the release was they were coming to town for a concert, which I included. But it made the paper because of the makeup and fake blood info.
- Use a Descriptive Subject Line. I recently read one blog that recommended making a subject line funny. That may work, but it never worked for me when I was on the receiving end of hundreds of press releases each day. I feared funny subject lines were spam. Follow point No. 2 on this list: keep it relevant. Use the most relevant 5 – 7 words to let the reporter know what you have to offer. Be descriptive and literal about what information you are sending.
- Ask Yourself Three Questions: Is your release compelling to you, would a reporter find it compelling and is this the type of thing reporters generally cover? If the answer is no to either of the three, rethink your approach.
- Do Not Use Marketing Speak. Write in the style that reporters use: news. Marketing speech is self-serving and can offend some reporters. Reporters cover news; they are not advertisers or promoters.
I think Jocelyn’s advice is particularly useful to those just starting out with press release writing, but even as someone who has written thousands of releases, there are a few tips I could benefit from.
I also reached out to some journalists that follow Journalistics on Twitter. Here are some bonus tips from them:
- Laura_H108 agrees with Jocelyn’s first point and says: “Less is more. Reporters often have no time to read a 2 to a 3-page press release. Get to the point quickly – and make a point impossible to pass over.”
- Germain Lussier says: “Don’t tease us. Get the most important information out at the top of your release and then give more details. And don’t forget the specifics, such as numbers or addresses.”
- carr2n says: “An incorrect press release followed with an email that reads ‘CORRECTION’ is a no-no. I dump them. That word terrifies journos.” This is a great point. Make sure you’ve got your facts straight before you send the release.
- FelicityMoore writes: “BE CONCISE. Cut out waffle, spin, jargon, and 50-cent words of more than two syllables (we journos know them already).”
- Ochieng says: “Quit it with the ‘Captain Obvious’ statements. Journos especially hate that.”
Beyond this advice, here are several excellent resources I found on press release writing:
- Tips, Guidelines, and Templates for Writing an Effective Press Release – from PRWeb
- How to Write a Press Release – from wikiHow
- Advice on Press Releases from The New York Times – not exactly “advice”, but an interesting article about press releases
- How to Write a Press Release – advice from Publicity Insider
- How to Write a Social Media Press Release – from Copyblogger
As a parting thought, remember that a lot of releases will bear your name. In a day and age where search engines churn up everything with your name on it, make sure you don’t send out garbage press releases. There are some releases out there that I wish I hadn’t taken credit for in the past. Some of them were downright awful. I’ve learned my lesson. Write a press release like you would write a news story. If you don’t know how to write a news story, start there. You just might end up with a press release reporters want to read.