In the last decade, there have been various predictions that the press release is dead. But far from being past its best, the press release remains a valuable way to encapsulate a great story and get it out to the media that your customers use. The advent of online news distribution services mean that you can pay to get your press release circulating. But nothing beats knowing what topics journalists are interested in, and pitching your story to them personally. So how do you write a press release that journalists want to publish and people want to share online?
- Make it newsworthy. This sounds obvious, but in reality, many press releases have little news value. Editors are interested in news which is out of the ordinary, exciting, significant, relevant and dramatic that will be of interest to their readers. Human interest stories always have great traction too. You have around 3 seconds of their attention to demonstrate this is a real news story through your press release.
- Start with who and when. Ensure the name of your organisation and the date can be clearly seen at the top.
- Pack a punch in the headline. Use the headline to sell-in your story to journalists or editors. Make your point quickly and create a hook to get readers wanting to know more.
Words such as ‘cash boost, launch, extended or improved’ all catch people’s attention.
- Sum it up in the first paragraph. The golden rule for an effective press release is to make sure that the opening paragraph summarises the whole story in two or three sentences, showing why it’s interesting. This written structure for news is referred to as the ‘Inverted Pyramid’.
- Use an impersonal, active tone of voice. Write the press release from the standpoint that you are an objective observer in the industry. Use the third person ‘they’ and ‘its’ rather than ‘I’ and ‘you’. Don’t be passive use active language. Avoid jargon unless it’s a term that’s widely understood by the audience. And avoid superlatives like, ‘excellent’, ‘great’ and ‘formidable’, because it makes your news less credible. Write clearly enough that your granny could get the point of the story without having to try.
- Make yourself understood in the second paragraph. Explain the key elements of your story, with more details and context to aid understanding. Your text should pass the cut-off test. So, if editors want to publish the first and second paragraph and no more, the story is complete and makes perfect sense.
- Write for people not robots. Don’t overstuff your headline and body copy with keywords. It will annoy real people and be penalised by search engines. Instead incorporate keyword phrases sparingly so that your writing flows naturally and is readable. Clumsy writing won’t work, but since some journalists sort potential stories by using keywords, it can be useful to include them.
- Add weight in the third paragraph. Support your points with industry statistics, customer survey results or other evidence. Include a quote from a senior influential person relevant to the story, whether independent or a company spokesperson. Ensure the quote doesn’t just repeat the story but adds extra interest so that where space allows an editor will be encouraged to include it. For press releases that you plan to distribute by online newswire services you can also include naturally phrased anchor text, such as linking from the text about a customer survey to a company web page on this topic.
- Finish your story by encouraging readers to take action. For example, state where your product can be bought, give company contact details or provide the phone number for your sales department.
- Tell journalists when they reach the end. Put the word ‘ends’ at the end of your press release to let journalists know they have all of the text. It’s a convention that helps journalists do their job efficiently. Aim for between 400 and 500 words maximum.
- Include ‘Notes for Editors’. After the words ‘ends’ include a ‘notes to editors’ section. This is where you put extra information that isn’t part of the story. Here you can provide a brief company description (sometimes referred to as a company ‘boilerplate’), your website address, plus any other technical information or survey results. This is so the Editor can do further research if they decide to use your story. Include company contact details with the phone number and email address of your press office or the person in charge who can talk more about the story if necessary.
- Provide photos to boost coverage. A good, clear photograph will improve your chances of being published and add interest for readers. It’s often best to offer photos on request rather than clog up a journalist’s server by providing images up-front. State that photographs are available on request in the ‘notes to editors’.
A well-crafted newsworthy press release
You now have a well-crafted newsworthy press release. Pitch your story to key journalists before sending it. Wherever possible, send your press release to a named person, rather than to the ‘newsdesk’. Put your press release within the body of your email rather than as an attachment to increase the likelihood it will be seen and acted upon. Promote your news on your own channels by posting news headlines on social media, with an image and link to your website, making it easy to share. Then when your press release gains publicity in print media, share this news on social media too.