The Right Way to Write a Press Release
Simply said, a press release is a factual announcement meant specifically to provide the media (bloggers, reporters, editors, producers) with information they can report on. It’s written in a very specific format, which is in the shape of an inverted pyramid. It’s formatted in a way where the most important information is at the top and includes the “5 w’s” -- “who,” “what,” “where,” “when,” and “why,” followed by supporting information, secondary, tertiary, and a “boilerplate” at the end. The purpose of a press release is to provide a story outline; it’s intended to present a story concept and entice the media to do their own reporting to write a story. A press release does not tell a whole story, it announces to the media that your product is there, is relevant to trends, news, needs, and should be considered for their reportage.
A press release is something that is often misunderstood. I have seen them written in every possible manner. Most of the time, entrepreneurs will write something in flowery, descriptive opinionated language. That kind of press release is the one that first gets thrown it the trash. A journalist’s response to this is “they should just buy advertising, I don’t see a story there.”
Press releases are like calling cards to the media. When they are badly written, unprofessional, or mis-formatted, the press really gets a kick out of that and could form an opinion about your product that will keep it from getting reported about at all. There is a love / hate relationship between the press and publicists. If you choose to hire a publicist, make sure to choose someone who really knows their stuff. You, as the entrepreneur, thankfully, has a little more wiggle room when it comes to knowing your stuff because the press knows you aren’t a pro. Use humility in your dealings with reporters; this works with every human interaction and usually will engender someone’s help.
A press release is a tool used ONLY when there’s something truly “newsworthy” to announce to the press. Don’t write a press release unless you really have something “new” to say that truly is a “story.” When a new product is developed is it may not be “newsworthy,” but when it hits shelves and customer’s can buy it, the product becomes “newsworthy.” Coming up with an idea for a service is not newsworthy, but finishing a study that shows a need for such a product is newsworthy.
A press release can be customized with a trade slant or a consumer angle. For example the announcement of a new surfboard company that makes promotional signs on surfboard is a trade angle for a marketing magazine. The same company might write a press release about personalized surf boards they make for surfers. The kind of outlets who would report about this might be surf magazines, men’s magazines, and sports news shows.
Press releases are written in a format called an inverted pyramid. The information is organized specifically in this manner like this:
“For Immediate Release” or “For Release (on a specific date)”
Press contact information: name, phone, email
Encapsulates entire story in less then 10 words
Priority information eg: the “story.”
If everything from the bottom up were cut, the whole story is in this paragraph:
5 W’s: who, what, where, when, why
Secondary priority supporting information.
Gives a reason or quick context for the story
A quote from a pertinent person; the inventor
a customer or an endorsement.
Whatever you do here,
use this quote as “meat”
with meaning. Do not waste
words that do not give the
journalist important information.
about your product
and / or company.
This is super succinct
The press expects a press release to be highly formatted to make their job easy. Here are some general guidelines for writing a press release.
- Be extremely succinct. Forget superlatives. Tell the story.
- A press release is not about product features and benefits, but a back-story about how the product came to be or how it fits into a news trend.
- Limit the headline to one line only (if humanly possible).
- The words “reveal” and “secret” are some of the top attention grabbing words for headlines.
- Use 100% fact, a press release does not contain any opinion.
- Write a headline with the expectation that it will be the only part of the press release that actually is reported about.
- Always write the headline first; it will clarify the actual ‘story” needs to be established.
- Make sure the ENTIRE story is in the first paragraph; editors often simply cut the press release from the bottom and use your first paragraph verbatim.
- Never more than one page (unless it’s really impossible).
- Make sure that things are said only once.
- Draw the reader’s attention down a specific story path.
Where to start
The headline must capture the reader’s attention; otherwise the rest will never be read. Get really clear what the story actually is and the rest of the release expounds upon that story, starting with the most relevant information, leading down the least.
Opinion is a killer and will turn off a reporter faster than you can say “hello.” For example, a nutrition bar company I worked with was often insistent on saying that their food “tasted good” in press releases. That is an opinion. There were, however, newsworthy aspects of the product such the “functionality” of the food in the bars or the backstory of the entrepreneur who made them. Stick to what’s truly newsworthy by asking yourself: Am I describing the product itself or am I giving a context about the product that makes it relevant to a trend, customer, or the season? Your products relevance to a trend or time of year makes a story. The description of a product is not a story.
Like packaging on a product or the label on a bottle of wine, you have a split second to capture the attention of a reporter and persuade them to read more of your press release. The first five words of a headline should be things that are recognizable to the largest group of readers. For example, when writing a headline about Sassybax bras, our headlines started with the attributes about the product that would be most likely to prick up a reporter’s attention: “Celebrity Designed Bra Takes the Wrinkles Out of Back Fat.” If you started the headline with the name of a then unknown product, “Sassybax,” we risked losing a reporter’s attention.
Deviating from this format can cost you press attention; it could be the difference between getting your product reported about in TIME magazine, the Wall Street Journal or not at all. It’s really that important. We live in a time when attention is a commodity. Getting someone to pay attention is the hardest thing in the world. Life is so incredibly full of images, sounds, messages, advertising, and now thanks to the dawn of MTV, multiple messages are thrown at us in a split second. This happens everywhere; when we’re driving, when sitting on the train, even sitting in a restaurant trying to have dinner. It’s obnoxious, but we’ve learned to adapt as best we can, but this environment makes marketing very difficult and advice like this so valuable.
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