Running a large business, or one that operates in the public eye requires an open line of communication with the industry and the public as a whole. There are many ways to do this, some less orthodox than others. However, a press release was, and still is the best method of reaching the right people.
Writing an effective press release isn’t always a simple job. You’ll be dealing with several variables, all of which can dictate your success. In other words, there’s a lot that goes into this process. Join us as we discuss various tips that can help you write an effective press release.
To Write a Good Press Release, You Need to Understand Its Purpose
Every press release has a purpose. Whether your company is trying to let everyone know about a new product you’re releasing or a new service that is about to go live, you need to get that message across to industry journalists who will then get the ball rolling.
Writing a press release is usually the job of a press officer. That being said, not all organizations have a person with this title, even though they probably should. Think of it this way — if you’re writing press releases with any frequency, you’ll want to have a press officer in your team. Their job is essential if your goal is to maximize reach.
Why is maximizing reach so important? It’s simple. Your organization or company won’t suffer too much if a press release about a new product doesn’t achieve maximum reach. However, achieving underwhelming results with a statement that is written as a means of damage control, can be an issue.
Your press release officer will ensure that you’re always operating at or near 100% efficiency with your press releases.
The Intricate Details of Writing a Press Release
It is a common misconception that press releases are written specifically for broad public audiences. While this might happen in some industries, writing for the general public is an exception to the rule. It’s an anomaly.
The person you’re writing a press release for is actually a journalist that covers your niche or industry. It is them who will later write a piece that is suitable for mass consumption. After all, journalism is a pretty complex industry by itself.
Why are we bringing this up? Because the relationship between press officers and journalists is full of details and practices that your average person isn’t aware of. For example, if you were to get a hold of a press release sample from a large company, think Forbes 500 or similar, you’d find that it includes weird symbols such as ### at the end. Sometimes press officers like to place -30- instead.
In this particular example, the ### tag at the end is there to let the reader know (usually journalist or editor), that they’ve reached the end of a press release. It’s an old tradition more than anything else, but one that your average person isn’t familiar with.
Exceptions to the Rule
Before we continue, we have to insert a small disclaimer. Although it’s true that most press releases are written mainly for industry journalists, they will reach the public. This is especially true now that we no longer rely on printed publications to get our news. You’ll find press releases on Twitter, Instagram, and other social media.
The thing to remember is that your press releases, although visible to the public, won’t exactly cause a lot of hype on their own. That is unless your company is under constant observation by the public. Companies that can simply publish a press release on their website and cause massive levels of hype do exist, but those are mainly your popular tech manufacturers, popular game development studios, and similar.
For most companies, publishing a press release on their website will get little to no engagement. That’s why you need journalists to push your release through already established channels. More on that later.
Press Release 101 – Basic Rules to Follow
Writing a press release isn’t like writing an opinion piece. There are several rules you need to follow. The reason why these rules exist can be traced back to our previous section — they make the relationship between the press officer and journalist/editor of a publication that much easier.
That being said, these rules aren’t too difficult to learn. Let’s start with the title.
Write a Catchy Title
Humans are creatures with fleeting attention spans. You’d think that this statement wouldn’t apply to industry journalists, but it does. You’ll need a catchy title to catch the attention of a journalist and have them read your press release.
It’s a good idea to use action verbs and make your headlines simple. You don’t want to try and explain every single detail of your event in a headline. Leave that to the body of the press release. Titles are sometimes the most difficult part of the entire press release writing process. Take your time and make sure that your title is spot on.
Make It Short and Sweet
A press release is written to let the industry or public know about a new product, service, massive change in your org, or similar events. Let’s say you’re dropping a new product. If you really wanted to, you could write a press release that is exactly 2 sentences long. That’s how succinct you can be.
In reality, we rarely see press releases that short. But, you won’t see a long press release either. While there isn’t an exact word count on how far you should go with your release, keeping it short and sweet is key.
The 5 Ws
The very first paragraph of a press release is the most important one. It needs to capture your reader’s attention and give them enough information to keep them reading. To do that, it is an unwritten rule that you should insert the 5 Ws in your first paragraph. These include:
There’s also an occasional H in there, which relates to “how” something happened. The 5 Ws are among the most basic postulates of information gathering as well as journalism. Answering these questions sets the stage for the story that follows by arming the reader with key information.
Another key thing to remember regarding the 5 Ws is to offer clear-cut, factual answers to each of these questions. Speaking of facts…
Stick to Facts
Writing any type of news piece, whether it’s a press release or an actual news article, should be focused on proven facts. You want to present only verifiable information and data. The worst thing that you can do is start sugarcoating your company’s achievements.
All it takes is for one person to scratch the surface and start digging into your claims. Just one person can completely disassemble your entire organization’s credibility, put you on the back foot, and push your entire PR department into damage control mode.
Fortunately for everyone, the only thing you need to do to avoid such scenarios is to stick with the cold, hard facts.
Add a Quote
Inserting a quote into the body of your release is a great way to give your piece a more authoritative tone. A quote gives the reader an impression that they are getting a personal insight into your company’s structure and daily operations.
Mind you, the quote doesn’t need to be long at all. All it needs is a personal take on the developing situation (product release, service announcement, etc.) from a high official. When writing a quote, take the first full sentence or idea from your subject and follow it with their name, credentials, and your company’s name.
“Here’s what it looks like in practice,” said John Smith, chief editor at Company X. “Always use the speaker’s full name and credentials when you first present them to the reader.”
The Order of Importance
No matter how long or short your press release ends up being, there will always be some hierarchy to the importance of the information contained within it. In other words, there will be a single paragraph that contains all key information, surrounded by paragraphs that contain information of decreasing value.
There’s a technique commonly used by press officers to establish a hierarchy of information. It’s called the inverse pyramid method, and it’s quite simple. The whole idea behind it is to make your first paragraph the most important one. Present your key information within this paragraph in a succinct manner.
Every paragraph that follows should contain less important data and information until you reach the end of the press release. If you combine the inverse pyramid method with everything else we’ve presented you with so far, you’ll be well on your way to finishing a great press release.
Avoid Jargon and Technical Language
One of the most common mistakes new press officers make is to use a lot of jargon or technical language in their press releases. Although your release is most likely going to be seen mainly by industry people, using jargon is heavily frowned upon.
Use only simple language to write a press release. Doing so goes in line with everything else we’ve mentioned so far, including the AP stylebook succinct information presentation.
What About Video Press Releases?
One of the often-overlooked aspects of press releases is the fact that they come in many different forms. Most people are familiar with a written press release, but what about a video press release? How does one go about writing a script for something like that?
As it turns out, most of the rules we’ve already discussed apply here as well. Some companies use a dedicated PR person to present the news, while others use a slightly different format. Filming a video press release in a form of an interview with an important figure from an organization has proven to work for most companies.
Using this template for a video press release allows you to stick to the same rules that apply to a written press release. The only real difference is the addition of an interview instead of a quote.
You should start the video presentation with a short but to the point overview of the event, you’re about to present. Once the key information has been laid out, proceed to the interview phase. Instead of letting the subject of the interview talk for 5 minutes, use text segments to present questions to which the subject would provide answers.
In essence, you’re trying to make the interview look organic without having an actual person asking the questions.
Anticipating the Feedback
One of the areas where novice press release writers run into trouble is anticipating strong feedback to their press releases. The cold truth is that you can do everything perfectly, but your press release may still fall flat the moment it is published on your company’s website.
Writing a press release is just the first step in what is a complicated process. The next part is to contact individual journalists that cover your industry and see whether they’re interested to cover your press release.
Even though you might think that journalists should be the ones reaching out to you, keep in mind that such behavior is usually seen in small industries only. Any larger industry will be packed with journalists who are constantly bombarded by press releases from brands large and small.
Your job as a press officer is to enter the fray and try to get some press coverage for your news release. If you’ve done everything right, you’ll be ahead of the competition right out of the gate. However, there’s always the element of chance so don’t be disappointed if you don’t get the feedback you’ve expected.
Be Tactical With your Press Releases
The last piece of advice we’d like to share with you is to be tactical with your press releases. A press release needs to be riveting, to begin with. No matter what industry your company is a part of, there’s a good chance that you won’t have riveting events happen every week.
Don’t use press releases as a means of keeping the public up to date with your daily operations. There are other, much more appropriate channels for that. Use press releases to cut through the noise and let people know about a very important event or product that your company is about to reveal.