I used be a staunch supporter of the theory that the press release was dead.
Until I switched jobs at the end of 2010, I could count on one hand the number of press releases I wrote. I used releases written by others to pitch stories to journalists, but it was used merely as background information, placed at the end of my pitch e-mail. It was the pitch that I used to get their attention. The release was an afterthought.
Truth be told, I didn’t see any value to a tool that was born out of disaster.
But as my role has changed, so has my view of this staple of the PR industry.
As I write more and more press releases, I’ve come to appreciate the release as less of a practice in writing, and more of a practice in putting together a puzzle.
Bits and pieces of older releases often find their way into newer releases because they fit, meshing with the two or three paragraphs I had to write from scratch. Key messages are inserted because, well, they’re key messages.
The hardest thing to overcome, when it comes to writing, is the blank page. Especially for press releases, since there is a specific way to write them. But if we break down the release into sections, you’ll see that it’s not so much writing as it is a linguistic brain teaser that has to be edited to tell a story.
The headline is the only part of the press release that is totally unique, and it should be written in a way so your reader instantly knows what you are announcing. (Oh, and for God’s sake, leave it to one line.) We’re talking 12-15 moderately lengthy words. Tops.
You don’t need to write a subhead for every press release. Only if it makes sense.
For instance, if your headline claims Company X has saved $50 million, it might be a good idea to explain in the subhead how they saved that much money. But if the headline is obvious, forego the subhead, oh young PR professional.
This is the part that usually trips up PR professionals, especially after writing the lede.
Since we are trained to write in the inverted pyramid style, we tend to cram all of the juicy information up front, which leaves us with not a lot to say the rest of the way, so we break out into a cold sweat. But it doesn’t have to be this way.
Most PR programs contain a set number of key messages that they want to cram into the public’s consciousness repeat as often as possible. After you have relayed the most important information, now is a good time to reiterate those key messages.
Do you also have stats to back up the main point of the release? Those would look very nice falling in line behind the key messages, wouldn’t they?
Finally, if this release is written to support a larger program, your past releases probably include a paragraph that you can cut and paste into this release, because it supports the overall message.
This is where you can, and should, make hay in your press release. So often, the quotes in a release say a lot without saying anything at all. But you shouldn’t view these as a place to kill text. Think of quotes as another place to make a statement in your release, and do it in the voice of your executive. Do you want to announce that your company is going to hire 50 people by the end of the year? Why not have your quote say it, instead of buried somewhere else in the release? In an ideal situation, a reporter will pull your quotes from the release to run in the story. The more they say,
Pro tip: Read your quote out loud before you finalize it. Can you imagine your executive actually speaking those words? If so, it’s done.
This one’s easy. The boilerplate should be the same in every release you write. Simply copy and paste.
Wasn’t that easy?
If you follow these suggestions, you are probably looking at a one-page press release, and that’s the length that most experts agree is the perfect length. I suppose, since your release is getting copied and pasted (and not attached, right?) into the body of your email, it’s hard to tell how many pages the release is. But I still suggest making sure it’s about one page in a Word document.
Writing a press release doesn’t have to be a daunting task. And you don’t need to come up with all of it on your own. Chances are, some of it already exists. You just have to put the pieces together.
Image courtesy of jacobwhitaker.