Ah! Writing press releases… They are foundational marketing communications documents that lay out the core elements of your story: your accomplishments, your discoveries, your new products, your news. When handled correctly, writing press releases can save you a lot of time and energy when relating with various audiences.
I write a press release when I’m ready to get serious about implementing my communications strategy. I usually begin drafting a press release right after I’ve established my marketing strategy, because with it, I can expand or support all my other communications messages.
Some people will adamantly tell you the press release is dead. I would politely disagree. It’s not, its purpose has just evolved. I write press releases mainly because they save me time when I’m asked to provide a summary of my news, company or update, etc. More importantly, a press release contains your “official” language–the wording that you want media (journalists, producers, podcasters or bloggers) to copy-and-paste into their text, so they don’t miscommunicate your main messages.
Let me be clear. I don’t think press releases will improve my ROI. It won’t–not directly, anyway. I don’t think journalists are hanging around just waiting to hear my news. They aren’t–no delusions of grandeur here!
Rachel Sprung wrote a lovely roundup for Hubspot of “When Press Releases Do (and Don’t) Help Your Marketing” in case you’re still not sure whether it’s worth your time to write a press release.
If you know you are ready to write a press release, but still need some pointers on what to do and what not to do, you’re at the right place. So, without further ado…
Do consider your audience when writing press releases.
Let’s consider first that a press release is a news release for the press. When I say “press” here, I am referring to those who consider themselves part of the fourth estate, such as reporters, journalists and freelancers for print media, producers for broadcast media, show hosts for podcasts and also bloggers. (Pretty long list!)
Knowing that, make sure you communicate the “news” in your press release clearly and prominently. Segment your long list of media so that you can target your press release with the hooks and angles that will grab their attention.
Also, news media (should you be so lucky to get their attention) are strapped for time, so keep your press release succinct. Try to stay between 200 and 500 words. If your press release is longer than this, you’re probably juggling two or more news messages worthy of their own releases. Or you’re trying to communicate to too many audiences with one missive.
Don’t write your press release in the first person.
In my many years freelancing, I have proofed and edited too many client press releases written entirely in the first person. This is a no-no for your press release. Blog posts? No problem. Formal letter or a personal email? Have at it. But for a press release: do not pass go in the first person.
If there is only one lesson you take away from this blog post, please let it be this: Do not ever write a press release entirely in the first person singular (“I”) or plural (“we”). Write your press release as if you’re on the outside, looking in. Write it as if you were a reporter for your favorite national newspaper and your editor gave you the assignment of writing the news article (between 200-500 words) about your latest book.
Remember how time-strapped I said journalists are? Say you just sent out a press release that included some interesting data supporting Joe Journalist’s upcoming story. He tried to phone you, but you were on a flight to a seminar. He might just swipe a couple lines from your press release and cite that it was your official perspective. After all that’s what a press release is: an official announcement of your news to the press.
Do tailor your press release for your audience and front-load your news angle.
Even when you intend to release your updates to “the press”, you will still need to cherry pick your reporters, producers and bloggers by beat. Then tailor your news release to their focus. If you wrote and published a book about beauty tips while traveling, for instance, members of the media that focus on travel and/or beauty might be interested.
Don’t forget local media, associations, alma maters, and niche bloggers.
While we’re on the subject of your audience and the media… Don’t forget to add audiences that are more interested in what’s happening in their backyards than in world news. So, think locally. Is there a used bookstore that hosts local writers? Have you shared your news with your schools? What about your local church? Or your neighborhood newspaper? Your university’s alumni association often manages some form of newsletter or means of informing your former classmates. Your “Libatiously Looping Ladies” get-together might surprise you! If any of them ever say, “How interesting! I’d love to share your news with my network,” give them your official press release. They will pass it on.
When writing press releases, do keep the inverted pyramid in mind.
Make sure the first two sentences of your press release are crystal clear. This means, come out with your news first and don’t keep your time-strapped news-hungry readers guessing. I use the Who-What-Where-When-How-Why model. Usually, it boils down to:
- “Who is doing what” in the first sentence.
- “When, where and how” can the release’s readers (or the media’s readers) benefit from the news in the second sentence.
- And the third sentence (if you haven’t suavely integrated this in the first two sentences) handles why is this news relevant to the recipients and their readers. This is usually a reference to the newsworthiness of your release. For instance, you might write, “This is the first book to combine travel and beauty tips for black women traveling south of the equator”.
Here’s the idea behind writing a release with the inverted pyramid in mind: If a publication wanted to swipe your copy and publish it in their paper, they could simply hack off paragraphs from the bottom up without losing the meaning or context of your news. Technically, the first paragraph (the lead paragraph) should be sufficient information for the essence of the release’s news. Following paragraphs elaborate on key components, or provide color to your release.
Do include a quote or two.
Here is where you can use the first person. Include a quote by you, and make it count! Let’s say a blogger decided to write a post on beauty tips while traveling and stumbled on your recent press release through the internet. All she was looking for was a good quote from an expert on the subject matter. And she found your press release! Aren’t you glad you didn’t write, “We think make-up that travels well is great!” Instead you said something informed and knowledgeable. You might have said something like, “Our studies showed nine out of 10 women freshen up their make-up before landing. We were surprised to learn that mascara was the number one beauty product in women’s travel bags.” This is your chance to show your expertise. The blogger might swipe the quote, or might want to find out more about your studies and interview you.
Don’t play hard to get.
Assume your press release will be distributed and published far and wide. So, even if you don’t want to be stalked, do provide some means of contact for people who are interested in your news. Include your publishable and public business details, such as an email and web address.
Back in the day when press releases were submitted by telex, fax and mail, PR people used to include their contact information at the top of the page–after “For Immediate Release” and the date. Today, most media want their press releases by email. Don’t lose precious “preview language” (your awesome lead paragraph) with that language. Make sure you keep your contact information at the end.
That’s it — my top seven Dos and Don’ts for writing press releases.
No blog post would be complete without me sharing an example of one of my own press releases. Here is one I wrote for my alma maters, regarding the publication of The Aspiring Author’s Guide: Write Your Marketing Strategy. I tailored this press release for each school I graduated from–so it included the name of the school, the college I graduated from, and my year of graduation. For my blog, I decided to leave this information a bit more general. Last, but not least, as a rule, I never email a press release without a pitch. So, usually, my customized release is copied and pasted at the bottom of my email and accompanies a pitch. This “alum release” was reposted (with a quick comment) in LinkedIn.