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Inverted Pyramids Make Better Press Releases

Want to write a better press release? Go to journalism school. If that’s not an option, brush up on the basics of newswriting, such as the five ‘Ws’ and one ‘H’ and the inverted pyramid style. As the journo-nerds who read this blog have already figured out, my corny headline is a nod to the latter – the fading art of writing in inverted pyramid style, particularly when it comes to writing press releases. If you want to get more attention for your press releases, start incorporating the inverted pyramid concept into your writing.

Inverted Pyramid? What the Heck Are You Talking About?

If you studied journalism in college (or are reading this post on your laptop during your Journalism 101 class), you already know what I’m talking about. For the benefit of those of you that didn’t go to J-school, the inverted pyramid is a traditional news reporting style designed to communicate the most important and relevant information at the beginning of the news story and information of diminished importance as the story progresses.

In the days when most news had to be communicated in a set number of column inches or read in a particular number of seconds, it was important to have all the most relevant information up front, so only less-important information would be left out when the story was cut by editors. In case you missed the metaphor, an upside down pyramid has more up top than at the bottom.

Why the Inverted Pyramid is More Important Than Ever

In the blogosphere and other digital outlets, there are few limitations to the amount of information you can share. If I wanted to make this blog post 5,000 words, I could. With the exception of Twitter, there are few limitations. With more space available, writers tend to bounce around from point to point. The most-important information could be in the middle or end of a post. Dont’ do that.

With only a few seconds to capture the attention of your audience, you really need to hit them with the most relevant information upfront. When you’re outlining your press release content, outline from “most important” to “least important’ points you want to cover and write it from there. Most formal instruction on writing in the inverted pyramid style advises you to break the pyramid into three parts:

  • Part One – the opening paragraph (lead or lede), where you answer the questions who, what, why, when, where and how. This is the information that has to be in there for you to get your message across – the must have information.
  • Part Two – additional information that is helpful, but not necessary. This can be information that adds color or supporting information.
  • Part Three – the least important information. This is the ‘nice to have’, not the ‘need to have’ stuff.

That’s really it. It’s a simple but powerful concept. The more you start to adapt the inverted pyramid into your communications – particularly press releases – the more likely you are to generate interest and deliver your message. This also makes it easy for you to keep your press release short.

Bonus Tip: Shoot for 400 words or less on your press release. By writing shorter press releases, you’ll improve your chances of getting the release read and you’ll save on wire distribution charges (most services charge extra over 400 words).

Do you agree or disagree? Do you use the inverted pyramid style in your writing?

About Jeremy Porter

Jeremy Porter is co-founder and editor of Journalistics, a lively blog about public relations and journalism topics.

  • http://www.heidelbergpr.com Julie Heidelberg

    Great post! I couldn’t agree more, and we consistently write news releases in the inverted pyramid. The news media has always been pressed for time; nothing has changed there. But it is definitely worse than ever because now even fewer eyes are available to read releases so even less time devoted to scanning your title and lead. Calling out the news immediately is a must!

  • Bob Lasher

    I spent many years as a news writer/reporter followed by several years as a Marketing Copywriter. The lessons I learned about writing for Direct (Junk) Mail are perfect for press release writing. Direct Mail revolves around capturing your audience’s attention in a fraction of a second when they look at the junk mail piece. That’s exactly what we have to do today to capture the attention of assignment editors, producers, etc. who are inundated with electronic releases.

    Perusing some Direct Marketing Copywriting guides could really improve the success of your releases. It’s worked very well for me.

  • http://www.macsales.com Grant Dahlke

    Agreed on the inverted pyramid…it’s worked for years. However, strongly disagree with a blanket statement that releases should be kept to 400 words. Regardless of wire distribution fees…which if you are a PR practitioner you shouldn’t need if you have direct contact info for the most influential in media…I often see our two and three page releases picked up in their entirety. I would say that the topic and industry should dictate the length. And in the consumer technology/electronics niche, both the media and their audience want to know the specs, why they’re important, and what it means…what difference does it make versus anything existing on market.

  • ashley

    Awesome article! I agree with keeping the release short – working in the Marketing/PR field, I try to keep my releases under 600 words including the boilder plate and add links to further information because everything is sent electronically. Adding the links really helps to keep the releases short because extra info can be accessed through them and the links help monitor how many people read, retain, and act on the release.

  • Anonymous

    Great blog! I’ve dabbled in PR for years and am mostly self taught (I’m a writer).

    I’ve been helping a friend with some PR for a start up, and while pitching an idea to two of the big papers in “town”, got a hit from one. While happy, we preferred the other. Is it ok to call the more preferable one stating the the other paper is interested in an exclusive, or is it considered a no-no in the industry. Help?!

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  • Sharon

    Agree 100 percent. In small markets, you can pretty much write it for them this way.

    But, wish you had mentioned the history — this started when journos were filing by telegraph during the Civil War and you never knew when one side or the other was going to cut the telegraph line. So you had to get the most important info out first.

  • Michael Molligan

    Good article. One point left out which is vitally important is the nut graph. The nut graph explains why the reader should be interested in the story. What’s in it for them? For instance the who-what etc. of a road construction project might be of minimal interest without the point that traffic will be delayed by about 30 minutes during rush hour. Now the reader gets it. “Damn, I’m going to be affected by this.”

  • http://www.sfwrite.com Tim Marsolais

    Great post! In English 1a in college, I used a different, inverted pyramid analogy with students for writing a thesis/support essay in a timed, test setting. Individual paragraphs of the essay start with broad concepts (wide part of the pyramid), and finish with a laser-point focus by the last sentence of each paragraph. And, that last sentence reinforces the essay thesis.

    The thread that ties the cousin inverted pyramids together could be the time component: the short attention of the press release reader as well as the limitations of column space, and the short development time of writing an essay in a 1-hour class period . . . .

    • Jeremy Porter

      Great additional thought Tim – I like the time component.

  • http://www.prleadsplus.com Dan Janal

    Don’t forget keywords! Use them in your headline and in your first paragraph so that people who search Google can find you. Don’t do stupid things like key-word stuffing, of course. But definitely put in the keywords to drive targeted prospects to your website.

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  • http://taylorjgraves.com Taylor

    Thanks for taking us back to the basics. Always important to re-visit these lessons to help us take a fresh perspective to our writing styles!

    • Jeremy Porter

      It’s amazing how many people have forgotten the basics. Thanks for the feedback Taylor.

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  • http://www.buzzedup.co.uk Mick Dickinson (@MickDickinson)

    The Pyramid is even more valuable today if you are shooting for local coverage. Many local newspapers have a staff so small it barely resembles a skeleton. And of course many allow you to submit copy that is published with no moderation step at all. Amazing!

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