Press Release or Press Delete?

press release writing tipsThe next time you write a press release, give the reporter a reason NOT to delete your release, otherwise you might as well write “For Immediate Delete” in the subject line. I had originally planned to showcase great examples of press releases from this week, but couldn’t find any that truly stood out (I looked at the feeds for all the major wires this morning).Let’s try to change that for next week. Here are a few tips for writing press releases that don’t drive journalists to press delete:

Attention-Grabbing Headline

You need a short, catchy headline that will catch somebody’s attention when they’re scanning dozens (hundreds) of emails in their inbox. Write a headline a journalist would be impressed with. Not sure what that looks like? Look at the front page of The New York Times (or any major newspaper or magazine worth its salt) on any given day. You can tell when somebody takes the time to write a great headline. Your headline should sell the story – in this case, your news. If you can’t sell it in your headline, good luck with your pitch.

Picture This

As I scanned all the press releases, the releases with images stood out. Just like a listing on eBay gets more bids relative to the number and quality of pictures used, so too will your news. Is there a great picture that tells your story? Spend the extra money and distribute it with your release. At the very least, include a logo with your release – it will stand out. I’m referring primarily to wire distribution of your release. If you’re emailing your release, don’t email the images – link to them with an accurate description in the release.

Paint (Your Story) By Numbers

Back your stuff up. There were a couple of press releases I saw with great headlines, but as soon as I started reading them, they were full of “me” fluff. Regurgitation of information somebody’s boss said had to be in the release, but little of interest to a journalist. If they had just included a good statistic to get me started on the story, they would have gotten much more interest. Without naming names, there was a release about a weight loss camp for kids – no mention of the problem of childhood obesity in the U.S. In comparison, here is a good release that starts off with an attention-grabbing stat about the problem of bullying in the U.S. – promoting anti-bullying. Love it. The headline is too busy for me, but it’s one of the best releases out there this week – there’s a lot a journalist could start with here [UPDATE: I thought the release I was linking too was from last week. It turns out, it’s a couple of years old. It’s still a good example, but not a recent one. I’m sure there have been more recent releases to quote a stat in the lead].

Keep It Short

You don’t need to put the kitchen sink in your release. Get in and out. Give them the high points and they’ll contact you for the rest. Most wire services charge more once you exceed 400 words. Keep your releases under 400 words and you’ll save money and increase your chances of getting covered. If you can pitch a journalist in 140 characters, there’s no reason you can’t write a less-than-400-word press release.

Funny How? Like A Clown?

It’s okay to use humor (if it’s really funny). Is there a clever (not cheesy) hook you can use with your release? Work for a bakery? Use a “best thing since sliced bread” reference. Humor is highly subjective, so tread lightly. If you’re in an industry not known for humor, it could work. Ben & Jerry’s just issued a press release where they said they were “proud as peanuts (in a chocolate swirl)” about their announcement. Subtle humor makes releases more interesting.

Write It Like a News Story

Learn to write in inverted pyramid style. Answer the who, what, why, when, where and how in the first paragraph or two. Read the first two paragraphs of the press release you’re working on. If that’s all you had, would you know what the story is about? Practice writing one-paragraph press releases as a first draft. Then add any NECESSARY supporting information. Your headline and first paragraph are the most important components.

Kill the Canned Quotes

Executive John Smith is so excited about this news. It’s really special and makes everyone feel wonderful. Really? Read a couple of executive quotes in some press releases, you’ll see they’re always the same. I know journalists rarely use those quotes (except when a release is used verbatim of course). Either kill the quotes, or give them one they could use. Read the quotes that make it into print and model your press release quote after that. They probably still won’t use it, but you’ll give them an idea of the quotes they could expect to get in an interview with the source.

BONUS: Use Some Bullets

No, not to put yourself out of your misery… I hope the post isn’t that bad. Use bullets to break up your information. Just like they make it easier to scan a blog post, so too do bullets help you scan a press release. I just looked at a couple of hundred press releases – very few had bullets in there. What would happen if you included a section of your release that said, “Here are five things you will learn in this press release:” with the five things? I bet you’d get the strongest response you’ve ever had from a press release… maybe. Test it and let me know how it goes.

Got any other tricks we should share with readers? Are you a reporter or blogger who has used a press release in the past month? Think you have an example of a great press release? Please share…

 

 

About Jeremy Porter 214 Articles
Jeremy Porter has been passionate about the intersection of public relations and journalism since studying both Public Relations and Journalism at Utica College of Syracuse University in the late 90s. Porter launched Journalistics in 2009 to share his ideas and insights around both professions and how trends and developments in modern day marketing, communications, and technology impact those working in these fields. Porter also values the traditions and history of both professions and regularly shares his perspective in these areas - and related topics geared toward the next generation of journalism and public relations professionals.

18 Comments

  1. Some good thoughts. Here’s a thought about releases: Do you really need one?

    I’ve found that if I have something that’s interesting and could either add to a reporter’s story or perhaps be the seed of a story, I write an advisory or simply a personal email. I still use the rules you outline, but sometimes it gets read specifically because it isn’t a release. It’s also a great tool to build or start a relationship.

    A news release, even one that’s optimized and is really meant as a sales tool, should still have some element of news in it.

    • Great points Doug. Certainly an angle I’ve approached before. Unfortunately, there are a lot of people working out there that don’t have the option to NOT write a release. For them, I hope these tips will help.

  2. As a book publicist, I have to send out an initial press release as it is part of the required process. I’m always finding ways to make it more interesting. Linking to current events is particularly effective.

  3. Hi,

    Great post with a lot of tips that are worth repeating. Just out of curiosity, though, how come your example of a great press release is from 2008 and you’re referring to it as one of the best press releases out there “this week”? Surely, we must have submitted one or two good ones in the last 3 years.

    Robin

  4. I love this post, mostly for the kick in the tush it gave me. I’m big on using bullet points in a news release (and love to read that format), and yet I don’t use them enough! Thank you.

  5. Interesting post.
    Another tip: don’t treat “Notes to editors” as a dumping ground for when you don’t know the answer to “Should we include this info, or leave it out?”.

  6. ..and one more tip: the best releases rarely require a follow-up call to the journalist….he or she will laready be using them.
    And this is worth a look: churnalism.com

  7. Great post, Jeremy! It’s all about sharing the news and, in the end, the less fluff to go with it, the better.

    Love the headline, too.

  8. Great post. I receive maybe 25 press releases a day, most I delete because they are not targeted to me and are off track to what I write about. Every blue moon, one comes along that stands out from the rest. What really irks me when they do not address me by name, just blast out a bunch of emails to everyone on the list (I am listed in Cision). On a couple of occasions, I’ve written back and said basically, why are you writing to me and they don’t know. Education is badly needed. If someone addresses me by name, has read what I write, and has an interesting subject-headline, they stand out and I will read their release and usually do an interview. It is not rocket science.

  9. Excellent post! Just one tidbit: it seems that Google News is not indexing releases with bullets, as it considers them to be fragmented text. It’s all a trade-off on readability vs findability. 😉 Press on! -Kate@ http://www.startupninja.net

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