The next time you write a press release, try and give the reporter a reason not to bin it.
Here are eight tips for writing press releases that don’t drive journalists to the ‘delete’ button.
1. Attention-grabbing headline: You need a short, snappy headline that will grab somebody’s attention when they’re scanning dozens (or maybe hundreds) of e-mails. Not sure what that looks like? Look at the front page of The New York Times (or any major newspaper or magazine) 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, you’re not going to get noticed.
2. Pictures: 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. But don’t just add irrelevant images for the sake of it.
3. Paint (your story) by numbers: Back your stuff up. Don’t fill it with fluff. Start with a good headline and then provide the facts to add substance to your release
4. Keep it short: Don’t ramble on, be brief, but to the point. Give them the high points, and they’ll contact you for the rest. If you can pitch a journalist in 140 characters, there’s no reason you can’t compose a press release that’s fewer than 400 words.
5. Humour: It’s okay to use humour. 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. Remember humour is highly subjective, so tread carefully. Subtle humor makes releases more interesting.
6. 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.
7. 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 press releases, you’ll see they’re always the same. Journalists rarely use those quotes. Either kill the quotes, or give them one they can use. Read the quotes that make it into print, and model your press release quote after that.
8. Use some bullet points: Use bullets to break up your information. Just as they make it easier to scan a blog post, so, too, do bullets help you scan a press release. Unfortunately, very few press releases contain bullet points, so break yours up and make them stand out.