A Winning Press Release –
The Ultimate Guide to Getting It Right
Any journalist can tell you they get far more press releases than they can deal with. That’s why you need to grab their attention – and keep it – with a well written, convincing, and compelling press release. If you can’t, the delete button is ready and waiting.
Before you start writing, think about your release from the journalist’s point of view. Why would a journalist be interested? What makes your press release news? For instance, if you are releasing a new suitcase, “Suitco brings out a new suitcase” is going straight in the trash, while “Revolutionary voice-activated lock on new suitcase” could make the front page. Think about trends that your story fits – for instance, if your new accounts software can handle Bitcoin, cryptocurrencies are a strong theme now – and stress the big trends rather than sweating the detail.
Next, think about the ‘W’ questions – who, what, when, where, and why? Add how, if that’s important, and you have all the facts a journalist needs. Miss some out, and your story isn’t complete. Make sure you have all the facts laid out before you start writing. This really is journalism 101, and where so many falter (a good investment, hire a professional, we are here to help) and wind up in the garbage before getting a chance to see the light of day.
Remember that a press release is not the same thing as a story. You’re giving journalists their raw material, not their finished product. (If you want to deliver finished stories, you need to concentrate on contacting editors, not features journalists or reporters.) You need a headline that is factual – avoids puns and quotes.
Your heading and first paragraph need to do two things. They need to give the very basic information about who you are and what is happening, and they need to say why it’s news. By the end of the first paragraph, the journalist should know exactly what your release is about – a new app, a warning about new legislation, a new product, or a new trend and how it’s impacting a specific group. (Did you notice how often the word “new” got repeated there? The news is a lot of new things – that’s “new” with a “s”, that’s what makes up the news.)
As you continue down the press release, you’re offering backup information and adding a bit more meat to the story. For instance, in a technology story, what the software does goes at the top, while exactly how it works would be further down the release. If you’re publicizing a survey, “80% of small shop owners don’t understand their tax forms” goes at the top, while the fact that you surveyed 1015 of them, and also asked if they understand their profit and loss statement or whether their local council is helpful, would go further down, or even in an appendix.
Make sure you offer hard facts. “Most people said they weren’t sure” makes a bad press release. “7 out of 8 people from a survey group of 2,500 currently employed declared they don’t know” makes a great one.
You also want to give a couple of good crunchy quotes, the kind of soundbite a journalist will want to use, not motherhood and apple pie. “Good service starts with world-class personal service” is never going to make the cut (“blah, blah, blah” went the journalists head after it exploded from boredom); “every job is different, because every customer is different” may not be a revolutionary sentiment, but at least it’s crisply expressed. Best of all is a quote that, while not quite controversial, gives a decidedly different point of view – “every business has loads of data, but if you can’t pull it together, it’s about as useful as a chocolate guard dog” will almost certainly get quoted.
The human element isn’t always going to be appropriate. If it’s not strictly relevant to your announcement, don’t shoehorn it in. But sometimes it can make all the difference. Featuring the customer who asked for something a bit different, the supplier whose business was able to grow when you increased the amount of business you were doing with them, or the employee who had the bright idea can make your story different. But remember to look for what makes your story news; if it’s just another “Our CEO ran the London marathon” story it will be competing with a dozen others. If it’s “Our CEO ran the marathon using the prosthetic leg we’ve spent ten years developing”, that’s news – and it’s extremely relevant, too.
A picture is worth a thousand words, so make sure you have pictures, video, and any other relevant media assets to accompany your press release. Whether that means a head and shoulders shot of your CEO or a beautiful landscape from your travel brochure, a good, high-resolution photo is a must, and have it available as a JPG, PNG or TIFF file. Sending huge files with your email is a no-no, though – send thumbnails and a link to a Dropbox or other file sharing site where editors can download the high-res shots they need. If you have supporting information that you’re not sending with the release, add a link to your website – don’t make people search for it.
Don’t forget to provide a contact name, email, and phone number. If you have a specified person ready to respond, you’re more likely to get a follow-up call or email. And when they reach out for more info, make sure someone is there to connect immediately! You can also add a short paragraph giving basic information about you – “Samuel X is a Los Angeles-based accountant specializing in taxes for small business owners”, or “Techco specializes in creating mobile apps for real estate agents”.
Finally look at your press release. It should pass three basic tests. First, is it truly news? Second, how long is it? If you have one succinct page, that’s great. If you have more than one page – there had better be a good reason and strong story support. More than two pages for any reason – you’ve failed. Remember, journalists are busy. You need to cut it down. (Of course, for some detailed technical releases – for instance, trade statistics or comment on a series issue, you may need to add appendices. But the actual release should still not be more than two pages – one page is best.)
Thirdly, have you used the words “great”, “awesome”, “awe-inspiring”, “magnificent”, “happening”? Cut out the fluff; it’s not factual and it’s not helpful. Remember, the red pencil (or possibly the delete button) is your friend. Stick to the facts and watch the hyperbole.
Although press releases at best can look simple and uncluttered, there’s quite a bit of effort and skill that needs to go into creating a good one. Time and attention invested in your story can pay off handsome dividends, you’ll get much better results and media coverage for having taken that care. And when a journalist receives a great press release that piques their attention, they might just thank you with a story.