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Although media has changed considerably over the last few decades, and some traditional methods of getting press have fallen by the wayside in favor of blogs, social media and working with “influencers,” the press release still remains an important part of the publicity process.
To write an effective press release, focus on the compelling aspects of your announcement while giving reporters enough information to put together an interesting story.
Don’t Bury the Lead
When writing a press release, write it how a journalist would. If you write the release like a news story, there’s a chance that news outlets (including blogs) might publish it as is, with minimal changes. At the very least, when you approach the release like a journalist, you’re providing an adequate amount of information to spur an original story.
With that in mind, start with a short, punchy headline that will catch attention. The first paragraph of your press release should focus on the “meat” of the announcement. Use the inverted triangle method of journalism: the first paragraph should answer the questions of who, what, where, when, and why, with subsequent paragraphs providing more relevant details. Remember that many journalists receive dozens, if not hundreds, of press releases every day, so your first paragraph should grab their attention and summarize your news.
Provide Details and Quotes
Once you’ve set the foundation for your story in the first paragraph, use the following paragraphs to fill in the details. Use quotes whenever possible. Quoting key players in your news release helps show the importance of your announcement; an eloquent, pithy quote can also help show how your news fits into the context of the overall industry, while making the release memorable. Don’t, however, quote your company leaders using a series of business jargon, clichés or vague platitudes. Quotes should actually reveal something new and provide greater insight into the news.
Provide Background Information
While a press release isn’t the place to provide a detailed, play-by-play history of your organization, some background information about who you are is helpful to reporters. Remember, your press release is designed to help journalists and spur them to cover your news and your company, so stick to information that is relevant to the announcement. Include a short description of your company and what it does (i.e., “Acme Company has been a leader in widget production since 1975…”) and then an explanation about how this announcement will affect the company going forward, a prediction about how your announcement is going to change things, or other insight into why this news is important.
Don't Forget the Basics
We don’t hear much about press releases that get it right, but there is certainly a lot of chatter about press releases that get it wrong. Just check out Twitter or other sites where journalists hang out, and you’ll see plenty of complaints about press releases with blunders and errors. Sending out releases that aren’t newsworthy or filled with meaningless jargon and buzzwords are common complaints, but not including enough information or making it clear what the release is about is most irksome to reporters. Make sure your purpose is clear, and that journalists understand what you're announcing.
Make sure you include the correct contact information at the top of the list, and that all data is cited (with links to the sources) and all names and titles are spelled correctly. Carefully proofread the release before sending it out.
Sending Press Releases
In the past, many PR departments used the “spray and pray” method of sending out press releases – mailing or faxing releases to a long list of reporters hoping someone would pick it up. That method is no longer effective. The most effective method is to reach out to journalists personally, with a short note explaining why you are sending them the release. When you demonstrate that you’ve done your homework, and know who you’re sending the release to, you will have better results. In addition to sending the release to journalists though, post it on your own social media pages as well as your website, to help spread the word.
- Press releases are written in block style, so no paragraph indentation is necessary.
- Have an objective person read your press release and tell you whether he or she would be interested enough to read a newspaper story about it. If not, consider going back to the drawing board for a rewrite.
- Hire a professional photographer to cover your event so you can include relevant photos with your release. Many newspapers and local magazines appreciate not having to send out a photographer.
- Send your press release to the reporter that covers the area you are targeting instead of a managing or senior editor. Often, this will turn into a story much faster.
- Keep the tone of your release all business. Don't go into too much personal or non-business related detail or your press release will likely end up in the editor's circular file.
An adjunct instructor at Central Maine Community College, Kristen Hamlin is also a freelance writer and editor, specializing in careers, business, education, and lifestyle topics. The author of Graduate! Everything You Need to Succeed After College (Capital Books), which covers everything from career and financial advice to furnishing your first apartment, her work has also appeared in Young Money, Lewiston Auburn Magazine, USA Today, and a variety of online outlets. She's also been quoted as a career expert in many newspapers and magazines, including Cosmopolitan and Parade. She has a B.A. in Communication from Stonehill College, and a Master of Liberal Studies in Creative Writing from the University of Denver.