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How to write a press release: don’t

The secret to writing a great press release is simple: don’t.

Don’t set out to write a press release. Create an article, one that will grab the attention of the readership you are targeting.

You don’t have to actually write the whole thing, but you need an idea for an article, you need a story or idea that will grab those readers.

Once you’ve done that, selling the idea to the media should be a piece of cake. Because you are giving them what they are really looking for, which is content that will appeal to their readers.

Don’t set out to write a press release. Create an article, direct for the end readership you are targeting.

If you can make this leap, to stop thinking about what you want to say, not even thinking about the journalist, but think about what the reader of the newspaper or magazine might be interested in, then you have material which can make for an excellent press release.

If a journalist or editor picks up your press release, and immediately sees something which he knows will interest his readers, then you have a hit. If not, it will be discarded.

So, ideally you need to come up with a targeted press release for a particular publication. Clearly, this is not always possible because of time constraints. The more you target your press releases, however, the more likely they are to be used.

Once you’ve got a killer idea, you now need to make life as easy as possible for the journalists and editors, by giving all the information they want and need, with none of fluff and blatant self-promotion that they loathe.

The easier you make it for a journalist or editor to use your press release, the more likely they are to include it in their publication. So, if you’ve included all the information they need; you’ve quoted someone, supplied their name and details; and given any other supporting information, they might be able to write up your press release without having to do interviews or make follow-up phone calls.

In a busy news room, such as those typically found on a local paper, or trade publication, this can make all the difference between having your press release used, and having it thrown in the bin, or put into a pile of papers never to be seen again.

You should also aim to write your press release in the style of the publication you are targeting as much as possible – since this makes life easier for the hard-pressed journalist. If your copy is good enough that they can use it as it is, then they might just do so. That means you get your words going directly into their publication. And that’s a good thing.

What to include in a Press Release

Attention grabbing headline

Include a headline, one that sums up the story as a whole. It doesn’t have to be a work of genius, as the publication will not want to use your headline (in case someone else does the same thing – and partly out of professional pride). Make it no more than five or six words if possible.

A first paragraph that sums it all up

Tell the whole story in the first paragraph. Of course you can’t include everything. But give the major overview. If this was the only sentence you could include – what would you say?

Tell the story

Get as much narrative and story-telling elements into your press release as possible.

Back it up

Use facts and figures to back up your headline and first paragraph. Give them all the relevant facts.

Provide quotes

Quote at least one person, preferably more. Make the quotes read like something someone would actually say. Make them conversational. Provide the name of the speaker, their job title, and any other relevant information. (You may even need to include their age – newspapers are obsessed with people’s ages – and even their marital status: is she a Miss, a Mrs or a Ms?)

Provide a contact

If the journalist wants extra information or additional quotes, they will need to able to get hold of someone, often in a hurry. They don’t want to hang around for days. They want to get if off their desk, one way or another. That means turning it into copy or putting it in the bin. So make sure they can get to speak to someone if and when they need to.

Notes to Editors

This is a place you can dump the more boring or background information, so that it won’t detract from the impact of the story.

Think of the reader, not yourself, and not the reporter

Most importantly of all, remember to include the information that will engage and interest the reader, and leave out the inward looking internal focus stuff, the things the boss wants everyone to hear even though they’re not interested. Get to the heart of the story, the thing that will grab the attention of your target audience. That is the sure fire way to grab the attention of an editor or journalist.

Photo: Newsstand, from New York Public Library. Photographer – Berenice Abbott, 1935. Via Flickr.
{ 4 comments… add one }
  • HelenWang May 22, 2010, 4:59 am

    Thank you very much! your writing and suggestion are wonderful and helpful. I have learned a lot from you.

  • Simon May 29, 2010, 5:31 pm

    Helen, you’re welcome, and thanks for the encouragement 🙂

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