Press release writing is a great way to generate media coverage and tell your audiences about your product or service. A natural skill for some, there is a formula to it so if you want to try your hand, it’s worth thinking about the following things to get you started.
Firstly lay out the bones of the news you’d like to share. This means answering who, what, why, where, when and how. Decide where these details stand in order of importance – this matters because press releases follow an ‘upside down pyramid’ shape in which the most critical information goes to the top and supplementary details further down. This was traditionally because media outlets only had limited space for each story so the sub-editors would be cut from the bottom up, but is ever more important in the digital age where the number of characters you have to get your point across is generally even smaller.
At this stage, double check the content – is it timely and relevant to the media outlets you’ll be targeting? No one wants to read old news and in fact the story won’t get to the publication stage if it’s been and gone or contains nothing to resonate with the people that will see it.
If all’s well, now is the time to add the meat. Write out what you want to say more fully, but keeping it concise and in fairly simple terms. First timers often try to fill a story full of big words but old hands strip these out to achieve ‘Joe Public’ speak to make the story more universally accessible. The same point can be made about industry jargon. The only time it is acceptable to fill a release full of acronyms and words that only you and your peers will understand is when you’re writing for trade press.
About half way down is the time to add quotes. Two are ideal, preferably with the first from someone outside of your organization (if appropriate). Three starts to get a bit unwieldy unless it’s a very significant announcement you are making. Try not to repeat what’s been said already, state the obvious or be too commercial; the point is to add colour and provide a human element to the story.
Never forget to source sign off for quotes (or the finished release for that matter) – it’s really important people have approved what is being said and potentially published in their name. You don’t want a legal battle on your hands!
After the quotes, you’re pretty much at the end of the release and this is where any ‘nice to have’ information is placed. Don’t try and pad a release out – 250-300 words are more than ample. If relevant, don’t forget a sign off sentence saying where people can go for more information. Adding the word ‘ends’ underneath the release signifies to any journalist that it’s the end of the copy and it’s always worth supplying a ‘media contact’ so it’s clear to whom any requests for further details should be directed.
If you’re stuck and wondering whether what you’re writing about is actually news, pick up a paper and see if it fits with what’s already featured. If it does, it’s likely – unless it’s a story about a ‘unique’ development and someone has beaten you to it – you’re onto a winner. Best of all, if you are familiar with the paper you’re writing for, chances are you’ll capture the appropriate style much better when you’re drafting up.
These are just a few tips to help you on your way. Remember though, best practice is to tailor a release to each title, which means highlighting the relevance to each paper’s readers or catchment area. It takes time, but the results are most definitely worth the extra effort.