One quick way to ruin your relationship with the media is by sending a bad press release.
Each day, journalists are pitched hundreds of stories. If you want them to notice your company and write about it, you must grab their attention with your press releases.
Reporters' inboxes are bombarded each day with press releases from government agencies, companies, non-profit organisations, and average citizens who want their neighborhood plights to get noticed. If your press release is filled with grammatical mistakes, attached to a very complex email, or totally unrelated to a journalist's coverage area, you might as well throw it down a sewer drain. And if it is uninteresting and unprofessional, your chances of getting beneficial news coverage are zero.
However, when done right, a press release can capture a journalist’s attention and make them want to publish it.
The trick to writing a press release that gets noticed is knowing what information to include and how to format it. Remember, a press release is your company's face: it's what reporters will use to judge your company. Writing one is not something you should take lightly.
What's more, most press releases are usually available online—on a company’s website or a press release website—so your potential customers may also read them. Writing a press release is not a task you should delegate to the intern. The intern is not as passionate about your company as you are.
If you want to craft a sensational press release, here's what to do.
1: Write a Captivating Headline
David Ogilvy, the famous advertising genius, once said that a headline is read by five times more people than the body copy.
If you want your press release to get media coverage, you need to give the reporter a story. That means writing a captivating headline. The headline is what captures a journalist's attention and convinces them that your story is worth telling.
In the headline, you should summarize the content in the press release in ten words or less— something easier said than done.
Spend at least 30 to 60 minutes working on the headline. Once you get it right, the rest of the story will pretty much write itself.
Getting the headline right is worth your time. Why?
Because the headline will form the news angle of the press release. It will also be the title you use in the email subject line when pitching to the media. If you’re using a PR tool, it’s also the title you will use.
Get the headline right and yours will be one of the emails a reporter actually reads. Get it wrong and your email will end up in the trash folder.
The best press release headlines meet the following criteria:
- They comprise ten words or less
- They have a news angle and highlight what is disruptive, innovative, or impactful about a business
- They include the five Ws and one H of journalism: who?, what?, when?, where?, why?, and how?
- They do not contain exaggeration and hyperbole (something reporters hate)
- They’re not written like blog headlines
- They are devoid of brand names, unless necessary: they only state what the company does, not what it is
- They mirror the editorial style of the media being pitched to
- They give reporters a good idea of the headlines to use in their finished stories
2: Make It Newsworthy
When a journalist receives your press release, the first thought that will cross their mind is, "why should I care?" Your press release must have obvious "news." If it doesn't, it will be on a quick journey to the junk folder.
The first step to writing a great press release is determining the information you want to relay and how it qualifies as news. There's one thing most people who are amateurs in writing press releases find hard: taking their ego out.
In most cases, what readers of a publication find newsworthy is totally different than what’s contained in a press release. That’s why you should write with the readers in mind.
There are four main reasons companies issue press releases:
- To announce mergers or acquisitions
- To talk about events that have taken place
- To inform the public about forthcoming events
- When launching new products or services
Before you start writing your press release, think of the things you like to read, listen, or watch in the media. Most people are generally interested in things they haven't heard before, things they find surprising, or things that help solve their problems.
Ask yourself these three questions before you start drafting a press release:
- Will anyone actually care about the press release?
- Is there anything new, unusual, or unexpected about the information?
- Will the press release add value to the public?
The first question sounds a bit harsh, but it is the most important. You may be passionate about launching your company's new product, but will anyone be interested in it? If you don't think anyone will be interested in the story you want to tell, don't write the press release until you have a better story.
To make sure you write a newsworthy press release, read the publications or watch the programs you would like coverage in. This will help you to get a feel for the types of stories the media usually covers.
3: Be Concise
According to research, only 3% of journalists say they depend heavily on press releases. However, most receive 100 or more press releases each day.
Press releases that get a lot of traction are short and sweet. The average press release contains 300 to 400 words. However, writing an awesome press release that gets your company exposure in the media can be an uphill task.
That’s why you should be brief.
If your press release is longer than 400 words, it has unnecessary fluff that doesn't add anything to the story. Do not include your company's background information in the opening paragraph. You can include this information, along with any other information you would like to add, in the "Notes to Editors" segment at the end.
Reporters are usually pressed for time, so it's important to be as brief as you can. When you are concise, a journalist is able to gauge your story's relevance for their audience.
To save journalists time, state all the facts upfront. Multiple publications may spot the hook in your press release and publish it. Be sure to include accurate figures, statistics, quotes, and visuals if you have them at your disposal. They make a press release stand out.
In the body of the press release, where you go into detail about your story, make use of the inverted pyramid technique. Start with the most important facts and then add the other facts in descending order of importance.
At the very end, tell the audience what you would like them to do after reading your press release. You can direct them to a page with more information or provide a link to a free eBook.
4: Clean It Up
There's one thing you should never forget to do after writing a press release: proofreading. Grammatical mistakes, spelling errors, and inaccurate information can quickly turn off a journalist. They can also kill your credibility.
Write your press release as if it will be on the front page of a newspaper. Even if it won't, the mindset you’ll have as you write it will play a big role in how it looks after you're done.
Here’s the thing.
If you believe the press release is very important, you'll write it like it is. And the more appealing the headline, the better.
When writing the press release, use a word processing document and don't write in the online submission form or a text file. After drafting it, proofread it and correct any mistakes.
If you don’t have time to proofread, or you’re not very good at it, pass the press release through ProWritingAid. The online writing editor will quickly catch spelling mistakes and grammatical errors that may prevent your press release from getting coverage. Investing time in proofreading separates professional press releases from clumsy, amateurish ones.
Press releases also have a set of formatting rules to be followed. Get them wrong and you will look very inexperienced and unprofessional.
5: Now Go Create a Sensational Press Release
If you're in the process of creating a public relations strategy for your business, chances are you're considering press releases. But for press releases to reach the public, journalists must find the information worthwhile. Fewer and fewer journalists are working in newsrooms these days, so it's vital to create a press release that's effective.
Make sure what you're announcing is newsworthy and don't send journalists press releases about things that are irrelevant—or only relevant to your company. To ensure the press release doesn’t end up in the trash folder, make sure it is for a major announcement like a product launch, a special event, or industry recognition.
When you put a lot of thought into creating killer press releases, you’ll discover they are tools that can generate leads and enhance your company’s visibility.