The Art and Science of Writing Press Releases that Rock

In an era of blogs, social media and other corporate marketing efforts, press releases may look like a hangover of yester year’s marketing strategies. They are certainly not.

This gem of documentation is essentially official proclamation of new products, updates, announcements, important achievements, vital changes in companies and more. While blogs and social media posts are like corporate diary entries and personal diatribes, press releases relay official corporate messaging to a company’s target audience. Get a single fact wrong, and you are essentially opening yourself and your company to legal jeopardy.

Having said that, press releases should not be a bore. Face it, in a world of information overload, grabbing eyeballs is a Herculean feat. A boring press release gets quickly drowned (in some cases, that may be the intention, but that is a topic for another blog).

No matter how a press release is written, there is a structure. It is not a story. And definitely should not be opinionated, unless it is the company’s official stand. It should follow a structure that has been honed and streamlined over time for maximum impact and optimal information delivery.

Keep in mind who press releases are really for. Yes, the press. Admittedly, today, every one armed with a blog and/or a newsletter can be considered press, including your partners and your customers. But press releases are meant to be used and quoted in articles that are to be written. Anything that can be misinterpreted or vague should always be avoided.

Below is a quick rundown on how a good press release should be structured.

Headline: This should be factual and grab attention. Say “Company A takes aim at NoSQL users with new version”. You can still say “Company A launches new version” but you can readily see that the previous headline identifies the user base, value and the announcement in a sentence. Why is this important? Imagine if you are a journalist. And on your screen you see a long list of press releases. The headline that grabs attention is the one that will most likely be read.

Subhead: This is the sentence that is below the headline. There are two approaches: highlight all the value propositions or highlight a secondary headline here. It depends on the announcement. But again, put yourself in the seat of the journalist—the subhead should reinforce or expand on the headline.

First paragraph: This is where you officially introduce your company, including official company description (“Company A, world’s largest vendor…”) and summarize the entire announcement. If there are additional announcements, it is best to add to the first paragraph. The reason is two-fold: 1) Most journalists who are attracted by the headline will likely want a summary of the press release before deciding whether or not they want to spent additional time reading more of the press release. It is about resource usage (in this case a journalist’s time and patience). 2) For those content curators who have to sieve through thousands of articles a day, they need to see the relevancy of this information before taking further action. A lousy first paragraph essentially kills your announcement, no matter how good your body text and facts are.

Other points for good press release writing:

  • Include hard numbers—as much as possible. Else, your press release sounds like a company making a baseless claim or selling too hard. Both are loathed by the media.
  • Grammar, grammar, grammar. A single grammar error can render an entire press release unworthy to read. In some cases, it may become the butt of a joke.
  • Include quotes. Best from an official spokesperson and one from a third party (e.g. analyst, customer, etc.). This adds weight and offers the journalist a go-to contact for additional information.
  • Add your contact information. Believe me, this can be missing.
  • Keep it to a page. Anything longer, and imagine the journalist rolling his or her eyes and moving on from a half-read release.
  • Add links for more information. Providing relevant links to your website can help journalists who are pressured under deadline to learn more. If the information is already on your website, it is time to make this a journalists’ informational tool by linking relevant pages in the press release. Otherwise, if journalists are forced to search for themselves, it may result in them going to a rival’s website.

Press release writing is a combination of science and art. There is a formula, but a loose one. It requires good instinct on how to capture key media attention.

The best advice is to listen to the advice of your PR person or agency. This is not because I’m in PR. Rather, BroadPR is in constant contact with the media, so we have insight to what works and what does not in terms of capturing coverage.

The best press releases are a collaborative effort. It is a result of what can happen when collaboration occurs at all levels.