Writing Effective Press Releases
CREATING EFFECTIVE PRESS RELEASES INVOLVES MORE THAN JUST USING THE RIGHT TEMPLATE ... HERE ARE SOME TIPS PLUS A PROVEN TEMPLATE TO BOOT...
Preface: This post was inspired by a recent exchange I had with April Lynn @AprilinProgress concerning a press release template she shared from wikiHow. I took exception to a couple of things about the template, based on my experience as a writer, magazine editor, and marketing and advertising account exec. April considered my comment negative and, in her words, trollish; and she challenged me — rightfully so — to put up or shut up. As a result, you will find below my recommendations and tips for writing press releases, as well as a suggested template. I hope you will find them useful.
I don't generally tell people how to write or write "better". For I believe strongly there is no single "best" way to write. And that everyone has to develop his or her own style and voice.
Even in the online "writing improvement" course which I run, Learn To Engage —With Confidence, the mantra is "before writing comes thinking". And we concentrate primarily on improving the way our students and clients organize their thoughts, ideas, and opinions. We also work on sharpening up their logic and reasoning skills. Because we've found that, when this is accomplished, writing improves naturally by leaps and bounds at the same time.
However, press releases are, by necessity, a well-defined form of writing, and their effectiveness benefits from adopting a regularized format and structure. Which is why I believe the following template and accompanying tips may prove useful to you, especially if you are new to writing, or at least relatively new to writing press releases.
Please understand that what is presented here is not in any way intended to be prescriptive, but only suggestive and a compilation of what I have found to be highly effective over the years in generating literally hundreds of successful press releases — where success is measured in terms of getting editors to pick up the contained information for appearance in their publications.
Generating an effective press release ultimately involves a lot more than simply using a good template... but let's start there...
1) The first item, right at the top of the release, should the media contact information. An editor may have a question that needs to be answered before the publication picks up the release, and you don't want to make that editor search through the release for whom to call. This media contact may or may not be the same contact to be listed for further information about the firm, product, service, event, happening or whatever for which you are seeking to generate publicity. But the media contact is the interface between a publication's editorial staff and the firm or client for whom the press release is being generated.
The media contact should always be included and displayed prominently because an editor will talk first to the media contact, should he or she be considering kicking the release up from a notice to a feature article — which is a home run in the public relations and marketing game.
2) The second item should be a release date, or if the release is not to be delayed, then a "For Immediate Release" notice.
I personally recommend always sending releases for immediate release, because delayed releases often end up in a pile and eventually overlooked when their release date finally arrives.
3) Then comes a title or headline. This needs to be carefully constructed to catch an editor's eye. Don't, however, expect it necessarily to be used in the publication, as editors like to headline pieces themselves.
4) The fourth item is a deck. The deck is one or more lines of text between the title and the body of the press release, which provide a brief summary of what follows. Editors with a background in print media love decks, and so do millennial digital editors when they are reading through releases, even if they don't use the deck when they pick up the release for publication. It never hurts, and usually helps to include a deck.
5) At the beginning of the lead paragraph, you should insert the date and location, newspaper style. This dates the information and imbues it with an aura of timeliness, which tends to motivate editors to look at it on a priority basis. For nobody wants to publish "old news".
6) The rest of the lead paragraph should be devoted to telling readers in two or a max three sentences what the entire release is about, as seen from a high level.
7) Quotes are always advantageous for adding "color" to the release and to imbue the contained information with some life. Readers, and consequently editors, tend to relate better to people than to cold factual statements, so you need to give them people to relate to.
8) At the bottom of each page, there needs to be a page-tracking device. I have found the best one to be a "continued" or "continued next page" phrase, which minimizes the chances that an editor will stop reading prematurely and possibly miss important information.
9) It's always beneficial to include a couple of paragraphs of background information on the organization being publicized and any principals mentioned or quoted in the release. This may not get picked up, but it helps provide an editor with a more detailed picture of what the release is all about.
10) The for-more-information contact may or may not be the same as the media contact, but it is, in any event, an important contact to have included in any published notice. If possible, it should be a contact who is best able to answer questions or deal with sales prospects and for those who may be seeking the additional detailed or technical information about the subject of the press release.
11) It is necessary to provide a firm indication of where the release ends. Many experienced writers like to use the old newspaper device of the triple hashtag, "###". But this is more nostalgic than required, and "The End" also does the job perfectly well.
12) Press releases have a much better chance of getting picked up if they are accompanied by good photography. The higher the resolution, the better, as that allows a publication's art director to downsize the images if necessary, but to use them in large format if they so choose. Product photos are always good, but the best photos for press release purposes have people in them as well.
It is best to include only one or two images with a release. If you have more that may be relevant, append a note that additional hi-res photography is available upon request. In this age of digital transmission, you can have additional images to an editor in the blink of an eye. But initially presenting too many photos just tends to increase the amount of time it takes an editor to preliminarily review the release, which decreases your chances of getting the release picked up.
If you've done your job well, the press release will get picked up in whole or part by more than one publication...
The press release shown as a specimen above is real, not made up for illustration. In the case at hand, it generated notices in more than six industry and related consumer publications. The material, as edited, varied from publication to publication, because most editors work differently and tend to vary in what they see as important. But when your press release racks up multiple publishing hits, you know you're doing something right.
That is why the ideal press release contains enough information to enable an editor to pick and choose what he or she wants to use, and how they want to spin the story. But not be so long as to appear daunting to read in a couple of minutes. For the latter will work against an editor spending the time to do so.
In my experience, the most effective press releases run from two to three pages maximum...
For what they are worth, here are some other tips based on hard-won experience:
A) Don't include a byline. This is a neophyte's mistake. A press release is not an article or a blog. It is not about the writer. It is about enticing an editor to pick up all or part of the information in the release for publication. If you include your byline, you will possibly confuse an editor as to whether you are submitting a press release or an article or a blog for publication. Resolving confusion takes time, which most editors don't have. Cause confusion, and your press release will be cast onto the discard pile or into the digital trash file.
As well, understand that when an editor picks up one of your press releases, he or she is doing you a good, and you are not going to be paid. (You should be getting paid by your client.) Including your byline in the release is going to confuse that issue as well.
B) Do understand editors are usually overworked and underpaid. But they are always looking for news and interesting information to fill their pages. So give your press release the best chance of being picked up by making the editor's job (and life) easier, rather than harder.
Make sure your release is well and tightly written, well organized, and capable of being copied and pasted, in whole or in part by the editor, into the publication he or she helps put together.
That is not to say an editor will simply copy and past your copy, but rather that your release needs to be good enough for him or her to do so if they so choose.
C) Do not submit the release to just a single publication. Indeed, do not hesitate to send the release to a number of different editors at the same publication. Just make sure you are sending it to editors who deal with the kind of information it represents. Very often, an assistant or associate editor will read and pick up a release, when the EIC or senior editors won't seriously consider it, or are too busy to do so.
When you submit an original article to an editor for consideration, the assumption is that you are not at the same time submitting it to other publications at the same time. But keep in mind that multiple simultaneous submissions are assumed in the case of press releases.
D) Do maintain an up-to-date list of appropriate media contacts. Do, as well undertake, within reason, one-on-one follow up with editors concerning press releases you are flogging. And understand that, if you are hiring a press release writer, these are values and benefits almost as important as the release itself.
What I've described to you here is not the only way to do press releases. Just one way that I've found successful over several decades of work as a writer and editor, for both print and digital media.
In that regards, some exceptionally valuable comments have been below by pros such as Wayne Yoshida and David Grinberg. I strongly recommend that you take the time to read what they have to say. — Phil Friedman
Author's notes: Your questions and comments are welcome, and will be answered if posted here. You can secure a full-size copy of the specimen template included above by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org and writing "press release template" on the subject line.
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About me, Phil Friedman: With 30 some years background in the marine industry, I've worn numerous hats — as a yacht designer, boat builder, marine operations and business manager, marine industry consultant, marine marketing and communications specialist, yachting magazine writer and editor, yacht surveyor, and marine industry educator. I am also trained and experienced in interest-based negotiation and mediation.
In a previous life, I was formally trained as an academic philosopher and taught logic and philosophy at university.
Before writing comes thinking. ( The optional-to-read pitch) :
As a professional writer, editor, university educator, and speaker, with more than 1,000 print and digital publications, I've recently launched an online program for enhancing your expository writing: learn2engage — With Confidence. My mission is to help writers and would-be writers improve their thought and writing, master the logic of discussion, and strengthen their ability to deal with disagreement... which I have found to be the natural precursor to improved writing.
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