I’ve always loved to write. From a young age I’ve had a journal or a diary and have always been a big fan of post-its and to-do lists. I was a very serious little list-maker (oh who am I kidding…) I am a very serious list-maker. Again, I love to write and words are my thing.
So when college was quickly approaching–and I had no idea where I wanted to go or what I wanted to do–I was certain of one thing and one thing only: I wanted to write. I thought I was pretty good at it and it came easily to me. Sure, I sat through the business school orientation just to “see” if I would be interested–you know, to humor the parents. But no thanks; my calling was to journalism.
I remember sitting in my very first journalism class, feeling extreme nervousness and excitement all rolled into one and thinking to myself: “Uh oh, what have I gotten myself into?” I was sitting in a very uncomfortable, stuffy lecture hall filled with about 200+ students. The seats and desks were all wooden. There had to have been at least 100 freshmen who had sat in that exact same seat before me. I vividly remember that first class–I didn’t love it. In fact, all I recall is that the chairs were outrageously uncomfortable, the class was beyond boring and I didn’t do very well. Journalism as I had envisioned it was not even remotely close to this class. I wondered if maybe it really wasn’t my “thing” as much as I had thought… great. Now what?
Well, the next summer I was accepted into the journalism school. I guess I’ll try this again. Maybe it could be my “thing” after all. So I picked up my first set of classes as an official journalism student (which I’ll admit, felt both awesome and scary at the same time) and after some not-so-great press releases, media advisories, lessons and writing sessions (and some tears, I would suspect), I really started to get the hang of it. Journalism was becoming second nature.
As with anything, all it took was loads and loads of practice. And the very first thing I had to master was writing the dreaded press release.
So here are my top 10 hints for writing a press release.
10. Keep it concise. There’s really nothing worse than reading a press release that goes on and on for pages upon pages. Superfluous details are just that: superfluous. No need to sugarcoat anything or fluff things up with pretty words. Stick to the point.
9. Get to the point quickly. Bottom line: If I don’t know what your press release is about in the first few sentences, I’m already gone. What are you trying to say? What is it that you’re announcing? What is it that I need to know? Get to the point and get to it fast.
8. Remember your audience. If you wouldn’t say it to your boss, colleague, kids or grandma, then you should probably refrain from typing it in a press release. Remember, you want them to care about what you’re saying–not laugh, sigh, roll their eyes or delete your press release altogether.
7. Never assume. Although you may know what a particular acronym stands for or what a specific phrase means, never assume that the reader or journalist you sent the press release to knows exactly what you’re referring to. Spell acronyms out on first reference. Be clear without going into a deep explanation.
6. Be professional. Sending a press release in size 16 font makes you seem unprofessional. Double check your hyperlinks, make sure all attachments and images open correctly and don’t e-mail a press release with a huge file size. If I suddenly stop receiving e-mails because you clog up my inbox, I’ll simply press delete.
5. Incorporate social media. Whether you stick to hyperlinks, embed videos or link to podcasts, try to incorporate social media into your press release. You can pretty much say goodbye to the traditional press release as we once knew it. Learn more about the modern press release and how to use it here.
4. Don’t forget the boilerplate. An essential part of your press materials–and more specifically, your press release–the boilerplate provides a nice background on your company or organization. In PR lingo, a boilerplate is a statement placed at the end of a press release that covers the basic five W’s (who, what, when, where and why) of your business, products and services, letting the press and public know what your company or organization is all about.
3. Include your contact info. What good is sending over information without including who sent it? Sure having a contact name is a good start, but what if I need more information? What if I want to request high-resolution images, an interview or want to develop a story out of it? Don’t leave the journalist hanging or having to search for your contact info. It’s really not a good idea. So, include your name, company or organization, phone number, e-mail and a link to your Web site. If you want to include your address, go for it, but please do not make your contact information 10 lines long. No one wants to start reading your content in the middle of the page.
2. Do your homework. If I receive an e-mail from you that says “Dear Lori” with a press release attached, I don’t read any further. My name’s Laurie, not Lori. Make sure you know who you are sending your press releases to. What is their official title? Where is their office? Doing your homework will help you to forge relationships and establish raport with journalists. Trust me, you wouldn’t believe how many people address me as “Lori.” No thanks.
1. Make sure it’s newsworthy. Last–but certainly not least–newsworthiness is the most important thing to remember when writing a press release. Here’s an example. Today I received an e-mail with a press release and attached images of a company holiday gingerbread house-making party. Sure, the pics were cute and I wished I had a little gumdrop-covered gingerbread house sitting right in front of me to eat, but sorry, I don’t cover that news. I never have and I probably never will. Where’s the news? What’s actually happening? What is so important that you took the time to write about it and why should I be reading it?
If you’re like me and are sitting in your journalism class wondering if you’re in the right room, test these out and see what happens. I’ve been working in PR for a while now and the truth of the matter is, I still have a lot to learn. That’s the beauty of PR and writing–it always keeps you on your toes.
To my fellow PR professionals, what are your hints for writing a press release? And if you’re a journalist, what are your press release pet peeves?