2018-02-14 11:00:00 (GMT)
If your press releases aren't perfect, this deconstruction of the everyday PR vehicle is for you.
The press release, while commonplace, is often a grossly under-leveraged PR vehicle -- due mostly to a single culprit: sub-par writing.
How do I know?
I’ve judged, edited and written thousands of press releases in my career in journalism and PR.
I know what works. And I know what doesn’t work.
I’ve seen well-organized, well-written and clean releases that advance their brands’ causes.
I’ve also seen far more disorganized, under-written and messy releases that halt their brands’ causes.
Ask any editor, reporter, blogger, influencer, investor, analyst or researcher how easy it is for them to the decode the average release, and they’ll tell you the same.
Why is this so?
There are many reasons the press release is routinely under-written: lack of time; project juggling; deadlines; internal information roadblocks; stress; the-vehicle-is-enough mentality; and plenty more. PR is hard.
Regardless, it’s expected that PR pros know how to write a great and complete press release. And it’s assumed they’ve critically analyzed the vehicle and its structure and know its nuances.
However, we know this simply isn’t always true.
But can the release be reduced to its elemental parts? Are all releases -- despite their endless variations and each writer’s individual intellect and skill -- fundamentally the same?
A release, like any other standardized product, should be produced under a repeatable, teachable and sustainable process.
So -- right here and right now -- let’s pause and identify the elements of a well-written press release. If you know them, great. Carry on here as a still-improving writer.
A press release, similar to a proper news article, should be comprised of eight key journalistic parts, set up in descending order: the headline; sub-headline (optional); lead paragraph; what paragraphs; why paragraphs; how paragraphs; quotes (placed with discretion) and boilerplate.
The who, where and when -- three other key parts -- should be detailed naturally in the release’s beginning: the headline, dateline (location and date), lead paragraph and, as necessary, the what paragraphs.
Okay, sure. You got this, right? Perhaps.
Understanding a PR vehicle’s makeup is entirely different from actually writing a great vehicle. Excellent writing isn’t easily created -- but knowledge is a key factor.
That said, I humbly and thoughtfully invite PR pros -- both new and experienced ones -- to use the complete breakdown below as a pleasant how-to or best practices guide on constructing and writing a pitch-perfect press release -- or more accurately, news release.
And do your company, firm or peers a favor, share this breakdown with them. The news release, however commonplace, hasn’t been perfected.
Think of a group of trumpet-playing Marines heralding your news
Actually announce something, however small
Take your shot
Use present tense
Use a noun (i.e., company) and a verb (Yes, this needs to be a point.)
Be concise (You’re getting one glance!)
Write what you want to see published
Somehow say nothing
Use past tense
Be long and wordy or ramble
Use extra helping words
Be nearly or fully incoherent
Write like you have endless characters
Write only for SEO
Think of a group of backup singers supporting the lead singer
Create a balance and harmony with the headline
Say what you couldn’t say in the headline
Add credibility or backstory or explain
Tease news highlights
Contradict the headline
Stuff everything else in
Fail to enhance the headline and release
Take a detour and go off message
Undermine your message
Be better than the headline
The lead paragraph
Think of a status update that catches your audience's attention
Be creative, especially when your industry and news call for it (e.g., entertainment, seasonal, etc.)
Engage the reader
Hook the reader
Or, minimally, plainly state the news
Use a single sentence
Quickly get to the point
Address the who and when and the primary what
Add a tease of the why and/or how if either is a major, differentiating part of the news
Tell your headline and a summary of your news in sentence form
Write a bad “creative” line
Write an untimely or forced cliche
Write multiple sentences
Write a paragraph
Skip entirely to the why and/or how without stressing the what
Be unrelated to the headline
Be unclear and confuse
Assume you make sense
What paragraphs (aka the news)
Think of a victorious Serena Williams describing what happened in a post-match press conference
Start telling your story
Provide an overview
Tell some quick details
Write as if these lines are being judged, word for word, for news value
Know this is the actual news
Describe the substance of your announcement
Tell multiple stories
Tell old stories
Tell future stories
Fully address the why and/or how here
Assume no overview or summary your news is needed, because it’s self-evident
Why paragraphs (aka benefits)
Think of "Jim" from "The Office" selling to a customer
Sell, sell, sell
Why should anyone care?
Why should your targets care?
How will your news benefit them?
Close the reader. Get to a “yes.”
Get stuck on the what story and never get to the why
Get into features first
Use your least-compelling selling points
Be afraid to sell
How paragraphs (aka features)
Think of all the details printed on a drone box
Break down features
Get into details
Then get into deeper, niche-level details
Add whatever is cut-able or would be a bonus for you to see published
Fail to identify any features
Withhold interesting information
Expect your why will do all the selling
Think no one care about the “details”
Think of a group of friends at a coffee shop
Talk like a human being talks in real life
Talk like you’re talking with friends or colleagues
Be humble and believable
Create a way to be confident and bold
Use qualifiers if necessary
Add personality, color and humanity to the news
Place quotes as supports after your best arguments or points are made (e.g., after the why and how)
Be a marketing brochure
Be an academic essay
Talk in PR-speak
Places quotes too high (e.g., before selling) or too late (e.g., apart from best arguments)
Think of a printing press mass producing copies of whatever you share in this section
Write whatever you want mass produced
Highlight your key set of ongoing corporate messages
Highlight your key set of corporate selling points or differentiators
Seize the opportunity in this space
View this section as a one-stop library on your brand
Assume no reads this section or cares about it
Be too brief, too cool or too cute (e.g., microphone-dropper)
Spend little time on this section
Fail to understand the longevity of copy here
Headline: How to write a pitch-perfect press release