press release

Press Release Boot Camp

If you’re tasked with writing a press release, you’ll want to craft a top-quality document that does the job effectively. Welcome to Press Release Boot Camp, where you’ll learn some tricks of the trade that will separate you, the professional, from the amateur.

First, some basics.

What are press releases and why do we need them?

When a company has something newsworthy to announce, a press release is the medium that delivers the message. It distributes information your organization wants to convey, by way of print, broadcast, and online news outlets, to a specific audience.

Releases, in other words, make your firm look good. But they sometimes serve a secondary purpose. In the land of social media and blogs, anyone can spread a libelous rumor.

(Political commentary redacted.)

A press release is a document of record, and thus a weapon of mass damage control.

What is news?

Your company may want to promote a product rollout, executive move, acquisition, or event. It may wish to tout an award or report on quarterly finances. That’s legit news.

All too often, businesses mask advertising as “breaking news.” Here’s a real-life example: Now’s the time to save on all the best brands, including Nike and Adidas, in all the hot new styles. If your higher ups think the media will be all over non-news, try to persuade them that wasting a reporter’s time puts the business’s reputation on the line.

3 Press Release Essentials

Now you’re ready to start writing. To get the media to take your news release – and your company – seriously, remember these golden rules.

  1. Is your news for general consumption or relevant to a specific industry?  Or will just a highly-specialized handful care? Tailor the content and tone of your release to the end-user, be it Entertainment Tonight, The Wall Street Journal, or Practical Poultry Magazine.
  2. Your message points are the skeleton of your release. Define and prioritize these info-nuggets in advance and build the release around them accordingly.
  3. Tell a story. Journalists get hundreds of press releases a day. To sell yours to a busy reporter, you’ll have to think like one. Grab their attention with a compelling, newsworthy story that’s relevant to their beat. Which leads us to…

The Anatomy of a Press Release

While there’s no hard-and-fast rule, best practices call for the following:

  • The headline is the news– your primary message point – at a glance. Keep it short and get your keywords in. Use power verbs. But just the facts, ma’am; avoid padding.
  • Subheads (optional) pull the reader deeper into the story with secondary yet supporting details.
  • The body serves up the meat and potatoes. Employ the inverted pyramid: frontload your key message in the first paragraph and get straight to the point. Otherwise, you’ll lose them before the second paragraph.
  • The rest is exposition. Here you’ll touch on your secondary message points. Who announced the merger? Why was there a need for this new product? How did your research team solve the problem?
  • Quotes: if a spokesperson must weigh in, the quote should reflect that person’s voice and have a reason to exist. The old “pleased and proud” makes your CEO sound, well, vapid.
  • End with a boilerplate, or brief company profile (emphasis on brief) with a link to the company website.
  • Always include a link to your pressroom for media information, and add contact details for a dedicated media spokesperson.

Some Final Do’s and Don’ts

Never:

  • Obfuscate or editorialize.
  • Make exaggerated/unsubstantiated claims.
  • Dress up ad copy as news. (This bears repeating.)
  • Use flippant language.

Always:

  • Secure all necessary approvals before the release goes public.
  • Optimize with keywords and long tails – a subject of its own for another blog.
  • Write good. Lazy grammar and typos distract from your content, so get a proofreader. Vary sentence structure and rhythm. Avoid cliches like the plague.

Remember, your news release reflects on your company and you. Keep these tips on your checklist to establish a good relationship with the press. You may even score some media placements.

Lisa B.

Lisa is a word nerd who writes promotional, informational, and business collateral for clients around the world. Formerly the staff writer for Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts and promotion copywriter for New York Magazine, she has worked in television, higher ed, nonprofits, media relations, marketing, and other industries. She is also a freelance musician in the New York City area.

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