Let’s start with the purpose of any press release. Not only do they inform stakeholders of your developments, handle crisis communications effectively and play a valuable role as website content, press releases can also amplify your reach, generate leads, and even build connections with media outlets and industry influencers.
The first press release is credited to Ivy Lee: in 1906 his agency was working with the Pennsylvania Railroad at the time of a train wreck. Instead of waiting to see how the media would cover the story, he wrote his own summary and proactively distributed it to journalists. The release told the story from the perspective of the railroad. And the press release was born! As a result, the New York Times published a news article on the accident, using the exact language from Lee’s text. The form of press releases may have changed but the sentiment remains.
As PR specialists, it’s our role to work with our clients to get to the heart of the story. So, how do you write the perfect press release?
Press Release Anatomy
Write short, clear, concise but also interesting paragraphs. Avoid waffling or jargon. The overall release should be around 300 – 600 words and fit onto one page.
The headline of the press release or the title is important and maybe more important than the release itself. If a journalist can’t work out why your story is interesting, then you have probably already lost them. A headline should capture the reader’s attention and summarise your story. Remove or ignore anything that doesn’t make people go “wow”. It should be about 5-8 words so it can be understood at one glance.
While not always necessary, this is your opportunity to build on the headline by adding secondary detail thatshould only be a sentence long.
City/Country of origin and the date of release. Make sure this is in the correct format depending on what country you are distributing in.
Make journalists’ lives easy – write a PR as they would write. The lead paragraph should be positioned as a story and beneficial to the readers such as something impactful, new, or exciting. PRs should not be self-serving, salesy, or providing out-of-date information but should focus on insights, trends, and expertise. The first paragraph of the release needs to be powerful like an elevator pitch, get to the point and make it press-ready. The intro paragraph should answer those five famous questions: – who, what, where, why, and when. In certain instances, releases are cut from the bottom up, so you want to make sure you get the point across earlier than later. The core of media writing is based on an inverted pyramid – the important stuff at the top and the fluff at the bottom.
The next few paragraphs are your opportunity to add details beyond the lead paragraph. If you are including solid data within your press release don’t bury the data in the content itself. Bring the data out of the copy and easy for journalists to copy and paste with the use of bullet points (stick to the magic number: 3)
The whole release would have a third-person phrasing. For example, “WSO2 has secured $90M funding”, versus “we or I have secured a large funding round…”.
Quotes are hugely valuable to include. It’s your opportunity to have a spokesperson validate the importance of your story. When possible, comments are preferable from C-suite executives or industry experts from your company, a customer or a partner. This should be kept to a minimum of two paragraphs.
This section allows you to explain your organisation in a few sentences and, if appropriate, add a few hyperlinks to your website and social media pages. To take further advantage of hyperlinks make sure they are tracking URLs to show the flow of traffic.
Make sure to include phone and email at a minimum in case a journalist requires more information. Press releases are also a fantastic way to lure journalists for a follow-up briefing and, in order to do this well, they should have enough information in the release but not too much.
A picture paints a thousand words. You may want to include photos, report PDFs or infographics as attachments when sending out your press release. This may slow down the process of distribution, but journalists would think this is safer than clicking on an unknown link.
A Journalist’s Perspective
One of the many benefits of distributing a press release is to secure top-tier trade and/or national coverage. But journalists are busy people. The hardest thing is to grab their attention, especially when the market is over-saturated with tech vendors all trying to shout the loudest. If you are the Apple and Amazon’s of the world this might not be a problem, but if you are a more niche, smaller organisation that only appeals to a more targeted audience it could be a little more difficult.
The main priority is to make sure the pitch team are reaching out to the relevant journalists. The easiest thing is to contact them via email, but they get over a dozen a day so it’s important to stand out. Try giving them a call but make it brief, interesting and get to the point quickly; the biggest mistake you can make is reading the whole press release out to the journalist over voicemail, sounding robotic and demonstrating no personal interest in the story you’re pitching. This in turn could damage your relationship with these journalists.
Most journalists will be open to receiving relevant press releases and if they don’t, that’s probably because they have no use for them. Some media will simply prefer more ideas or features oriented stories. So don’t send PRs to those when it’s not appropriate to.
Don’t include the press release as an attachment but in the body in the email. Journalists would rather not open attachments from people they don’t know.
The subject line should be short and sweet. Try not to include spam triggering keywords such as Credit, Income or Investment.
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