Newspapers, magazines and broadcast outlets are no longer the only ways your public relations efforts reach people. But knowing how to write a press release remains a valuable skill for gaining the attention of websites and news outlets that can influence your customers, suppliers, partners and community.
And while there’s no way to control if or how your press release will be used by news and trade media after you release it, the document itself provides a marketing asset that you can repurpose over and over on your website, in employee communications, with vendors and partners, and share with current and prospective customers.
So, how do you write a press release that actually does its job?
1. First, write your press release for effect. You are telling a story and that story has a purpose:
- What do we need our audience to know?
- What should that knowledge help them understand or think about the brand, event or product you’re announcing?
- What do you want your audience to DO?
2. Give the press release a headline that briefly summarizes your story.
This is a departure from what they teach in school, but the headline is the first—and sometimes only part of—your release that people will read. Make sure it expresses the point of your press release in as few words as possible. ABC Corp Launches Most Efficient Widget, for example.
3. Stick as closely as possible to journalistic voice.
Your press release is telling your story to a sometimes-skeptical audience. It is not an advertisement, so avoid using emotional language or superlatives that are open to debate. ABC Corp may be the largest manufacturer in the market, but the body of your press release is not the place to claim it’s the best.
4. Consider an AP Stylebook for reference.
Journalists and editors are not the only audience for your press release, but they generally are the first one. Like many professions, they have a specialized way of doing things that helps them distinguish the pros from the poseurs. Something as simple as using the wrong abbreviation in your dateline might tell them you’re not one of the initiated, giving them permission to take your press release less seriously. Every outlet has their own specific style, but the Associated Press offers a fairly standard version in handy paperback form through most booksellers.
5. Be direct.
The first sentence of your press release (called a lede, in an alternate spelling of “lead” because, see #4) should briefly tell the reader exactly what you are announcing. Don’t bury the lede; it’s not a suspense novel. You need to get the point quickly. Compare and contrast:
- ABC Corp today announced a new widget that does widget things three times faster than other widgets on the market.
- A new innovation in widgets was announced today by ABC Corp, maker of the most awesome widgets in the world.
Example b. does make people wonder what’s coming next. Unfortunately, what’s next for them is likely to be scrolling down to the next email. Go with option a.
6. Explain the relevance.
The second sentence of your press release should explain why this announcement is important and to whom. ABC Corp Announced a New Widget may be true, accurate and exciting to you, but it has very little meaning to people who didn’t roll out of bed thinking about widgets. Explain the relevance as early in your press release as possible with a follow-up like: The increased efficiency of the new widget will save widget users more than $3 billion dollars over the next two years. See? Now there’s a reason to care about your press release.
7. Use quotes to advance your message.
Include a quote in your press release from somebody in your organization. This is where you can add emotion to advance your story. It not only personalizes your company, it gives you a space to introduce opinion: “This is exactly what every widget user has been asking for,” said Jane Smith, ABC Corp president. “We’re excited to be the first company to make widgeting affordable to the average consumer.”
And read those quotes out loud. Does it sound like somebody would actually say that? If not, consider a revision to make it sound more natural. Also, any quotes you use in your press release should be approved by the person you’re quoting. Even if you heard her say it out loud, make sure it’s how she wants to phrase it given careful consideration.
8. Give your writing some time.
Take a break between drafts of your press release and reread it to make sure you’re telling the story in a way that directly addresses a business objective. For most brands, simply seeing your name in the news is not a business objective. It makes everybody feel good, but it doesn’t make the cash register ring.
9. Evaluate your draft press release against the same questions we began with:
- Does it tell your audience what you need them to know?
- Does the story help your customers or other members of the public think about, understand or know something that helps you achieve a business objective?
- Is it clear what your audience can do to act on the information and how (visit your store, call for an appointment, request a free quote, ask for your brand by name)?
Planning and executing an effective public relations program for your brand involves many more challenges than how to write a press release. Still, a press release is one of the first and tangible introductions some audiences will have to your brand messaging. It’s worth the effort to get it right.
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