Read all about it! (And they will, if you get it right.)
L was breathless.
“I need to get the news out!” she burbled. “How quickly can you knock out a press release?”
I took a deep breath and counted slowly backwards from five. Perhaps a bit too slowly.
“Kevin?” she said tentatively. “Are you there?”
I was, and I asked her what the momentous news was.
“Our new website’s live!” she said brightly, brimming over with the pride of a new mother. “It’s finally up and running. We’ve got to tell people.”
L is a friend first, and a client second. So I gave it to her straight, without the usual preamble and diplomatic tact.
New websites are not news. I don’t care how strong the labour pains have been, or how difficult the delivery. The newborn simply doesn’t merit a mention, because of one simple but brutal fact.
Nobody really cares.
Think you need a press release? Put yourself (as you always should) in the reader’s shoes, and ask yourself if a similar story, coming from another company, would attract your attention or interest.
See what I mean?
Writing a press release isn’t really all that complicated, if you follow a few simple steps.
1. Hook your reader
All great stories have a hook – and a press release is a story. It may be only a page long, but it has a beginning, a middle and an end.
So what’s the story?
Have you done something amazing? Launched a revolutionary product? Signed a big deal? Been given an award? Poached somebody from the competition?
Make it very clear why this is important, and what it means to the reader (yes, that’s right – you’re turning features into benefits).
2. Create a strong headline
The very best press releases – like the very best books – grab readers immediately and don’t let them go.
And here’s how you do it:
- Lead with the strongest angle on your story. Intrigue if you have to, but don’t tease. Make them want to find out more.
- Use evocative language with strong descriptive words (major win, big success, significant victory).
- Interpret the news for people, just like newspapers do. So Acme Widgets acquires major European widget network could be followed by a sub-heading that says Merger with Le Widget promises wider selection, faster delivery and lower prices.
Don’t forget to include keywords in your headline, as most press releases now appear on the web more than in print.
3. Structure your story
Under your headline, give the essential facts of the story in the opening paragraph.
In essence, it’s the elevator pitch. If somebody read only this paragraph, would they still have a pretty good idea what the story was about? If not, rework it until that’s the case.
Break up your press release with sub-headings & bullets, so it doesn’t look too daunting. Nothing puts off editors and readers like a sea of text with no pointers to guide the eye.
Vary the content, so you’re seamlessly blending facts, quotes, statistics and interpretation. If two parties are involved (you’ve hired somebody, merged with a company, signed a big deal) include quotes from both, but not one after the other.
Remember, variety makes for readability.
Follow a clear storyline, and don’t deviate from it. If you find yourself giving irrelevant facts, or veering off-course, stop and ask yourself what this has to do with the story.
4. Explain and simplify
Don’t assume that your readers are familiar with your company, history or positioning.
Drop in key facts with a light touch and link them to the story (‘Since its foundation in 1997, Acme has grown year-on-year by at least 25%. This latest acquisition will allow the company to continue that impressive growth.’)
Avoid jargon and buzzwords, especially if you’re writing for a general audience.
5. Remember that less is more
You’re sending the press release to busy editors. They’re writing for busy readers. Everybody’s attention span is reduced by email, social networking, text messages and on-screen discomfort.
So make it short, concise and abbreviated.
Kill your darlings and use simple, clear English. Write from the top down (as journalists do) so that if editors cut from the bottom up (as they invariably do) your story doesn’t suffer.
6. Wrap it up
All stories have an ending, and a press release is no different, so make sure it doesn’t fizzle out.
Create a clean, strong, confident ending. It could repeat why this news is important and set out the next steps. Or you could finish with a positive quote from you, your client or your new partner.
Just as in articles, some of the most effective and satisfying ends are ones that refer to the opening (thus ‘closing the circle’).
Lastly, give clear contact details, followed by a brief positioning overview of the company (‘Founded in 1997, Acme Widgets is the UK’s leading widget manufacturer. It provides comprehensive widget solutions for some of the top FTSE 100 companies…’) together with key figures and USPs.
7. And finally…
When you’re happy that the press release is attention-grabbing, relevant, well structured, sparingly written and pleasingly finished, stop.
Yes, that’s right.
Don’t send it yet. Instead, do something else (a bit like clearing your palate when you’re between courses). Then come back to it again with a cold, objective eye.
Read the press release out loud to see how it flows. Check grammar, spelling, names, phone numbers and email addresses to make sure you’ve got them right.
Get it out the door and move on (and good luck, by the way).
So what about my friend’s new website?
You won’t be surprised to hear that it didn’t make the front pages. Mostly because I didn’t actually write a press release about the site launch.
But also because she let slip that she was in the process of signing a big deal with a client who normally wouldn’t look at a small company like hers.
So why did they? Well it was because of a clever little extranet facility her new website had. Not a major focus, and not even one she thought would be a big draw.
But it was – and there and then, we had the hook we needed.
Cue press release.