The next time you write a press release, give the reporter a reason not to delete it, otherwise you might as well write “For Immediate Delete” in the subject line.
Here are eight tips for writing press releases that don’t drive journalists to hit delete.
1. Attention-grabbing headline. You need a short, catchy headline that will grab somebody’s attention when they’re scanning dozens (or maybe hundreds) of e-mails. Not sure what that looks like? Look at the front page of The New York Times (or any major newspaper or magazine worth its salt) on any given day. You can tell when somebody takes the time to write a great headline. Your headline should sell the story—in this case, your news. If you can’t sell it in your headline, good luck with your pitch.
2. Picture this. Just like a listing on eBay gets more bids relative to the number and quality of pictures used, so, too, will your news. Is there a great picture that tells your story? Spend the extra money and distribute it with your release. At the very least, include a logo with your release—it will stand out. I’m referring primarily to wire distribution of your release. If you’re e-mailing your release, don’t include the images. Instead, link to them with an accurate description in the release.
3. Paint (your story) by numbers. Back your stuff up. Don’t fill it with fluff. For instance, here is a good release that begins with an attention-grabbing stat about the problem of bullying in the U.S. to promoting anti-bullying. Love it. The headline is too busy for me, but it’s one of the best releases out there this week. There’s a lot a journalist could start with here.
4. Keep it short. You don’t need to put the kitchen sink in your release. Get in and out. Give them the high points, and they’ll contact you for the rest. Most wire services charge more when you exceed 400 words. Keep your releases under 400 words, and you’ll save money and increase your chances of getting covered. If you can pitch a journalist in 140 characters, there’s no reason you can’t compose a press release that’s fewer than 400 words.
5. Funny how? Like a clown? It’s OK to use humor. Is there a clever (not cheesy) hook you can use with your release? Work for a bakery? Use a “best thing since sliced bread” reference. Humor is highly subjective, so tread lightly. If you’re in an industry not known for humor, it could work. Ben & Jerry’s just issued a press release that said the company is “proud as peanuts (in a chocolate swirl)” about the announcement. Subtle humor makes releases more interesting.
6. Write it like a news story. Learn to write in inverted pyramid style. Answer the who, what, why, when, where, and how in the first paragraph or two. Read the first two paragraphs of the press release you’re working on. If that’s all you had, would you know what the story is about? Practice writing one-paragraph press releases as a first draft. Then add any necessary supporting information. Your headline and first paragraph are the most important components.
7. Kill the canned quotes. Executive John Smith is so excited about this news. It’s really special and makes everyone feel wonderful. Really? Read a couple of executive quotes in press releases, you’ll see they’re always the same. I know journalists rarely use those quotes (except when a release is used verbatim, of course). Either kill the quotes, or give them one they can use. Read the quotes that make it into print, and model your press release quote after that. They probably still won’t use it, but you’ll give them an idea of the quotes they could expect to get in an interview with the source.
8. Use some bullet points. Use bullets to break up your information. Just as they make it easier to scan a blog post, so, too, do bullets help you scan a press release. Unfortunately, very few press releases (that I’ve seen) contain bullet points. What would happen if you included a section of your release that said, “Here are five things you will learn in this press release:” with the five things? You might get the strongest response you’ve ever had from a press release. Test it, and let me know how it goes.