A friend is launching his own business. It’s an exciting journey with a steep learning curve.
Last weekend he issued a cry for help on social media, “I’m trying to write a press release and sound like a dick! Can anyone help?!”
Having spent a few years as a Press Officer, I offered to take a look at his draft. It needed some tweaking, but it was a good start. It reminded me how difficult writing press releases can be when you’re a novice.
Like all copywriting, you need to know your audience and in this case that’s the media. Investing some time and thought in the following will get you off to a strong start:
- Is your story worthy of a press release?
It can be hard to be objective when you’re excited about your new product, but is it really newsworthy? Can you imagine your family and friends being excited about it (beyond the polite façade)?
If it’s not new and innovative, if it doesn’t really affect anyone outside your business, it probably doesn’t deserve a press release. Invest your valuable time elsewhere.
- Write a good headline
If you truly believe your story is worthy of media coverage, take the time to get the press release right.
Your headline is the first thing a journalist will see and it needs to grab their attention. Headlines are tricky, but don’t overthink it. Just make sure the headline accurately describes what the press release is about and keep it simple and to the point.
- Make sure the first few sentences include the key information
Journalists get hundreds of emails, so make sure you don’t lose their attention early on.
Bear in mind that the press release is primarily a tool to share info with the journalist. Make sure the most important information is included in the first few lines – think who, what, where, why and when. You can elaborate in the following paragraphs.
- Make it easy to use
Remember the above – the press release is written for the journalist, not the readers (although some journalists will just copy and paste it).
- Keep it short (two pages max.) and keep it interesting.
- Use sub-headings and bullet points where appropriate to make it easy to read.
- Avoid technical jargon.
- Add a couple of quotes to bring it to life
- Include any good quality photos you have.
- Avoid the temptation to overload the press release with unnecessary detail. If you want to provide background information about your company, keep it succinct and relevant and put it in a ‘Notes to Editors’ section at the end of the release.
- When you put the pen down, pick the phone up
Writing the press release is just half of this particular battle. Speak to the journalist before you send the release, tell them about your story and let them know why you think it’s relevant for their publication. Once you’ve sent it, make a follow-up call to see if there’s anything else they need from you.
Be persistent – the nature of their job means that journalists may not always have time for your call, that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re not interested.
Writing press releases take practice, you need to learn what works and what doesn’t, but following these easy steps should make the process a little less painful. Good luck!