Writing, editing, proofreading and content development for businesses, professionals, consumers, and students
In my work as an editor and reporter, I receive dozens of press releases a week. Like most journalists, I’m busy and always on deadline. That means I barely have time to scan each quickly — basically, I just glance at the first couple of paragraphs — searching for some bit of news that I can use. About 99 percent of the time, I end up hitting “delete” after about three seconds.
But once in a great while, I not only read the entire press release, but save it for a future story. What makes these rare releases stand out in the crowd? And why don’t the others make the cut?
Here are my top tips for writing a press release that works:
1. Know Your Audience: A press release intended for everyone won’t reach much of anyone. Similar to a strong resume, a press release should be crafted (or tweaked) with a particular reader in mind. Spend a few minutes thinking about who/which publications or websites can actually use this information. If the release is going to a print magazine editor or reporter, don’t pitch an event occurring next week. (Magazines generally need several months lead time). If you’re pitching the editor of a mainstream consumer publication, don’t get too techy. (No need to send that story on a stock split.) If you’re sending out a release on a restaurant’s foie gras dinner, don’t send it to the vegetarian writer. Where did I get these examples? From my own inbox.
2. Cull Your Distribution Lists: Some PR agencies send the same press release out four, five, or six times to the same person. On the same day. That’s called spamming, and not a good way to garner good feelings about the product you’re pitching.
3. Make it Newsy: Why should a reporter care about your press release — now? What’s the news in the release? Put the new, the now, the today, upfront.
4. Remember the Five Ws and the H: Addressing the “Five Ws” — Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How — in a news story is a the first thing a student learns in J school. A good press release answers those questions, as well.
5. Nothing But the Truth: Hyperbole, fact avoidance, and occasional lies give PR people a bad name. Don’t describe a restaurant as “new” if it’s three years old; don’t tell the travel writer it’s a “beach hotel” if it’s blocks from the sea. (I’ll never forget the PR person who sent me a photo showing a room in a newly renovated hotel — the blue ocean seemed to be right outside the window, when in fact, the place was about three miles from the beach.) Reporters learn pretty quickly whom to trust and believe — and once credibility is lost, it’s hard to recover.
6. No Breathless Writing: A press release shouldn’t be written like a teenager’s diary. Don’t use exclamation points! And especially don’t end a series of sentences with multiple exclamation points!!! (Like that.) Also avoid over-used adjectives that don’t say much: “breathtaking,” “state-of-the-art,” “passionate,” and “stunning” are a few words that make me hit that delete button without further ado.
7. Good Quotes: If the quote doesn’t have something interesting and meaningful to say, then leave it out. Ideally, the quote would clarify, describe, add insight, or expand upon what came before it — not merely be a rehash.
8. Offer Contact Info: If the reporter or editor is interested, he or she will want to follow up. It’s amazing how many times the press release leaves out critical contact info. Include a phone number and email address.
9. Paste; Don’t Attach: Make it easy to read the email by pasting in the press release, rather than attaching it.
10. Send It; Then Forget It: Few things bother harried editors and writers as much as endless follow-up emails and phone calls to confirm receipt of a press release. The thing is — most editors and writers receive dozens of press releases every day. Most likely, they got yours, couldn’t use it, deleted it, and forgot about it. Pestering won’t increase the chances of getting an irrelevant press release used.
What do you think? Do you agree/disagree with these points? And what are your top dos and don’ts for press-release writing? And if you need assistance with your press release, I can help.
Write on —
by Maryann Hammers — your solution for all writing and editing needs