The keys to a good press release are to get to the point immediately, make sure the most important details are included in the text and that the recipient knows how to get in touch with you if he or she requires more information and to always do all of these things all within a single page.
Who are we kidding; what would a blog post be if there weren’t some extemporaneous exposition explaining how we reached the conclusion stated so clearly in the introduction?
A few weeks ago I was helping a friend with her website. This nature of the website has landed my friend on a number of press release distribution lists (freelance writing has done something similar for me) and, as we were working, a release popped into her inbox. She glanced at it, rolled her eyes and then said “wait until you read this,” and forwarded the release to me.
I glanced at it, sighed so deeply I blew paper across the table we were sharing, and said “yep, that’s how we’re writing them these days.”
I’m not going to share the press release in question or reveal the identity of the sender. I’ll just tell you that it was bad and it was bad in a way that has become trendy over the last couple of years.
The Press Release Is a Tool
Look, we all know how effective a good press release can be when it is written and distributed correctly. It’s great for drumming up interest in your business or event. Some news organizations, anxious to fill barren column inches have even started printing releases as news or short features. Talk about great publicity, right?
Mo’ Pressure Mo’ Problems
With so much attention being paid to the press release these days, the competition for eyes is fierce. It’s no wonder that so many press release writers are trying so hard to create press releases that are (the writer often hopes) beautiful and eloquently written. It’s no wonder that press release writers are trying to shove as much personality into these releases as possible. It’s no wonder that press release headlines have started to resemble the suggested article headlines in Facebook. It’s understandable that these press release writers would think that their press releases should go on and on and on about an event or product.
It’s understandable that today’s press release more closely resembles what would happen if JRR Tolkien tried to write a white paper than the informative tool that they were intended to be.
That does not mean, however, that all of these press release writers (or the advice columnists who egg them on) are right.
How to Write a Proper Press Release That Gets Results
There are a lot of different posts out there that outline the proper formatting for a press release. I’m a fan of the old school:
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE SUPER EYE GRABBY HEADLINE
[Location][Date]—Intro in which you tell everybody what you’re going to tell them. All of the most important details go here. Remember the 5 W’s you learned about in school? Answer them all here, in three sentences max.
Short Paragraph outlining the background of the problem the press release subject will be solving.
Short Paragraph outlining how you came to the decision to solve the problem. This paragraph is a great place to put a quote from someone “in the know” in your company or involved with your project that touches on the solving process.
Very Short Paragraph summing up the previous two paragraphs and re-highlighting the introduction details. 2-3 sentences max.
For more information about [Product Name] contact [Name] at [Contact Information]
It’s basic and formulaic, sure, but remember: you’re going to be sending this to someone who probably sees dozens of press releases a day. Get to the point and tell that person how to find out more. That is the job of the press release. You don’t need to go on and on and on and on about your product or project. That is what your blog and content marketing are for.
A Word About Distribution
There are a lot of press release distribution sites out there. The best ones, not surprisingly, are the sites that charge you for a membership. Free sites are more likely to simply send your release out to every email address it has bought from every list serv ever, regardless of your release’s relevancy. Or worse, it could simply blast out the release to hundreds of long dead comments sections in an attempt at some Black Hat SEO.
The very best thing you can do, though admittedly this will take more work on your part, is to build up your very own list of recipients for your press releases. You probably already have a platform for your email list, right? That membership should let you create a few different lists. Use one of them to build your press release distribution list. Then start contacting your local media outlets, any web outlets you think might be interested in learning about your projects and products, bloggers—whoever you most want to notify about what you have to offer.
Yes, it will take time (maybe even a lot of time) to do this. That time, though, is well spent because there isn’t a single mass-produced membership platform that can offer the highly targeted approach that your own cultivated and curated list will offer. And even better, you’ll have done it without spending a bunch of money!
Remember: get to the point, explain your point a little bit, and sign off. That is the nature of the press release.
And never ever ever allow your press release to go on for more than a page (said the writer who took almost a thousand words to explain the importance of brevity). (Do as I say, not as I do!)