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The 4 Fundamentals of Writing a Good Press Release

I can’t tell you how many bad press releases I’ve read in the 30 years I’ve been doing PR. From typos to issuing marketing collateral as a release, it never ceases to amaze me how many companies don’t get what it takes to issue a solid release. Writing a press release worth reading is really very simple.  Just follow these 4 Fundamentals!

Fundamental #1 – Formatting. Press releases have a traditional format. Journalists and news organizations are used to reading news releases in a certain way, if you break from the basics, they might ignore your announcement all together. The basic format is pretty simple.

Carter West Press Release format

  1. FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE should always be in all caps, bold and in the upper Left corner of the release.
  2. Contact information for the agency and/or the company should be directly below.
  3. Your headline comes next, in bold, usually 12 to 14 point font. Speaking of fonts, use a Sans Serif font like Arial or Helvetica for greater readability
  4. Next is your dateline. This is where the release is being issued. It is usually the location of company headquarters, but if they are launching a product at an industry event or a special location, then you would put that city, state and the date of the release.
  5. After the dateline the company name, followed by a brief description of the company’s business and then the purpose of the announcement.
  6. Then you are off to the races and can write the rest of your content, elaborating on the announcement, benefits, partnership details, release dates, etc.
  7. Finish off your release with the company’s Boilerplate – a concise bio of the company, what they do, where they are located and how to get in contact with them.

Fundamental #2 – Length.  It’s hard to boil down a new product announcement, but it is essential to keep your releases as short as possible to keep your readers engaged. There is nothing wrong with a one-page release if you can say all you need to say within a page. Remember, quality over quantity. The purpose of a press release is to get the word out to the industry, press and customers. You are trying to tell a story, but it’s not a novel, keep it short and sweet. Your word count should be no more than 1200 words, but try to keep it around 750 if possible. Look at Twitter for example, in only 140 characters you can deliver an effective message. It is possible to get your point across succinctly!

Fundamental #3 – Content.  The basic content of any press release:

  1.  PR and marketing are too different styles – write the release as a press release and not a marketing piece that is trying to sell something. Make it newsworthy
  2. Details about the announcement. Include the who, what, when, where and why of the subject of your announcement.
  3. Quotes. Usually attributed to the CEO, President or other executive at the company, quotes are meant to shed additional light on why the company believes in this product or service and how it is going to be a positive thing for the company and/or the company’s customers. Some releases contain additional quotes from a key customer or a strategic partner. Keep quotes interesting and avoid too many superlatives if possible. No one wants to hear “We are so excited for the launch of this amazing product that will change the course of our industry”.  A couple of journalists have lamented to me that they read a press release and were disappointed to find nothing useful in the content. They said that if only the company had a decent quote, they could have used that quote in an article, what a wasted opportunity!  Journalists rarely find quotes they can use directly from a press release. Sadly, most are just filler rather than compelling content.
  4. Contact information, availability and pricing. Not all releases will have these details, and you may choose to not announce pricing, but customers, journalists and the industry will need to know availability and how they should contact you, so don’t forget to include in your release!

Fundamental #4 – Keywords.  Press releases are a highly effective way to increase organic search rankings. Be sure to include one or two keywords throughout your press release. A word of caution, however, be sure to include them when it make sense. Don’t pepper the release with your buzz word until it no longer makes sense to the industry or journalists. Also try as much as possible to avoid jargon and acronyms.

That’s it! Those are the basics. It’s not difficult if you develop a template, follow it, and write something YOU would want to read. Put yourself in the shoes of a journalist. They get hundreds of press releases every day. Think to yourself while writing, “Would this catch my attention?”, if you can answer, “yes” then you are on the right track. Good luck!

Carter West PR

 

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Comment by sara callahan on May 9, 2012 at 10:41am

Great point! I have found this to be the case on several occasions -- IF the news is good it can get picked up as a story in itself. But NOT if the press release is from a company with wording such as "we are so excited to announce the release of our first to market, fantastic, ground breaking new tool that....." with the release saying little else.

Comment by Bill Lovell on May 9, 2012 at 10:26am

Sara,

 

Good stuff. I would only amplify point three, to wit:

 

Write it as a news story, not as a press release. Reason: There are lots of lazy newspaper folks out there who will, if you have written a servicable piece, slap their own lead on it (if they bother to do even that) and put it out under their byline.

 

Corallary: If you can't write it as a news piece, don't write it at all.

Comment by Jerry Thibeau on May 8, 2012 at 3:51pm

It does Sara and thanks for the valuable information.

Comment by sara callahan on May 8, 2012 at 3:26pm

Jerry, posting on your website first is optimum for SEO purposes. For the automotive retail field I would suggest posting on the other 5 or 6 auto dealer social media sites and of course sending out to the publications such as Dealer Magazine, Auto Dealer Monthly, Dealer Marketing etc., that will also post on their site and send out in their weekly online newsletters. Its also a good idea to use a news wire service such as PR Newswire -- PRWEB is one of the cheaper ones. For $200 per release you get to have an SEO optimized release that gets picked up by Yahoo News etc and is good for SEO purposes There's a lot more I could say on the matter but that's it in a nutshell. Hope that helps!

Comment by Jerry Thibeau on May 8, 2012 at 2:39pm

Great article Sara!  Once a company puts up a press release on their website, what other sites would be best utilized to promote?  Suggestions?

Comment by Holly Forsberg on May 8, 2012 at 2:08pm

I agree re: the "so what" comment. There's nothing worse than reading a press release with a quote by the CEO starting out, "I'm so excited..." or "we're so proud...." The quote in a press release is almost equivalent to TV's "sound bite" opportunity. Use it to stress the benefits that the reader (i.e. target audience) is going to get from the release, why should they care, what's in it for them?

Comment by Mark Crosby on May 8, 2012 at 10:25am

Excellent post here Sara. Sometimes we all tend to try and build a bigger, better mousetrap when sticking to the tried and true methods works best! This is one post that is a keeper in my archive.

ps I also liked the "So What" comment added by Jennifer Sanford. I try to think like that when writing creative copy for radio, tv, print and direct mail ads

 

Comment by sara callahan on May 8, 2012 at 10:15am

Great point!  Thanks Jennifer

Comment by Jennifer Sanford on May 8, 2012 at 10:01am

If I may, I'd like to add one more point.  If you're trying to decide if your product or partnership is worth a press release, use the "so what?" test.  Ask yourself what difference this product or partnership announcement means.  Basically, why is this announcement relevant?  Is the announcement making a difference to anyone's life or livelihood?

Keep asking yourself that question as you write the release, including the quotes.  If you read the quote you've written for your president and ask "so what?" and the answer you come up with is "I don't know" then re-write the quote.  The quotes are a pet peeve of mine.  Of course the president is excited to be announcing this new product/partnership/enhancement.  What is the underlying reason for making this product or engaging in the partnership?  Use the quote to present a "voice" to your real message.

Comment by John L Mecham on May 8, 2012 at 9:46am

Succinct and useable, thanks!

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