Writing an Effective Press Release for Reputation Management
We know how powerful press releases can be for reputation management. In this second part of our press release series, we’re examining how to write a press release that journalists and readers will actually pay attention to.
Of course, simply being newsworthy just isn’t enough. “With the 24-hour media cycle and ever-increasing tight deadlines for reporters, they don’t have a lot of time to sift through piles of press releases that may or may not be interesting,” reminds Big Leap SEO specialist Eric Serdar.
To make sure that your press release gets seen, shared, and makes a difference for your online reputation, you’ll have to write a killer release. We asked experts to share their recommendations for writing a release that gets results. They told us that getting to the point with concise, helpful information is the most effective way to write a press release. But of course, there’s more to it than that. Read on to learn about these points and more for making your press release stand out among the crowd.
Share Important Information First
It’s essential that you share the most important information first. Journalists and readers want to get to the point, so give it to them. You should also keep in mind that often, as readers are skimming, they’ll hit the first sentence or two and possibly not much else. So the very beginning is absolutely key for conveying the heart of the press release.
“Your headline and first sentence should sum up everything there is to know,” says Bookmasters director of marketing and publisher relations. “If you can’t convey the heart of your message quickly and efficiently, you’re wasting everyone’s time.”
Getting started with a laser focus is a recommendation of many marketers.
“We strive to keep our press releases as brief as possible and directly to the point,” says 48West Group managing partner Leigh Dow. “We establish the one critical point we want people to know and then make it clear in the release.”
Top Cat Creative marketing communications specialist TC McClenning suggests using an inverted pyramid style. She explains that this style allows an editor to quickly use your release in a limited space by sometimes only publishing the first two or three paragraphs. Large newspapers and national publications receive thousands of releases each week.
“An excellent headline and an information-filled first few paragraphs to skim could be the difference between publication and hitting the delete button,” says McClenning.
Serdar says this is a great way to do a journalist’s work for them — encouraging them to use what you’ve written.
“You want your press release to be so well written that they can read the first paragraph and know exactly what is happening, where it’s happening, why it’s important, and why they should write about it.” says Serdar. “The rest should be supporting material that they can easily insert into their article.”
Choose your words carefully in the first few sentences. Stay away from cliches that readers will just skim right over.
“Avoid tired press release quotes and instead use them to share new information about the announcement,” recommends Becky Olson with Approach PR & Marketing. “Ditch phrases like, “we’re thrilled to launch,” or “we’re excited to partner with,” because it’s the same thing everyone else is saying.
Don’t Skimp on the Headline
For many marketers, the headline is the most important component of a press release.
“Nail your headline,” encourages Jane Dizon with FREE Advertising. “It should be accurate but still engaging, creative but not misleading.”
What should be in the headline? Puder PR founder Arik Puder recommends that it should be short, powerful, and to the point. “You have to balance telling the story in the fewest amount of words possible with making the headline attractive enough to reporters to grab their attention and get them to start reading.”
When writing a headline, change your perspective, recommends Fig Advertising vice president of marketing Marilyn Heywood Paige. She says it’s smart to write a headline that calls out the audience who should be interested and that solves a problem, such as: “New Shoe Insert Saved 1,000 Moms’ Aching Feet” instead of “Acme Releases New Comfort Shoe Insert.”
Don’t forget the power of subheadings, either. Paige encourage writers to use the subheading to tell the reader what differentiates your product or service from competitors, such as “1,000 Moms Tested Shoe Insert Designed by a Team of Former NASA Engineers.
Keep Your Press Release Short
Make your press release narrow in focus and avoid adding more information than you have to. This will help journalists identify the important information and keep readers interested.
“Your press release must be extremely concise,” says Datapak Services Corporation marketing manager Jody Lamb. “Do this by keeping in mind the exact purpose of your press release and by not expanding it to include unnecessary information.”
Dow warns against extraneous information as well: “We view any information or supporting data that doesn’t support the one critical point as a distraction from the message.”
It’s important to remember the type of writing you’re doing with a press release, as it’s not a blog post or news article.
Dizon reminds writers to keep things short and sweet, and cut to the chase in the first paragraph. Then, she says, keep them engaged and write a follow-up with supporting details in the next paragraphs.
Ultimately, you should limit the length of your press release. Freight Center public relations specialist Danielle Hutchins says press releases should only be a page long.
Make Your Press Release Easy to Read
Your press release should be easy to read for all audiences, not just those within your company or even your industry. Use clear and easy to understand language.
“Avoid all jargon and industry terms,” suggests Lamb. “Assume that your audience has no knowledge of your industry.”
McClenning agrees that avoiding fluff is important, pointing to flowery words, too much unnecessary unrelated information, or unsubstantiated claims as the top offenses to avoid in press releases.
Often, press releases make the mistake of assuming a limited audience when they should really be written for practically anyone to read.
Steele encourages press release writers to ask: what would make this press release interesting for someone who has no background and knows nothing about my company or this subject matter?
“In most cases, writing a press release that is intriguing to a varying audience will help it be more relevant in social media,” encourages Steele.
In addition to expanding your press release’s relevance, keeping your language simple and open to all readers will make it easier for journalists to share your news.
“You need to give reporters freedom to transform your words into their own story,” explains Puder. “If your release is overly sophisticated, reporters have less motivation to write their own words. No serious reporter wants to find herself in a position where she’s copying and pasting directly from a press release.”
Add Expert Insight to Your Press Release
When writing a press release, don’t forget to bring in the experts. They can lend authority, useful information, and enticing quotes that journalists can use to promote your release.
“What I wish most executives, entrepreneurs and business owners understood is that there is probably an area that they are not the expert in that they need to spend the time and money to engage an expert who is comfortable setting expectations, goals, and when needed, saying no,” says Z Group PR consultant Julia Angelen Joy.
Have experts in house? Use them! Add quotes from knowledgeable individuals in your organization for pieces journalists love to share.
“Try and leverage your organization’s expert staff to provide further insight on topics that marketers may not think of,” encourages Lamb.
Of course, if you’re using expert quotes, you may need to rein them in, as a long or ineffective quote can become distracting and hurt your press release.
“Executive quotes need to be clear, concise, and punchy,” says ClickTime’s David Klein. “If you are working with an executive who is insisting on a lengthy or complicated quote, try to break it up into multiple parts.”
As with most things in a press release, less is more when it comes to quotes. Media and content specialist Victoria Borges tries to limit quotes to one or two total. She also tries to include a customer or partner quote to provide third-party endorsement.
Include Links and Multimedia in Your Press Release
While the first few lines should be all business with clear writing that gets to the point, today’s press releases can get taken to another level. This can support your press release and make it richer.
“A lot of companies don’t realize the SEO value press releases bring when sent out on the wire,” says Borges. “For some of our clients, the press releases we syndicate rank in the top 10 highest referrers to their company website.”
In Dow’s press releases, they incorporate visuals, primarily photos and videos, and sometimes infographs that support the one critical point.
Serdar suggests adding links and multimedia to each press release: “Hyperlink to the important landing pages that you’re trying to drive them to,” he suggests. “Also, include images, videos, or other multimedia for the reports so that they can plug them into their article.”
SE10 general manager Randolph Pitzer says that visuals in press releases deliver results. “We have found at SE10 that strong visuals will improve the use of press releases,” he says. “In fact, the trade press is so hungry for content, prepackaged press releases with visuals make their jobs easier and improve the chances of getting covered.”
Links can make your press release easier to use as a resource. Don’t make journalists search for more information. Instead provide them with additional information using relevant links to your website. When considering what links to use, think about what questions the journalists might ask.
Write Your Press Release for the Internet
Gone are the days when press releases were published exclusively in print. Chances are, your press release will get more traction online than in ink. That’s why it’s important to keep online writing principles in mind.
Because everything is consumed digitally, Dow encourages press release writers to consider important keywords and phrases. They should support the one critical point of the release while demonstrating the newsworthy and relevant point.
Your press release must also be usable on the Internet. Press release writers should add hyperlinks and make sure your links work.
Another key point? Make your press release easy to skim. “When discussing features, benefits, or any topic of length, use bullets to increase readability,” suggests Klein.
Make Your Press Release Interesting
Journalists and news reporters receive an overwhelming amount of press releases every day. Why should they read and share yours? Make each press release interesting so that it will get picked up and read.
“The key is to show the reporter or editor what’s in it for them,” says media strategist Mark Grimm. “Get to the point, be visual, and have a clear idea of why your story matters to the public.”
Avoid making the mistake of using a press release as an advertisement, as that’s not the purpose of a release. Scampoli reminds writers that a release should read like a news announcement and not an advertorial.
One way to make a press release interesting is to tell a story, says Alison Podworski.
“If you are putting on a fundraiser walk, don’t just talk about the walk,” says Podworski. “Provide the journalist with a story. Do you have a person who is walking for specific reason? Can they share their story? Remember, journalists are storytellers, provide them with the story.”
When writing a press release, MediaSource president Lisa Arledge Powell looks for what she calls Brand Journalizer Criteria:
- Focus on the audience: Always consider what the audience cares about and how they will benefit. It’s not about the organization’s brand, it’s about the organization’s audience.
- Find a voice: Find a real person and tell the story through their eyes.
- Be credible: Seek tie ins into a national trend or bigger picture. Integrating third party statistics or facts bolsters credibility.
- Keep it simple: No technical talk. Find an expert who can speak the consumer’s language.
- Think visual: Find stories with compelling visuals. A video, photo, or graphic is worth a thousand words.
- Unbrand the content: Brand journalism is not brand-centric, but a brand journalist’s job includes figuring out how to seamlessly weave in a brand presence.
The bottom line: make your press release interesting for readers. “The best pieces provide valuable information and engage the reader with the content,” says HireTeamMate cofounder Ninh Tran. “When it’s funny, shocking, or controversial or breaking news, people will share.
Tran also points out that the most shared press releases are original and different, but at the same time, very readable.
Always Check for Errors
Typos and errors happen, but when they happen on a press release that’s shared by multiple publications and copied throughout the Internet, they’re really a problem. Take care to proofread your press release before sending it out to be shared.
“A press release can live online forever, so you want to make sure that the information is accurate and it is error free,” says Scampoli.
Give Readers Somewhere to Go
Be careful not to end your press release abruptly. You should always give resources for more information and a way to reach out with questions.
“Include all necessary contact and company details,” recommends Dizon. “Provide links to your company’s about page, and include a contact person whom the readers/reporters can actually talk to directly.”
Dizon adds that it’s not a good idea to put a CEO or company owner’s contact information in a press release if you know they don’t entertain this kind of communication.
Consider Timing of Your Press Release
Journalists want fresh news to share. Even news that is days or weeks old will be passed up for information that’s brand new.
That’s why Springboard PR president Domenick Cilea recommends timely press releases.
“Press releases must be fresh and coincide with news and announcements,” insists Cilea.
Press releases share exciting information, but be careful not to add embellishments that take things over the top — and outside of reality.
Cilea encourages honest press releases. He reminds writers that press releases must stick to the facts to earn credibility among reporters.