Are you thinking about putting out a press release for your business?
I hope so, because there are good reasons to do it. Written and distributed properly, you might get some attention from media outlets or trade magazines. Distributing a good release through online services can quickly help boost your website's visitor traffic. Press releases are also a fast and easy way to add quality content to your website, improving your search engine rankings with minimal effort. Even today, the press release format is a useful, cost effective way to generate business and build prospect visibility – offline and online - but only if you do it right.
The press release format is not hard to master, and the best advice starts with common sense. Use your spellchecker. Write in grammatically correct, complete sentences. Include correct contact information. Learn how to write a good press release headline.
The most important points, though, aren't common sense. To write an effective press release, you must follow the rules that define this easy-to-write but fairly rigid traditional format.
Announcement, not promotion. A press release is a specific type of business communication device, used to do one thing and one thing only: announce an event to the media. That's it. If you aren't announcing a newsworthy event, you may have a brochure or an interesting website article, but you don't have a press release.
So: what is happening? What is about to happen? What has changed in your business? Why is it important? Why do other people care? Why should other people care? What is the event? Don't include anything in your press release that doesn't support a headlined event announcement.
Write it in “reverse pyramid”. This is the biggest mistake people make when they write their own press releases – writing it instead like an ad, magazine article or personal letter. Press releases follow a very specific format; if you don't follow that format, the release will go nowhere.
Open your local newspaper and look closely at how the typical news story is written. In journalism, the term is “reverse pyramid”: you start with the most important and fundamental facts, progressing towards the most expendable points at the end. Entire paragraphs can be cut wholesale from the piece without requiring significant editing of the story. Newspaper stories are written in reverse pyramid to enable a busy editor to cut a story down quickly to fit challenging column layouts.
Press releases are written in exactly the same format, and for mainly the same reason. Ideally your press release should be written so that it could – probably won't, but could – be just dropped verbatim into a paper layout as a news story with little to no editing.
Make it detailed. When you write a press release, you're writing a mock news story; that's the format. So, when you read your local newspaper, what do you see? You see details: who, what, when, where, why. Facts and figures and names and dates and specific, clear statements. A news story without details is an editorial – and your press release isn't about opining, but announcing.
Get all the details in there. Tell them what they need to know.
Keep it short. In my many years of writing these things, virtually every bad press release draft I've ever seen shares the same fatal flaw: excessive word count. If you've followed my above advice, keeping your release to a fact-driven event announcement written in reverse pyramid, there's no reason why your press release should run longer than a single page.
In my experience, the magic word count is 300 – the average count for a single page of double-spaced, Courier font text. While it's possible to write an effective press release that goes beyond 300 words, it's almost always possible to do the same thing within that limit. As with all writing, you'll get the most impact when you can do the most with the least number of words; if you can get all the facts across cleanly without breaking into a second page, you've done a good job with your release.