How to Write a Kick Ass Press Release
Guest Post by Claire Thompson, Waves PR
SEO-driven releases may be more likely to land up in a content aggregation site than they are ever to land up in a journalist’s in box, but they will be read by people as well as search engines, and in an ideal world will make people want to know more than simply what ranking Google delivers. The bunch of words created deserves also to be compelling reading. And when it’s a press release, the reader expects news.
Before we start, we’ve all heard those comical rushed provisos, terms and conditions – the verbal equivalent of small print – at the end of radio ads. This next bit is the written equivalent of one of those: if the release you’re creating is for a highly regulated industry, such as financial services and pharmaceuticals, or for a listed company, it’s important to double check the specific rules relating to information release.
And think which type of person you would like to be reading your release (customer, partner, potential employee) and write in a style addressing them. Don’t fall into stereotype traps though – the results can be hysterical. The picture to the right is a great piece of government speak to teenagers in ‘text talk’ poster. You can see what the kids made of that.
I’ve made a recording with the key advice for creating releases on it, mainly because once I got stuck into this article, it drivelled on for far too long, but the key elements of a release, summarised, are:
- Straightforward title explaining the story
- First paragraph giving the important bits – who, what, where when, why in two sentences, top off with the reason anyone should give a monkey’s
- Details of story
- Optional: APPROVED quotes if used, properly attributed
- Marker for the end of the story. (Conventions are to used the words /ENDS or ##)
The bit after the ‘end’ should be back up information, usually headed up ‘notes for editors
- A ‘boilerplate’ – a standard description of around a paragraph in length, used for consistency, to describe the issuing organisation(s)
- Additional information pertinent to, but not part of, the story
- Any legal stuff that the lawyers insist on
- Contact details
Generally the most important information needs to be highest up in the press release. With each passing paragraph you lose readers, so make sure it hooks the reader from the start. Any corporate guff needs to be right down at the end.
For myself, I usually make a bullet point list/mindmap of things I want to get into a story, and then try telling the story out loud, as if to a stranger in a bar. It works for me in an otherwise empty office. I can see some drawbacks in a crowded coffee bar. The aim is to cut out the unnecessary detail – or at least highlight what can appear further down the release.
This approach helps create a more natural tone too. Corporate speak and jargon are un-necessary. Check out Tim Phillips’ Talk Normal blog [http://talknormal.co.uk/] for some amusing rants about the kind of thing I mean. Sometimes it’s the professionals who are the worst offenders.
Most of all, think like a reporter – you want other people to pick up on what you’ve written and find out more, so deliver it like a reporter: in the third person (he, she, they rather than I and we), as factually and as interestingly as possible. And above all, honestly. Lying in such a public forum has to count as really dumb: unless, of course, you have a very dodgy PR strategy of creating a huge storm./ends
Claire Thompson, Waves PR is a freelance PR consultant with sometimes colliding passions for technology and the environment. She has worked on many campaigns campaigns from the big guys, like Kodak, Oracle and Apple, through to pre-launch start ups, including LastMinute.com in its early days. She can be found most places ‘socially’ as claireatwaves, but mostly only has time for Twitter, FaceBook and LinkedIN. Tel: +44 (0) 207 795 8147.