May 21, 2012
Even professional writers occasionally struggle with writing press releases. That’s because they’re not like anything else we write. A press release may seem similar to a blog article, but it’s really in a category of its own. It has its own set of rules. Don’t get discouraged if you’re tasked with writing one, though. These 10 guidelines should get you started, and everything beyond that just comes with practice.
Press releases are typically a tool to send to media professionals to generate publicity.
- Provide Newsworthy Info – A press release is not an advertisement or an opinion piece. You need to announce actual news, like a new product or service, a recent event, an organizational milestone, a business expansion, or an award. Your thoughts on right wing politics should not go in a press release.
- Consider “Why Should Anyone Care?” – Always ask yourself this question before writing your press release. Just because it’s seems like news to you or your boss doesn’t mean readers will automatically care. Don’t push your product or use clichéd phrases like “customers can now save money.” Focus on unique features that set your news apart. Or pick an interesting angle by tying your news to a current event, popular trend, social issue or recent study.
- Explain Who’s Who – Make sure to mention your company in the headline and first paragraph. It gives the story credibility and also promotes the business. Best PR practices also say to include an “about” section for your company (technically called the boilerplate), as well as for all relevant affiliated companies mentioned (this can be done in the flow of the press release but is usually placed at the end). Don’t just assume anyone knows what a company does, or that they’ll want to go to the company’s website just to find that out. Speaking of websites: Be sure to include relevant site URLs and social media handles.
- Hook the Reader at the Beginning – In this sense, a press release is like anything else you write—from blog to article to novel. Start strong and get the reader interested right away. Your headline, summary, and first paragraph should announce the news and intrigue the reader. Everything else is details.
- Be Brief – Unlike many other pieces of content, press releases have specific guidelines about word count. The general rule is to keep them 300-500 words long (I would recommend aiming for 400, give or take). If you use press release distribution services, they will often impose their own limit or charge more for longer publications—especially in the case of business distributions.
- Keep it Scannable – Very few people actually read online—they scan. So make sure your content is scannable. Split up long paragraphs into more bite-sized sections, shorten long sentences, and use bullet points where you can.
- Take SEO into Account – Effective press releases target both readers and search engines. Don’t go overboard and pack your press release with keywords from start to finish, but do consider your SEO goals before publishing. Carefully choose what keywords you want to target with your press release and incorporate them into the headline, the subhead/summary, the first paragraph, and the hyperlinks. On average, only use one linking keyword per 100-150 words.
- Be Professional and Use Correct Grammar – As a rule, press releases should always sound formal and professional, following all the appropriate grammatical guidelines. Always use third person (don’t use “I,” “we,” or “you”); pretend as if you’re a third party writing about your company. Use active voice instead of passive voice. Avoid jargon, exclamation points, hyperboles, exaggeration etc. Be concise and eliminate any unnecessary, flowery words. Most importantly, don’t forget to proofread according to AP Style and get someone else to proofread, too.
- Get a Quote – It’s always good to get a relevant quote for your press release, whether this is a customer review, an official statement by the CEO, or an event participant’s comment. A quote breaks up the flow of the press release so it’s not just one long description by the author.
- Hold Something Back – Don’t reveal everything in the press release. If you want readers to click on your links, you need to give them a reason to do so (like learning more).
If you’re still struggling, a good place to start is to browse some examples on PRWeb. You’ll quickly realize getting the word out is not as complicated as it seems. Good luck!