June 11th, 2009 | 2 Comments
Is there any document more vilified – and justifiably so – than the press release? Maybe legal documents and corporate mission statements, but in the land of bad writing, confused messages and blatant puffery, the press release is royalty.
As a public service, I present a short guide on how to do palatable press releases. If you go beyond palatable to noteworthy, congratulations, you are in the elite company of about half of one percent of press release slingers. Don’t believe me? Go to BusinessWire or PR Newswire and check it out for yourself.
Here are my 10 simple tips:
(1) Ruthlessly consider whether you need a press release. The world would be a much better place if this sniff test was applied (see earlier post).
(2) Consider what you are announcing and who is going to want to hear about it. Divorce yourself temporarily from your company’s or client’s corporate rhetoric and consider how you can show – not tell – the value of your news to the IT guy, CAD user or animator in your target audience.
(3) Determine the one or two things that are most newsworthy about your release and put that in the lead paragraph (the “lede” in news parlance) as simply and clearly as possible.
(4) The timeless five Ws and an H (Who, What, When, Where, Why and How) still work. Make them the foundation of your release, and add one more for the cynics (most of us) out there: “So what”?
(5) Avoid adjectives and overused, trite phrases. In best cases, they will be ignored. In worst cases, they’ll be a source of derision. Leave any superlatives to customer or third-party quotes, and even tone these down so as not to create suspicion of payoffs.
(6) Write headlines that entice (“Headless body in topless bar”) or at least clearly summarize your news and the impact it will make on the target audience. If a brief headline can’t do the job, add a subhead.
(7) Use declarative sentences. Use short paragraphs. Use bullets for lists, but don’t make lists too long.
(8) Look at your release with a jaundiced eye. Imagine Bogart as Eddie Willis in “The Harder They Fall” looking over your shoulder at your copy or Tina Brown peering over her reading glasses at that overly long paragraph.
(9) Have some fun with analogies or quotes – unless you work for certain agencies, your releases aren’t likely to be life-and-death stuff.
(10) Be interesting. Surprise or delight if possible. If you can’t manage any of those, at least be honest and straightforward.
There’s a whole lot more that could be said, but follow the above and you will be a superstar in the pantheon of press release writers. Dubious distinction perhaps, but it’s a start.