How To Write A Press Release That Doesn't Completely Suck

Love them or hate them, press releases aren't going anywhere. So here's how to create one that people will actually want to read.

Nearly 100 years old, it has been flogged, beaten and pronounced dead so many times, you would think it would finally succumb.

We're talking about the press release, also known as everyone's favorite punching bag.

Yet, despite how hated it seems to be, an endless stream of press releases are distributed, on every possible subject from a local karaoke contest...to a spaghetti dinner...to The State of the Union. What gives?

It's easy to scoff at, especially if it’s weighted down with formulaic writing and marketing hype that makes it bloated and dull-sounding.

Yet, consider this. The number of press releases PR Newswire, a major press release service, has distributed over the last four years has risen.

Why? Because a (well-written) press release is an effective way to tell a story, and can generate a lot of leads.

Like its cousin, the news story, a press release done right tells you everything you need to know upfront. The headline, first and perhaps second paragraph include the guts of your story: Who, What, When, Where, Why. Here’s an example of what I mean from one of my clients, lettrs:

Lettrs Launches First-Of-Its Kind Mobile App, Turning the iPhone into a Personal Writing Desk and Post Office Wherever You Are.

New York, April 23, 2013 -- Technology startup lettrs today announced the launch of the first-of-its-kind mobile app that will allow users to create, manage and deliver paper or digital letters right from their iPhone.

With the headline and first paragraph you have the gist of the story. The rest of the copy fleshes out the story if someone wants to know more. In our experience, releases like our example get read--not only by the media but also by potential leads via the search engines and social media.

Of course a story can come in many flavors. A key to turning a press release from self-promotional and boring to something that pops, is to give your story a little panache. One way to do that is to hitch your headline to a star.

The sales technology company InsideSales.com is a master at that. Last year, when it wanted to announce a virtual summit, it brandished the most exciting thing it had going: its stellar speakers:

Guy Kawaski, Mike Bosworth and Jeffrey Gitomer Headline Inaugural Inside Sales Virtual Summit, shouted its headline.

According to Ken Krogue, president of InsideSales.com, the names in the headline resulted in the release being picked up by five times more sites than normal. “It had an expansive effect,” says Krogue, "carrying our brand to much higher levels."

Beyond creating awareness, a press release can generate leads. The secret to that is including a compelling call-to-action in a release. That can be anything from registering for an event to downloading an ebook, or getting something for free. In return for the freebie, be sure to require a person to fill out a brief form. You will be surprised at how many people will do just that.

Here are five tips to help you write the ultimate press release

1. Develop and tell a coherent, compelling story. What makes your company tick? How do you delight your customers? What sets you apart from the pack?

2. Don't just tout your product or service. Develop key messages that answer the question: Why should anyone care?

3. Use plain English. Avoid obscuring your message by using industry jargon and talking “inside baseball.”

4. Get your reader to engage. Use compelling elements such as data, visuals, and infographics to illustrate your points. And include a call-to-action that drives people to a landing page.

5. Hook yourself to a star. Tie what you’re doing to something happening in the news--especially if it’s in your sector or a targeted vertical market. Shine brighter in the reflected light of someone in the news.

So next time you're ready to dismiss issuing a press release, think twice. Done right, it can help take you or your company from a nobody to a somebody.

[Image: Flickr user pedrosimoes7]

Add New Comment

2 Comments

  • Edward Smith

    Thanks, good advice on writing a press release that will be read. I am sure the people on the receiving end of press releases will appreciate it as well. I coach small businesses how to pitch the media and as such press releases are a key topic of discussion. I am sure it is taken for granted when writing press releases, but be sure to include your contact information. Believe it or not, approximately 12% of press releases go out without any contact information. OK, thanks for the good advice. Edward Smith.

  • Glad you found the post useful, Edward, and thanks for sharing that shocking statistic about contact information. I guess it just goes to show that you can't go back to the basics enough.