7 ways to punch up your press releases

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By Scott Merritt | Posted: October 25, 2012

As public relations professionals, we are tasked with writing an array of content designed to serve different purposes. The most common, and the most commonly pawned off to team members with the least amount of news experience, is the press release.

The press release remains an essential tool for effectively sharing company news with the broadest possible audience, and yet the opportunity to drive news with it is often squandered through poor writing and a lack of care.

Crafting a killer press release that raises eyebrows and turns heads is a combination of art and science. Following a few time-tested recommendations can transform your writing from newswire clutter to newsworthy content.

Know your strategy.

PR pros often write several press releases per week without thinking about basic strategy. Who is the audience? Why does the news matter? What is the best way to provoke a response? What’s your goal in announcing the news?

The answers can differ greatly from one announcement to the next, even for a client in a narrow industry. Anticipate the questions the reporter might ask. Answer these questions in your press release, and you’ll be off to a great start.

Reserve headlines for news.

The press release headline may be the only thing anybody sees. It’s incumbent upon PR pros to identify the news angle that most effectively explains the news and resonates with the audience. Make the headline compelling. Draw readers in. Make them want more.

A yawn-inducing headline like “Speakeasy Inc. Announces Results of 2012 Trust Survey” can be punched up by analyzing the results and identifying the parts that are news today. “Speakeasy Inc. Survey Reveals Media More Trusted Than Politicians” tells a story that’s surprising, interesting, and newsworthy.

Understand structure.

A haphazardly written press release is the kiss of death for your news. Although experienced writers may stray from structure, understanding the theory behind it is essential. This seven-step guide is a good place to start:

  • Headline: the news.
  • Subhead: elaboration around the headline.
  • First paragraph: introduction, details about the headline.
  • Second paragraph: explanation of the subhead.
  • Third paragraph: executive quote, context.
  • Fourth paragraph: specifics about the announcement.
  • Fifth paragraph: summary, call to action.

Use your quote for commentary and context.

A CEO quote that begins with how thrilled, elated, overjoyed, etc., he or she is about your announcement is a waste of valuable real estate. Every word the CEO says should provide context that explains the executive position on why the news is important. A good way to access that context is to skip over the exclamatory part of the quote and start with the second sentence. If you must, write both sentences, then delete the first. For example:

“We’re thrilled to be partnering with IRONMAN to launch myList. This partnership gives us unprecedented access to the Ironman athletes who use myList to share their training tips, and to the fans that follow them,” said Jennifer Silverberg, vice president of myList.

Don’t let SEO trump the news.

SEO experts will tell you to plaster your press release with jargon and keywords that drive optimization, but PR is not designed to serve the SEO experts. Write the news with interesting, newsworthy language, and blend it with terminology that will address SEO needs.

Use the right terms to help SEO, but don’t overwhelm the message. For example, rather than “software suite that offers enterprise users an end-to-end solution,” explain what the product does. Try, “eCommerce software that enables product managers to do everything from list items online to collect payments with a click of the mouse.”

Leave generalizations on the notepad.

“This product will increase social engagement” is a terrific thing to say, but anyone who cares enough about your news will need to know how. Provide specifics and evidence. For example, “Facebook Page managers who use myList report an average increase of 40 percent in incremental fan engagement.”

Write a sizzling email subject line. 

The email subject line is the most important element you will write. Your expertly crafted press release might unlock the secret to doubling sales in your industry, but a mind-numbing subject line will ensure that no reporter opens it. 

Reporters often receive 1,000 or more pitch emails in a given week, and yours is one of them. Think long and hard about the message that would make you drop everything and open that email.

Scott Merritt, an award-winning PR expert, is an account director at Write2Market, an industry leadership firm that serves clients in the energy and technology sectors. Follow him on Twitter@HeresTheStory.