A Crash Course in Crafting Press Releases

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People often express confusion about press releases – when to use them and what information to include.

They can be a helpful tool, and they’re not difficult to write once you know how. So I thought I’d offer PR Insider readers a little Christmas gift today: tips from a veteran journalist on writing effective press releases.

First I should note – at EMSI, we rarely write and distribute traditional press releases. They’re just not effective at getting the quantity and quality of media exposure we seek for our clients. Instead, we write bona fide news articles that can be published as written. They’re a time-saver for busy editors, and that exponentially increases the odds they’ll be published in print and digital newspapers and magazines.

Recently, I’ve seen marketing bloggers refer to these types of articles as “the new press release.” I have to laugh, because, apparently, we’ve been writing “the new press release” for 24 years!

So, in order to avoid confusion, let me clarify: Today, we’re talking about “the old press release.”

This comes in handy for announcing events, milestones and achievements that simply aren’t newsworthy enough for a full-blown article. Some publications regularly publish lists of such brief announcements, so there’s a chance your release will increase exposure for your company or yourself, especially if you’re careful to direct it to the right person.

It might also inspire a reporter or editor to file away your name as a possible future source of information, or – jackpot! – to write about you or your business.

What essentials should you include in your release? I asked our senior creative director, Penny Carnathan, who saw a few gazillion releases in her years as a newspaper editor and reporter.

She offered these tips:

  • Remember the five W’s: “Just like a good basic news story, every press release should contain the five W’s: who, what, when, where and why,” Penny says. At least some of the most important information – the reason for your release – should be in the first paragraph. In an announcement about an upcoming event, get to the “what,” “when” and “where” quickly. For a release announcing an award, milestone, promotion or other non-event, the “who,” “what” and “when” will come first.
  • Spend time crafting a strong headline. Headlines are written in a larger font than the text of your release, and they’re the first thing your reader sees after the email subject line, so they’re your first chance to grab – or lose – your reader. Your headline should clearly state the nature of your release. Avoid puns and clever word plays unless you’re 100 percent confident they’ll immediately communicate your subject matter. If you can put a timely or newsy spin on your headline, go for it, but don’t mislead the reader. (No one likes a bait-and-switch!) A good headline can often be transformed into an effective email subject line.
  • If there’s a relevant “news hook,” point it out in a subhead and/or the first paragraph. If your announcement ties in with something going on in the news or an upcoming season, holiday or major event, point that out. Editors and reporters are often looking for fresh angles on news stories and – just maybe – you’ll be it!
  • Make sure your contact information is complete and easy to spot. A lot of people neglect to include this essential information, or refer readers to their website to find it. Don’t make either mistake! Put your name, phone number and email in the upper left-hand corner so it stands out from the text. Include a phone number that you can access after hours, and an email address you check on a regular basis.

Keep your release concise, Penny emphasizes. More is not better! Editors and reporters receive so many releases, they don’t have time to spend searching long narratives for essential nuggets of information.

I hope these tips come in handy for you in 2014! In the meantime, we at EMSI wish you a joy-filled holiday with friends and family who are a constant reminder of how very much you’re loved

Happy Holidays!

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