The Dos and Don’ts of Writing an Effective Press Release
Today, there are more ways than ever for a business to get its message out to its target audience. In addition to traditional mailers, billboards, and broadcast commercials, now we have websites, social media, emails, digital ads, and more. However, in the shift toward digital, some old-school channels that still offer tremendous value have gotten lost in the shuffle, with many businesses under-utilizing or overlooking them altogether. One medium, in particular, is the press release.
A press release is typically a one- or two-page document of copy containing noteworthy news or information which a business shares with the public through the media, often via a newswire service. While most releases are image-free (minus a company logo), photos can be included, albeit at an extra cost.
Whether you’re announcing a change in leadership, touting a prestigious award, addressing a crisis, recapping a recent event, or building excitement for an upcoming event, press releases are an invaluable communications tool for building upon your brand’s story.
As formal documents that stick to the facts, they allow you to control and spread your message while getting the public to take interest in your business and view it positively. Because journalists often use them as a reference to write their own articles, press releases are essentially owned media which use paid media to generate earned media.
The Benefits of Issuing Press Releases
There are a number of advantages to adding the consistent use of press releases to your company’s marketing and communications toolbox.
- Well-crafted releases allow you to build your brand’s reputation in the public arena, other than letting the media, who often don’t have your business’s best interests at heart, do it for you.
- When a communications crisis strikes, one that can be used to blemish your brand, they help you get out in front of the story to shape the narrative so it reflects as positively as possible on your company.
- Compared to many other tactics, they are a cost-effective way to accomplish a number of marketing and communications goals, including spreading your message, reaching a wider audience, building a relationship with the community, and enhancing search engine optimization (SEO).
- Whether your press release is used verbatim or by journalists to craft their own articles, the content adds to your digital presence and can boost your marketing efforts by increasing web traffic and improving SEO.
Should you decide to tap into the power of press releases for your own company or brand, here are some major dos and don’ts to keep in mind when writing them:
DO Try to Hook Your Reader
As with other copy-infused content, your first priority as the writer is to hook the reader from the get go, grabbing their attention and enticing them to read further. (If you can’t do that, nothing else you do matters.) This starts with a headline and introductory paragraph that speaks to the target audience and piques their curiosity with something of interest to them, be it a local event, a new product, community initiative, construction progress, or fundraising effort. Focus on the human element and impacts on the region to create a powerful hook for your release.
DON’T Use Past Tense or Passive Verbs in the Headers
Your headers should read like newspaper headlines, using active voice whenever possible, present tense for past events, and future tense for future events. The essence of news coverage is its immediacy, and eliminating the past tense in the header and subheaders creates a sense of urgency and excitement For a past event, the body copy should be in past tense, but still use active verbs for a clearer, more dynamic and engaging voice.
DO Use Title-Case Capitalization for the Header
Title-case capitalization for the title is the standard used in the vast majority of press releases. This is when you capitalize all words except articles (the, a, and an), conjunctions of three words or less (and, or, but, etc.) and prepositions of three words or less (off, by, on, off, in, etc.).
The first and last words are initially capitalized no matter the word. You can use this title-case convertor until you get the hang of it.
DON’T Forget a Subheader
While some press releases tend to omit a subheader, adding a smaller-sized subhead under your header allows you to elaborate on content to draw in the reader without bloating the header. The additional copy, likely featuring relevant keywords, can also further SEO efforts. Using title-case capitalization here is a matter of your own preference. Some people prefer sentence-case capitalization and/or italics here.
DO Stay Positive
Remember that you have control here, so make sure everything you write puts your brand in the best light possible. A main objective of issuing releases is to boost your business’s reputation and raise positive brand awareness. Even when addressing a crisis such as public dissent, a lawsuit, or workplace accident, when you display professionalism, transparency, and promptness, it shows your company is one that can be trusted and taken seriously.
DON’T Bury the Lede
Your first sentence, or at least the first paragraph, should answer most, if not all, of the 5 Ws — the Who, What, When, Where, and Why. Cutting to the chase is how journalists write, and a press release is essentially a news article. Getting out the pertinent information first sets the table for what’s to follow while making it easier and clearer for news organizations and the public to comprehend.
DO Keep It Short & Sweet
Press releases should be quick reads, getting to the point quickly while being under a page when possible. Keep out the fluff so journalists and other readers can better digest it. The clearer and more concise it is, the greater the likelihood of it getting noticed and published. Not to mention that, when working with a newswire service, it usually costs more money when you go over a fixed amount of words. For instance, Newswire’s base-priced distribution comes with a 400-word max.
DON’T Forget SEO
Keywords and hyperlinks aren’t just for web pages and blogs; they also come in pretty handy when your press release is shared digitally. Using keywords in your headers and body copy will increase visibility through related searches. By hyperlinking to applicable pages and references, you’ll establish those valuable SEO connections for greater credibility and increase your worth to search engines.
DO Proof It Carefully
Professionalism is key to getting people to trust your brand, and to maintain that professionalism throughout your press release, you have to make sure it’s free of typos, misspellings, and incorrect information. You don’t want to distract your readers or even have them stop reading altogether because you didn’t do your due diligence. Always thoroughly proof your release at least once before moving it forward.
DON’T Spend More Than You Have To
There are two ways a business can distribute their press releases once written: manually (e.g., by email) to specific journalists/publications or through a newswire service such as PR Newswire (PRN) or Business Wire whom you’ll have to pay to distribute it to multiple news organizations.
Distributing through a newswire can cost anywhere from a few hundred dollars to over a thousand, depending on a number of factors including word count and geographical dissemination. You may be better off working on building relationships with local journalists and establishing contact lists for emailing your press releases in order to generate interest and get it organically published or used as an earned media source.
DO Include Strong Quotes
Another element that contributes to the news story feel is the addition of strong, relevant quotes because they add more credibility, information, and color to your story. Sprinkle in quotes from key players, from company leaders and employees to community groups and elected officials, that support the story while also giving props to your company when you can.
DON’T Be Repetitive
Sometimes you may not have as much information as you need to make a meaty-enough press release, but try your best not to be redundant and repeat information over and over. Your first sentence or two will likely read a lot like your headers, but use your writing skills to mix it up and not sound exactly the same. The same goes for the copy in all your paragraphs which should flow effortlessly from one to the other while providing more unique, in-depth information.
DO Add a Boilerplate
Placed after the last line of the press release copy, a boilerplate is a brief, straightforward paragraph that describes your business, summarizing its purpose, values, background, and other factors essential to your brand story. It’s basically evergreen copy, which means it can be used over and over again at the end of press releases with rare alterations. Just like a subhead, this is an addition that can also help enhance SEO.
DON’T Stray From Traditional Guidelines
It’s best to follow traditional guidelines when writing a press release, as it’s what journalists expect and are familiar with. No need to distract them or seem unprofessional with unconventional formats in an attempt to be clever or different. While you’ll find a number of slight format variations in the countless templates available online (such as contact information up top, rather than at the bottom), this is one of the most common structures:
- Company logo at top of page
- Release timing preference: (e.g., FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE vs FOR RELEASE ON XXXXX)
- Headline: Setting the hook
- Sub-headline: Elaborating on the headline
- Dateline before first sentence: City, state — date (e.g., BUFFALO, NY — October, 21, 2024)
- Introduction paragraph: Laying out the 5 Ws
- Body: Giving in-depth details, supportive quotes, facts, data, etc.
- Boilerplate: Briefly describing your company
- Media contact information: Providing the name, number, and email address of the appropriate person for the media to contact for more information.
These are some of the most common dos and don’ts for writing a press release, aimed at getting the attention of journalists and getting your message out there. With decades of experience in communications and public relations, M:7 Agency can help elevate your communications, from crisis comms plans to press releases, so that it’s you who’s in charge of the narrative, not the media or the public. Start a conversation with us today about your unique communication needs.