October 22, 2018
Writing a press release sounds straightforward, doesn’t it? You have a piece of news to get out into the world and it seems like it should be easy to convey the salient facts. Well, yes and no. While it may be simple to commit the information you need to words, putting those words into the right structure must be thought about in more detail than you may think necessary at first glance.
First things first, the title. Does it grab attention? Editors receive a great many press releases each day, therefore to ensure yours piques their interest the title must make your item stand out in a crowd. Often, however, titles are far too long, which invariably rings alarm bells with editors, who may assume that the release itself is too long and will therefore require additional work to make it useable. The most successful press releases keep it simple but impactful, and put particular emphasis on the heart of the story - what’s happened? What’s been won? What is being launched?
Next, the first paragraph is perhaps the most important section of any press release. Once the title has grabbed attention, it is the sole job of paragraph 1 to give as much information as possible in as few words as possible. A press release of 500-750 words would take up an entire page in a standard sized magazine, and you won’t find many single page news items within a section. Get to the point quickly and include all of the salient facts in paragraph 1, where you can.
The reason for this is simple. Editors, in my experience, work to word counts for news items of around 200-250 words, which means your first paragraph will almost always be included and, if you are lucky, a quote from your spokesperson as well. It is best, therefore, to take a look at your press release once written and then to be brutal with it. By all means leave it at 500-750 words, but please, please, please carry out the following exercise before it is sent:
- Take the first paragraph of your release
- Take the quote you have incorporated – preferably from a senior official within the company
- Temporarily cut out or hide all other copy – barring the last line, which often has contact information or dates. What you are left with, in short, is what the majority of editors would deem to be useable information.
If this exercise doesn’t leave a news item that a) delivers all of the information you require it to, and b) reads and flows as well as the long form version, then you need to return to the drawing board until it does.
Well-written press releases take a good amount of time to draft but show that particular attention was paid to how they start. It is the beginning where the value is added and, when in print or online, it is this copy that is most likely to appear.
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