If you want your press release to get an editor’s attention, you need to get to the point as quickly as possible. Dozens of press releases stream into a newsroom every day. Most of them end up in the trash because an editor simply didn’t have time to read through the whole release to grasp the writer’s point. You might have a great, timely hook, but it won’t get noticed if it’s buried in the fourth paragraph.
The two most important elements of the press release are the headline and opening paragraph. Assume that will be all an editor ever reads. By the time an editor has skimmed the first few lines, it should be obvious why your story will be important to readers.
Some people prefer to tackle headlines last, because they’re often the most difficult part of a press release. I find writing the headline first helps me to focus while writing the body of the release. Here are some headline guidelines:
Press release headlines should be short and catchy; usually five to seven words is enough. Make each word count. Use active verbs, staying away from “is” and “are.” Avoid fancy adjectives and adverbs all together. Take out unnecessary words like “the,” “an,” and “that.”
Punctuation isn’t necessary. Definitely don’t use exclamation points, as they don’t make your press release look any more newsworthy. In fact, they can seem rather desperate and pathetic.
Be specific. Instead of saying “ABC Inc. Creates New Jobs,” say “ABC Inc. Creates 340 Manufacturing Jobs in Fair Hill.” This gives an editor something concrete to grasp.
Use a short subhead if you feel you have other important information you need to present up front. However, a subhead isn’t necessary on a press release.
Like the headline, the opening paragraph to a press release needs to be enticing, concise, and to the point. In journalism, reporters often write using a format called the inverted pyramid. This structure calls for the most important information to appear at the top of the story. When you’re writing a press release, you should follow this same format.
Imagine an editor is going to print your press release in his publication. However, he only has a very small news hole. Chances are he’ll start cutting away text from the bottom, so you’ll want all of the important information to be up top.
The opening paragraph should be no more than three sentences, and should hook the reader immediately. It should answer the basic journalistic questions: Who? What? Where? When? Why? How? Focus on the main idea, not the little details.
One of the worst (and most overused) ways to begin a press release is to say “ABC President John Smith today announced …” Obviously if you’re sending out a news release, someone is announcing something. Tell the news first, worry about attribution later.
Finally, avoid marketing hype and sales jargon. Editors and reporters can sniff out a sales pitch from a mile away and they’re not interested in giving you a free ad. If they sense you’re trying to pull one over on them, chances are they won’t even bother reading your press release at all the next time.
Tags: active verbs, adjectives and adverbs, hook, inverted pyramid, journalism, newsroom, punctuation, unnecessary words, word count, writing a press release
This article, written by Karen Baxter, originally appeared in PR Fuel (http://www.ereleases.com/prfuel), a free weekly newsletter from eReleases (http://www.ereleases.com), the online leader in affordable press release distribution. To subscribe to PR Fuel, visit: http://www.ereleases.com/prfuel/subscribe/.