Chapter 3: Advanced Guide to
Writing Powerful Press Releases
So you have the headline – now what?
Now it’s time to fulfill the promise you made with your headline and deliver a lead and body that keeps the attention of the reading reporter to the very bottom, right through your Call To Action, boilerplate, and contact info.
We are going to cover the following topics in this chapter: defining leads, the inverted pyramid with examples, general rules for writing the body, and some helpful tips to keep in mind while you’re writing.
1. Defining the Lead
Before we do anything else, it is critical to go back to the basics for just a second… what is a lead?
the story you are sharing. The lead instantly tells a reporter the
important facts of your story.
to get them to keep reading.
Alright, check! Let’s see how it fits into the perfect press release formula with the inverted pyramid.
2. The Inverted Pyramid
Take the New York Times newspaper as an example. The average edition (excluding Sunday) has about 140,000 words. For reasons of interest and time, not many people will sit down and read the newspaper cover-to-cover.
So what do you do? You check out the headlines first. If it grabs you, you will likely read the first sentence or two (the lead). You get the basics of the story and you can either 1) move on, or 2) continue reading for more details – but already you have the gist of the story.
To make this a little more clear, let’s break the inverted pyramid into three main steps:
- 5W Content
- Less Important Information (KISS)
- Least Important information
Who: What person or organization is responsible for this release?
What: Get to the point of the story. What is it all about?
Where: Is there a specific region/state/town involved? Which organizations/homes/families might be affected?
When: Aside from the time stamp at the top of the release, there are many other questions that can be answered by ‘When’. When will a book signing be? When will the new policy be implemented?
Why: Why, indeed, should we care? Why do other readers need to be invested in your story?
Because of how critical the 5W content is, we are going to do a little activity. Remember the fictional press release from Chapter 1?
Read the section of the press release below and identify each of the following: What? Who? Where? When? Why?
What: Dinner event
Who: Davidson County Humane Society
Where: Hilton Hotel at 123 Main Street in Nashville
When: Saturday, December 20th from 5-9 PM
Why: Raise money
…and all in one punchy sentence!
Every word of your press release is important, so I hesitate to use the words “less important.” However, I simply mean that the middle of your press release should include additional information that merely expands on the core information, further enhancing its value.
Look at the middle of our fictional release.
All proceeds will go to support the Davidson County Humane Society, which is a no-kill shelter supporting Middle Tennessee. The menu includes spaghetti, vegetarian no-balls, and gluten free options. Salad and dessert will be served and there will be a cash bar.
The evening will include a pet fashion show featuring dogs who have recently been adopted and a variety of vendors will be selling crafts to raise money for the cause. It will be the perfect stop to pick up last minute holiday gifts.
You can see that details that guests would need to know: Food options, cash bar, what the event will include.
It goes back to our earlier New York Times example. Readers check out the lead and get the main point of the article before they continue reading for more information. So give them what’s important first.
A phrase you want to keep at the forefront of your mind when working on the lead and body of your release is KISS.
Always KISS your press release!
Short & Simple
Quote & Least
This is part is still important to the story; the information here, however, is ancillary, details that support the larger questions taken care of by your lead and the supporting paragraphs above it.
Executive Director, Rex Labradoodle said, “Last year, we raised over $12,000 and the support we get from the community touches us beyond words. We have a few surprises in store for our guests this year and we are appreciative to have a community that is passionate about putting homeless cats and dogs in loving homes.”
Tickets for the Spay-ghetti and No-Balls Dinner are ten dollars and may be purchased on the humane society’s website or at the door. To find out more how the shelter, how to volunteer, and adoptable pets, please visit the Davidson County Humane society at dchumane.org.
Although your press release will vary in content and storyline from the one above, all releases have this inverted pyramid formula in common.
The most relevant, interesting 5W Content sits at the top, and all supporting quotes and details follow afterward, in order of descending importance.
Check out the following press release to tie the inverted pyramid together. The green box is the most important, followed by less important information in the blue box, and the least important information in the grey box.
Is Online Holiday Shopping OK At Work? Survey Shows More Companies Are ‘Buying It’
Unrestricted Internet Access to Shopping Sites Climbs 17 Percentage Points Since 2012
MENLO PARK, Calif., Nov. 11, 2014 /PRNewswire/ — As Black Friday and Cyber Monday approach, a new Robert Half Technology survey suggests companies are becoming more lenient when it comes to letting employees shop online during business hours. More than one-quarter (27 percent) of chief information officers (CIOs) interviewed said their companies allow unrestricted access to shopping sites – an increase of 17 percentage points since 2012. Another 42 percent said they allow access but monitor activity for excessive use. Less than one-third (30 percent) of CIOs said their firms block access to online shopping sites.
The annual survey, developed by Robert Half Technology, is based on more than 2,400 telephone interviews with CIOs from a random sample of U.S. companies with 100 or more employees in 24 major metropolitan areas. Robert Half Technology is a leading provider of IT professionals on a project and full-time basis.
The survey asked CIOs, “Which one of the following best describes your company’s policy regarding employees shopping online while at work?” Their responses over the past three years:
|Allow unrestricted access||10%||16%||27%|
|Allow access, but monitor for excessive use||55%||54%||42%|
|Block access to online shopping sites||33%||29%||30%|
|Block access to online shopping sites||2%||1%||1%|
“Employers recognize that some flexibility is needed to help workers successfully manage their time during the hectic holiday season,” said John Reed, senior executive director of Robert Half Technology. “Allowing professionals to attend to the occasional personal errand at work, like holiday shopping, can make all the difference to them during this busy time of year.”
However, Reed advised professionals not to abuse work policies that allow online holiday shopping. “Employees should still limit their shopping time on the job,” he said. “It doesn’t reflect well on any professional to be seen bargain-hunting rather than attending to business at hand.”
Robert Half Technology offers these tips for employees who are considering online holiday shopping at the office:
Learn the rules. Before you shop, make sure you’re familiar with your company’s web policy. Most employers have rules about sites or hours to avoid. If the policy is unclear, play it safe and save your shopping for before or after work.
Limit surfing. Unrestricted access to the Internet doesn’t mean you should spend all of Cyber Monday searching for deals at your desk. If you plan to do the majority of your holiday shopping online and want to snag deals that day, take a personal day off. Or conduct your browsing away from the office and limit your shopping activity to quick transactions when at work.
Log out of accounts. After you’ve completed your online holiday purchases at work, remember to log out of your merchant accounts on your computer to protect your personal information.
Final Words –
Keeping Them Reading
If you’re stuck for a direction in which to take your release, check out this handy list of story ideas that can be applied to almost any niche.
Otherwise, here are some hints that will help make the body of your release even more stellar:
- If applicable, make it relevant/timely to current events
- Share how a national event affects the local/regional community, or vice-versa
- Spark human interest – people love to read about other people
- Keep your lead punchy, interesting, and brief
- Get to the point quickly
- Avoid starting your press release with a quote
- Make sure that none of your information contradicts itself
- More is not better – keep your press release body to 3-5 paragraphs (350-500 words)
- Eliminate fluff
- Avoid jargon and slang
Frequently Asked Questions
How Do I Write a Good Hook for a Press Release
Editors and journalists sift through dozens, if not hundreds, of press releases each day. If you want them to read your press release, you need to entice with a strong opening. They’ll see the headline before anything else. If that draws them in, they’ll scan the sub-header and first paragraph to determine whether your press release is newsworthy. The hook can go into any of those elements.
A great hook is like a song that gets stuck in your head. It pulls the reader in and makes them want to learn more about the story.
Before you write your hook, get a sense of what others are doing. Search online for some of your competitors’ press releases that have gained substantial coverage. Make notes of the ideas, phrasing, and story elements that they used.
Then, do some brainstorming. Write at least 25 hooks for the headline, sub-header and opening paragraph.
Then, ask yourself the following questions:
- Does it grab attention?
- Would it make you more curious about what’s next?
- Does it generate an emotional response?
Use power words that convey a sense of action or elicit a strong sentiment. Maintain an active voice and avoid using passive verbs. Another excellent tip for writing a compelling hook is to use numbers and be as specific as possible.
Try not to use puns or be too creative with your wordplay. Journalists don’t want to decipher your poetic writing as they’re scrolling through subject lines. Get to the point immediately.
How to Learn Copywriting?
Whether you’re writing social media posts, updating your website, or crafting press releases, you should understand how to structure excellent copy. Then write powerfully and concisely, and streamline your message for your audience.
You can learn to Copywrite by scoping out your competitors. However, use an analytical mind as you do so. Not everyone can create excellent copy.
The best way to engage your audience is to write in their own words. To do this, create a document in which you can record what your clients say. Have your customer service team record the top questions that your audience asks. Your copy should rephrase these questions and answer them.
You can also scope out social media groups that are relevant to your industry. What phrases does your target audience use to ask questions or make comments? Steal the terms that they use to discuss their struggles, desires and dreams. Transform those words into persuasive copy.
Remember that people want to know what’s in it for them, when you’re listing the features of a product or service, including the benefits. How will the offer help your audience?
Use statistics, empirical evidence and authoritative research to support your claims and set you up as a credible authority.
As most people read, they come up with subconscious objections. Be proactive and address those in your copy.
Finally, include a call to action to encourage readers to engage with you. Don’t beat around the bush; be bossy about what you want here.
Now that you understand the elements of good copywriting study persuasive sales pages and press releases. Write down the phrasing and power words that stand out to you, creating swipe files that you can refer to when you sit down in front of a blank page.
What Is an Inverted Pyramid?
When you write a press release, you don’t want to save the most critical information for last. The chances are likely that an editor or journalist will make their decision about whether to engage with you before they read the final word.
Therefore, prioritize the essentials. Start your press release with them. Doing this will give you the most bang for your buck.
To write with the inverted pyramid in mind, structure the release with the most crucial and newsworthy information at the top.
- A compelling hook
- Reliable facts, statistics, and proof
- Detail the who, what, when, why and how of the topic
- Highlight the benefits for your audience
- Share how your news affects the community and spark human interest
- Write using punchy, powerful words
Think about specifics. Capture attention from the start.
The next chunk of information in the inverted pyramid structure in the body and should provide supporting details for the top-level material. This section is where you can add relevant background or the facts that you want your audience to know.
Some elements that you can include in the body are:
- Arguments or controversy
- A story that expands on the topic
- A relevant quote
- Background information
- Practical facts and logistics
Finally, include the tail. This part should be the least important information. However, don’t fill it with fluff. It should still be exciting and relevant to the press release. You might include alternative explanations, extra facts or resources that provide additional information.
Why Is It Bad Form to Start a Press Release with a Quote?
An excellent quote gives the journalist something to work with when they’re writing their story. They won’t need to contact you or another representative of the business for an interview if they have everything that they need within the press release.
But the quote shouldn’t be the first thing that the editor or journalist reads. It isn’t enough to get the point of your press release across. Using a quote at the beginning can also bury the hook.
By the time they’ve finished reading the first few lines of your press release, the reader should know the topic of your story. A quote usually isn’t enough to convey the theme.
When you do use quotes, don’t make them bland. We like to refer to quotes as “press candy.” Quotes give you a chance to change up the tone of the release, add humor and make the story more compelling.
Some tips for writing juicy quotes include:
- Interviewing customers or business representatives to get their actual words instead of making something up on your own
- Leaving out boring statistics and facts (Instead, include these in the body or tail of the press release)
- Using visual imagery
- Appealing to all of the senses
What Is Fluff Content?
If we haven’t made it clear enough, journalists don’t have time to read every word of your press release. They want the meat, not fluffy mashed potatoes.
You’re probably familiar with fluff if you’ve ever tried to add words to fill the minimum word count while writing an essay. You might have included sentences that duplicate what you’ve already said or added modifying words that aren’t necessary. For example, we could have said, “added words that aren’t really necessary,” but the word “really” would have been fluff.
Fluff makes your writing murky. It’s like adding fog in front of your main points, and it takes away from the clarity and punchiness of your message. It will also slow down the reader. If a journalist finds it hard to get through your press release, the odds that they’re going to pick it up are slim.
One of the best ways to eliminate fluff from your content is to reread every sentence and think about how you can remove words and still get your point across.
Look out for the following:
- Strings of two or three words that mean the same thing, such as this useful, meaningful and valuable sentence
- Significant words that can be replaced with more commonplace ones, such as numerous/many, facilitate/ease, assistance/help, attempt/try
- Questions followed by an answer, which you can consolidate into one concise sentence
- Redundant phrases, such as dark night, slow snail’s pace and hot sun
If you have to pull out a thesaurus, you’re probably adding fluff. Your reader shouldn’t have to refer to a dictionary to get through your press release.
What Is the Best Press Release Headline Format?
Remember that no one will read your content if the headline doesn’t scream, “Click me!” The headline format can make a huge difference when it comes to writing a gripping press release. Only about one in five people go on to read the statement after putting their eyes on the headline.
Here are some tips that you should keep in mind when writing an eye-catching headline:
- Keep it to 100 characters or fewer
- Envision it on the front page of a newspaper
- Use hard stats and figures
- Use powerful, active words
- Elicit emotions to create personal value
- Appeal to current events or trends
Here is a general template for a press release headline format that you can follow:
Company/individual | action verb/power word | number | noun | those who benefit | additional details
We’ve included some excellent examples below.
- American Airlines Pilot Navigates 500 Passengers to Safety After Engine Fails
- The Crazy Diet Book Encourages 6,000 People to Shed Pounds Effortlessly
- Drop-in Daycare Provides 5,000 Local Parents With On-Demand Childcare
Here are some power adjectives that you can include in your headlines:
Some weak power verbs that you should leave out of your headline include:
How Do I Know if My Story Idea Is Good Enough to Use in My Press Release?
Maybe you’re opening a new location for your franchise or self-publishing a hot new novel. Businesses come out with new products and services every day. How can you be sure that your idea is newsworthy?
The best stories for a press release include:
- Product announcements – Teasing a new product generates excitement and conversation about the offer. Send these out ahead of time to build anticipation.
- Event announcements – If a company is holding or attending an event, the media want to know. The press release will show that you’re active in the community and provide details for people who wish to attend the gathering.
- Rebranding – If you’re changing your logo or messaging, make sure that your customers know. Let them know how improving your company will enhance the services that you provide to your audience. Show readers that you’ve been listening to their feedback and are evolving to serve their needs better.
- You’re hiring – If you’ve recently hired someone with a stellar background or reputation for a senior position, share the news. You can also announce that you are ready to fill some job openings.
- Partnerships – Partnering or collaborating with another company often shows that you’re growing and becoming more efficient. Identify the benefits to the industry or consumer, and don’t miss the opportunity to highlight some of your company’s offerings.
- Celebrity endorsement – If someone famous has used your products or services, you can share the news with the world. This celebrity will give you some authority and get you noticed.
- Winning an award – Your story will be compelling if you’ve won a legitimate prize. Don’t share accolades that you had to pay for, though; it’s terrible form.
- Industry milestones – Any time you do something that goes above and beyond industry standards, shout it from the rooftops if it’s intriguing or an industry first.
- Research findings – Case studies and research that uncovers valuable data that other companies or consumers might like to know about are newsworthy. Don’t publish weak studies for the sake of media coverage, though.
Some stories are mundane, but you can always put a spin on them if you don’t exaggerate and remain truthful. Whatever the story is, think about how it benefits the target audience. If you can tell your readers what’s in it for them, they’ll hang onto your every word.
Every story needs an angle. Even if you’re announcing the launch of your startup, you should answer at least one of the following questions:
- What problem does your story solve?
- What market need does your story address?
- What goal have you achieved?
- What new insight do you have for your audience?
What Does KISS Mean?
KISS is a mnemonic people use to keep their press release concise and compelling. It stands for “Keep it short and simple.” Repeat this to yourself as you write the opening and body of the statement. As you reread your content, ask yourself whether every sentence or concept is direct, streamlined, and straightforward.
Keeping KISS in mind will help you avoid using jargon that confuses readers and limit the use of fluff. You’ll write a press release that journalists want to read.
Many business owners and novice PR people think that they need to be intelligent and sophisticated with their writing. But writing press releases is different than writing those philosophy papers that you got A’s on in college.
You don’t have to be as eloquent as you think. The shorter the sentences are, the better they’ll be understood. Get your message across quickly. You don’t need to impress anyone. You need to express your newsworthiness so that the public can consume it.
What is a Lead as Far as My Press Release is Concerned?
The lead is like the hook. It’s the first portion of a paragraph, and it provides all the pertinent information while making the reader want to keep going.
Some people refer to it as a summary lead because it explains the basic facts objectively. A lead can be a sentence or a full paragraph. If necessary, you can split it into two sections.
A delayed lead doesn’t deliver the who, what, when, where, and why right away. Instead, it might begin with a narrative or question. We don’t often suggest that you start a press release in this manner, though. Unless the first sentence is extraordinarily engaging or very short, the reader might not continue.
A better option is to use a contrasting lead to create a friction that makes the reader curious. For example, you might write, “A year ago, 25 percent of New Hope residents were out of work. But today, the unemployment rate in the city is down to 10 percent.”
You must immediately flow into the nut graf, which is like the summary lead. The nut graf explains the point of the press release.
What Is 5W Content?
Most journalists learned to answer the five W’s when creating content. You should do the same thing when writing your press release. You probably learned this in elementary school.
Ensure that your release includes the following:
- Who – Who is announcing the news or involved in the story?
- What – What is the news?
- Where – Where is the announcement taking place or the event occurring?
- When – When did the announcement happen?
- Why – Why is this occurring, and why should the reader care?
Answer the five W’s in the lead paragraph. You can incorporate more details throughout the body of the press release.