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