Yes, you can greatly improve your press releases, it’s simple to get more media coverage and engagement. I didn’t say easy, it surely takes work and focus. But the basic principles of great PR are simple, because they’re based on common sense. Here are some great tips, thoughts about bosses and clients, and even the challenge of a one-sentence release:
Writing just might be the most important skill you can have. It doesn’t matter how many reporters you know or how unique your story angle is, if you can’t write a compelling press release that instantly sucks readers in, everything else is meaningless.
Unfortunately, too many press release writers never improve their writing skills. As a writer, it’s easy to fall into a trap of writing everything the exact same way, using the exact same layout and the exact same buzzwords time and time again. But like the saying goes, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over while expecting a different result.”
Simply put, if you’re tired of your press releases not getting results, you need to try something different. What you need to try is writing them differently.
Here are 5 ways to become a better press release writer.
1. Don’t fall into the template trap – Is it just me or do 9 out of 10 press releases read exactly the same? It’s always “ABC Company, the leader in the (insert name of industry), recently announced their (insert buzzword)…” It’s all the same , and it makes all the press releases blend together. Remember, reporters and buyers both have seen a lot of press releases. If you want to stand out from the crowd, you have to break free from this template, plug-and-play style of writing. Dare to be different and creative. Just make sure you still get to the point and answer all the main questions.
2. Get to know the product and company inside and out – Whether you’re writing press releases for your company or you’re a PR pro writing them for someone else, you need to spend time getting truly familiar with the subject you’re writing about. Try to steer clear of the common buzzwords and slogans that sometimes get attached to products and companies. Instead, focus on the problems it solves, the pain points it alleviates for customers, who the customers are, and other important details. This will allow you to create a more detail rich, less generic press release.
3. Know what your audience is looking for – Recently, we talked about how there are many different press release audiences today. Your press release could be for traditional media, new media, buyers, investors, affiliates, or search engines. Know your audience, and understand what type of information and style is important to them.
4. Cut the fluff – No matter who your audience is, they share one thing in common: They’re starved for time. They just want the most important information delivered to them as quickly and clearly as possible. In the past, we’ve talked about press release length, and the point is that there isn’t necessarily a specific word count you should be aiming for. But instead, you should be focusing on finding ways to deliver your message as succinctly as possible without losing clarity. Try printing out your press releases and slashing through fluff (unnecessary words and info) with a red pen.
5. Practice daily – The only way you can get better at writing press releases is to practice every single day. Even If you’re writing press releases you’ll never send out, it’s still important to get that practice in. When practicing, try out new writing techniques and work on your improving your weaknesses.
With so many press releases flying out there in the world, the smallest mistake can cause a huge problem. Reporters and interns have to look at thousands of press releases every week and they’re just BEGGING you to goof up so they can knock your press release out of contention for that particular edition.
So you have to perfect, and you probably already know that. What you don’t know is some of the mistakes you’re making right up front and didn’t even know it! Let’s look at some of the most common you can avoid to have a more perfect press release.
Pretending Your Announcement is the Biggest Ever
You’re not going to fool anyone pretending your new product will save the planet. Everyone who reads it in the paper will know your TurboWind 5000 vacuum isn’t going to create peace in the Middle East. So why are you writing your press release like it’s going to be the best thing since the wheel?
We all like to be excited about the news we’re writing about. We love our company and want everyone else to be as pumped about the news as we are. However, it’s important to keep it all in check. What’s huge news to you is likely going to be “that’s nice” worthy to others.
That’s not to say you shouldn’t be excited so it comes across in your writing. But don’t let it overtake you to where you’re throwing in forty exclamatory phrases to describe your new vacuum.
Simple, Simple, Simple
Think of the last time you pitched to somebody in person. They walked up to you, asked what your company/product was all about, and you started talking. How long did you go on? Did you ramble forever or did you say what you had to say and got out of there so the product could do the talking?
Your press release should be nice and succinct as well. Too much info will lead the person reading it to be overwhelmed and likely gloss over the story entirely, just like they would if you were blabbing in their ear for hours on end.
Make sure you get the who, what, where, why, when, and how in there, but if you want any extra information make very sure it adds to the narrative. If it’s extraneous, cut it.
Blow Them Away Right From the Start
99 times out of 100 writers will spend lots of time crafting a great press release only to stumble when it comes to the very beginning. Unfortunately for them, that’s arguably the most important portion of the press release.
If you don’t hook readers right away, they’re going to ignore you. The headline and opening sentence/paragraph is like a trailer for a movie. How often do you see a crappy trailer and think “boy, can’t wait to see that movie!” Once in a while you might go just to see the train wreck, but most of the time you just skip the film. It’s the same with your press release – don’t waste anyone’s time by having a poor opening.
After you’ve perfected the rest of your document, go over the title and opening paragraph a few more times. I promise there’s always a better way to approach both of them. Try a few ways you never would try otherwise to see if it works. You may be surprised.
There’s nothing wrong with it. After all, it’s natural. We all want to please our bosses. Doing so will often lead to raises and promotions. Not to mention, there’s just a deep down good feeling when praised for a job well done. In fact, one study cites that 78 percent of workers say being recognized motivates them to do a better job.
And like I said—inherently, there’s nothing wrong with it.
You’re waiting for the “but,” aren’t you? Here it comes…
BUT, such people pleasing behavior can become a problem when you lose sight of why you’re doing what you’re doing. Case in point: press releases.
What Are Press Releases For?
I know, we’re beating a dead horse here. But the reason we are writing press releases is to get media coverage. We want that spot on the local news. That article in the city paper. That post on the top trending blog. Hell, even just a tweet from someone with the right followers. That is why we write these press releases.
But when we’re trying to please a boss it’s easy to lose sight. Easy to lose purpose.
If You’re Writing a Press Release to Get a Pat on the Back—STOP
You aren’t writing a press release to make a quota. You’re writing to share a story reporters and their readers will care about. However, in an attempt to please the boss, often press releases get written exactly for the purpose of just filling a quota.
Does it matter that you meet quotas at work? Sure. Does it matter if your boss likes your press release? Sure. Does it matter that you’re doing a good job? Of course it does. But if you’re delivering a release just to deliver, you are ultimately doing more harm than good. The press release will not be relevant, and it will not get call backs.
Remember, a press release should never be self-promotional. Yes, it’s getting your news out there, but it’s not screaming “look how awesome we are!” A good press release sticks to the facts. Let the reporter build it up and add opinion. Your opinions shouldn’t be in there at all, save maybe for a quote or two from someone important to your story.
But What if That’s What Your Boss Wants?
Well, you’re in a bit of a dilemma, aren’t you? If your boss is hung up on producing endless press releases that scream “Look at me! Look at me!” you aren’t left with much choice. You have to deliver. Right? And if that’s the case, then you just have to do your best to get creative and uncover real news to write your press releases on.
Can’t do it? Maybe it’s time you stood up to your superior and let them know. Let them know that writing releases just for the sake of doing so is useless—a waste of time. Not only that, it can prove counterproductive, as people will begin to ignore the good ones along with the bad ones. And Google isn’t going to take too kindly to them either.
I have a new theory I want to share with you. We already know that most press releases suck, but I think that the reason they suck so bad is because of the pressure most clients put on their PR reps. PR guys are so busy caving to the demands and expectations of their clients, that by the time they get through tweaking the press release to fit their needs, they’re left with a steaming pile of garbage.
The simple truth is you shouldn’t be writing press releases to please your client. The client isn’t your target audience, and quite frankly, most clients wouldn’t know a good press release if they were staring right at it. That’s why they hired you to write it, because they don’t know how to do it themselves.
Look, I’m not saying that you need to ignore your clients. Their feedback is important, and at the end of the day, the press release isn’t going out without their stamp of approval. But there are times where you absolutely have to stand up to clients and educate them on what makes a good press release. Clients need to understand that putting a bunch of hype in the press release isn’t a good idea. They need to understand that reporters don’t really give a hoot about every trivial detail regarding their company and executives.
Here’s one thing you can do to help your clients “get it.” Show them a bad press release next to a typical story from a newspaper or magazine they’re targeting. Point out how different the stories that get picked up are from the type of press release they’re trying to get you to write for them. When they see just how big the differences are between the two, hopefully, they’ll begin to understand that press releases need to tell compelling stories, not be full of hype and self-congratulatory BS.
Of course, we PR people do share in the blame for the bad press releases that get sent out. We’re the ones who are supposed to be the experts, and it’s our job to educate clients on the process. We need to set realistic expectations, so that they understand things don’t magically happen overnight. They need to know that there is no magic bullet press release, and they need to understand the things journalists hate to see.
Now, if you’ve done your best to educate your client and they still insist upon turning your press releases into garbage, it might be time to set them free. Remember, your name is on the line too, and if you’re sending out low quality work, reporters will start to ignore you and potential clients won’t be impressed enough to work with you. So, you have to know when it’s time to fire a client.
A few years back, the popular rock band Stone Temple Pilots made a major splash in the news when they announced they were firing their lead singer Scott Weiland. The group announced this shocking news in a one-sentence press release that simply read, “Stone Temple Pilots have announced they have officially terminated Scott Weiland.”
Now, we’ve debated the topic of press release length on this blog in the past, and while I’ve always believed that short and sweet press releases work best, I’ve never tried to argue that press releases should be just one sentence long.
But the truth is this single-sentence press release was incredibly powerful, and there are a few valuable lessons we all can learn from it.
The Stone Temple Pilots certainly left reporters and fans wanting more. Everyone was speculating about why the band fired their singer, what it meant for their future, and a host of other questions. How many reporters do you think have tried to reach out to the band since this press release was issued? I’d say quite a lot.
Another interesting thing to note is that this story was announced just as the singer Scott Weiland was preparing to head out on a solo tour. Think this is getting fans interested and driving ticket sales? You know it is, and while that might just be a coincidence (conspiracy theorists would probably say otherwise), the timing certainly couldn’t have been better.
What tips would you give to press release writers trying to polish their skills? Leave them in the comments!
This article is written by Mickie Kennedy, founder of eReleases (https://www.ereleases.com), the online leader in affordable press release distribution. Download your free copy of 7 Cheap PR Tactics for Success in Any Economy here: https://www.ereleases.com/free-offer/cheap-pr-tactics/
What tips would you give to press release writers trying to polish their skills?
The more you write…the less they read.