How to Write a Press Release that Gets Journalists’ Attention

Want to get journalists inquiries and responses with your press release? You should do the following:

  • Plan the release with a written outline.
  • Craft a great headline.
  • Write the release first, edit it later.
  • Keep the release looking good with solid writing and formatting.
  • Edit, edit, edit.
  • Proofread.
  • Ask for peer feedback.

Never Write a Press Release Without a Plan

I’m busy. You’re busy. We’re all busy. It’s a busy world we live in, right? We all have more tasks to accomplish each day than we actually have hours on the work clock. It’s stressful and frustrating. So what do we do to compensate?

  • We learn to multitask.
  • We learn to prioritize.
  • We learn to work more efficiently.

All good things, right? But there’s something I left off the list that we all tend to do from time to time. We rush. And as you have probably experienced, when you rush you tend not to put out your best work.

When it comes to press release writing, it’s easy to see it as just another task filling up your to-do list. And it’s tempting to sit down at your computer and slop out whatever is on your mind and be done with it. But it’s not a wise decision. There’s a better way to streamline the process.

Take a Few Moments to Plan

Did you ever consider the possibility that rushing through a task can actually lengthen the time you spend on it? Let me give you an example. You sit down to rush through your press release. As you’re attempting to fly through it, you hit a roadblock. What should you write next? The problem is that your thoughts are all jumbled. The ideas are out of order in your busy mind and are getting clouded with all the other things you have to do.

In actuality, if you take a few moments to plan out your release before you actually write it, you’re going to save yourself time during the writing process. Why? Because an outline will tell you where to begin, where to go, and where you want to end up. You have a full road map, which lets you avoid all those pesky writing detours. The result? You’ll fly through the actual writing process and have a much more sound press release as an end product.

Tips on Planning Your Release

So how can you effectively plan out your release before you get going? First, I recommend you write out a main idea sentence. What is the main point you want to get across? If you’re unsure how to narrow this down, try this:

  1. Decide what is the most important person, place, or thing you’re going to talk about.
  2. Now, figure out the most important thing you want to say about the topic you identified in #1.
  3. Write them together in 10-15 words.

Now, once you have your main idea, you can start planning out your map. There are plenty of ways out there to do it. You just have to pick what works best for you.

  1. Bubble map: Write your main idea in the center. Now draw branches off the bubble representing different paragraphs. Off each branch, write the main idea you want to get across in each paragraph.
  2. Traditional outline: You know, Roman Numerals and stuff. This is a little stiff for me, but to each his own.
  3. BME—BME stands for beginning, middle, and end. Simply write a big B, M, and E going down the side of a page and make notes next to each. Then write following the sequential order.

Why Press Release Outlining is Vital

I’ll admit it: I used to be firmly against outlining. I preferred the edge-of-your-seat thrill of winging a blog post, press release, or even a story I was writing. Why be restricted to an outline you’re probably going to break anyway, right?

PlanningMy tune changed over the years, though. After a while I got tired of feeling like I was two words away from losing total control over the piece I was writing, and I embraced the outline. Now I spend almost as much time outlining as I do actually throwing words down on the paper.

If you don’t outline anything else, I highly suggest you use the process for writing a press release. This is because as opposed to a blog post or other more creative piece, a press release is highly dependent on form. Since breaking from that form will likely get your piece ignored, it’s important to plan ahead of time.

Following Form

I suspect one reason why so many press releases fail to get placed is that their writers strive to make them something they aren’t. You want to be interesting and creative to keep readers’ interest, sure, but at the same time the press release form has been around for a long time for a reason.

The main purpose of a press release is to relay information. It’s not necessarily to entertain, or to amaze, or to expand someone’s horizon; it’s to get across that a thing is happening or has happened at a certain place, time, and who it concerns. If they don’t have this necessary info they’re not fulfilling the basic duty of a press release.

You have to keep in mind releases are for news outlets, and they primarily use the “top down” form. This is why you have to get all the necessary info ASAP – the who, what, where, etc. If you don’t, readers will have no idea why the story is important.

Keeping Eyes Moving

Your main job as a press release writer is to get eyeballs on the page and keep them moving. Once your reader gives up midway through the piece you’ve failed. Something about the story turned them off and they mentally checked out, which means nobody comes into your store and the whole company goes out of business.

Ok, while it’s not that dire (maybe), it’s still vital you figure out what went wrong. One likely source is the lack of format, which outlining can help you with. Is your title amazing? Do you have a killer one, maybe two sentence opening? Did you include the absolute most vital pieces of info up top?

Make sure to take a look at the rest of the piece. Again, you don’t want anyone to lose interest midway through – even if they get through all the important bits, you could still lose them for good if they get bored reading the rest. So is what you’ve included totally vital… or at least interesting enough to include?

If not, cut it out of the outline entirely. The more of these you do, the more ruthless you become at omitting extraneous details that don’t move the football forward. Soon enough your outlines will be razor sharp, which will make your press releases impossible to pass up.

Why Your Press Release’s Success Depends on Just a Few Words

You’ve written perhaps the best press release of all time. Your company, Teddy Bear Clothes Incorporated, is announcing the release of their brand new Harry Potter tie-in line of teddy shirts, and you were tasked with getting the word out to the papers and television stations. You pulled your hair and smacked your head and stayed up all the live long night and finally chiseled the thing down to perfection.

Bleary-eyed, you realize right before you turn it in that you’ve forgotten the headline! What to call it? Crap, you’ve only got five minutes left. You throw one together and quickly send it along before press time.

After a brief nap, you wake and read your press release again. You gasp in horror as you see the headline: “Harry Potter Teddies.” Images of confused women with Daniel Radcliffe’s face on their nightwear dances through your head as you try to correct things. But it’s too late. The papers and stations have all rejected the piece. Sales plummet, you lose your job, and the company folds within a year.

Is It Really That Important?

It may be a bit of an exaggeration, but only a little bit. The headline of your press release can and will make or break the entire page. It’s guaranteed to be the first thing anyone reading it sees. And when a tired, grumpy journalist at the Townsville Journal is looking at his 800th press release that day, if your headline is less than 110% awesome, he will skip over it without a thought.

The headline is your first impression, like a handshake with the journalist. If you have a great headline, it’s like a nice strong friendly handshake that makes them want to know more. If you have a “limp fish,” they are put off and fail to read any further. If you have a bad handshake, then you’ve basically just kicked the reporter in the shin and walked off.

The good news is, the art of the great headline can be learned! There are a couple good tips to follow if you want to make sure your hard work isn’t completely skipped over along with the thousands of other press releases that go unread each day.

Make it a Flashing Neon Sign

What is the absolute core story of your press release? Say you were in the situation of that writer in the opening paragraph. Should the focus of his press release have been that the company has started selling teddy bear shirts with Harry Potter on them? Or was it more important to your audience to note that the company was awarded official merchandise capabilities which might lead to further expansion for the business?

Another important point is to get across the most amount of information with the least amount of words. The less time an exhausted reporter has to spend reading your headline the better. Get in, wow them, get out. For the above example, the writer could maybe consider, “Teddy Bear Clothes Inc. Announces Partnership with Harry Potter.” Harry Potter merch is big news, and that’s sure to grab some attention.

If you’re still having trouble after tons of edits and redos, try seeking further help. Hire a freelance writer until you get the hang of it. There’s even a website you can try: ereleases offers a headline tune-up service for FREE as long as you limit it to one a month. There is simply no excuse for a bad headline anymore, so get out there and put your best handshake forward!

Better Press Releases – Write First, Edit Later

If you follow this blog at all, you know I spend a lot of time on here offering press release writing tips. Over the years, I’ve shared a number of tricks and tips that can help you improve the quality of your press releases so they get noticed and increase your chances of getting media coverage.

Today, I’m sharing another tip. It’s one tip that I’ve found to be more helpful than anything else. It’s the one tip I always follow, no matter what, when writing press releases…when writing anything, actually.

So, what is it?

Write first, edit later.

See, I used to have the nasty habit of trying to edit as I was writing. I’d write a sentence or two, go back over it, change things up, rewrite it, repeat the process, and eventually move forward. This approach killed my writing flow, and it made writing even the simplest thing take forever.

Then, I came to the realization that writing everything out first and editing it later just worked better for me. It allowed me to get my thoughts down on the paper more clearly and effectively, and it helped improve the flow of my writing.

That’s not to say that my first drafts are great. They’re not. They’re often riddled with mistakes. Like Ernest Hemingway once said, “The first draft of anything is s**t.”

But when I take the approach of writing first and editing later, it helps me avoid getting stuck. It prevents me from constantly second-guessing myself. It keeps my brain from being interrupted every few seconds. I just start writing, without too much worry, and I keep writing until I have a first draft. Then, I let that first draft sit for a while before I come back to edit.

I’ve heard someone compare trying to write and edit at the same time to trying to drive a car with one foot on the gas pedal and the other foot on the brake. It forces you to start and stop all the time, making for a long, jerky ride. It’s a beautiful comparison that I’ve taken to heart.

Why Your Press Release Might Seem Longer Than It Really Is

A good press release is tight, to the point, and doesn’t waste any words. If your press releases don’t meet this criteria, there’s a better than average chance that reporters will take one quick look at them and move on to the next one. Why? Because reporters are busier than ever before. Every day, even reporters working for the smallest publications get bombarded with press releases, and there’s simply not enough time to read them all. So, if your press release is too long, you’re out of luck. Even worse, if it just looks long, despite having an average word count, you’ll lose the reporter’s interest immediately.

Oops signThe last point is one I want to focus on today. Sometimes, it’s not about the actual word count of your press release; it’s about how long it looks to the naked eye. In other words, sometimes a press release that’s only 300 words may look like it’s 500+ words because of the way it’s laid out and vice versa.

Presentation matters. Here are some common writing and formatting mistakes that make press releases look longer than they really are:

  • You use long sentences—While your long sentences might not technically be run-on sentences, they often drag on, contain too many ideas, and cause you to lose the reader’s attention. Keep your sentences short and punchy. Toss too many commas into a sentence, and it’s going to make your press release look long and tiresome.
  • You use jargon—Technical jargon and meaningless buzzwords don’t usually have a place in press releases. Not only are these words often long and intimidating, but many times, the journalist might not even know what they mean. Try to keep the language in your press releases plain and simple.
  • Your paragraphs are huge blocks of text—Nothing will turn off a reporter faster than opening your press release and seeing one huge block of text. Long paragraphs just aren’t reader-friendly. Keep your paragraphs to 3-5 sentences so your words have a little more room to breathe and the content is easier to scan.
  • You aren’t using bullet points—Bullet points and lists are excellent tools for delivering key pieces of information in an easy-to-digest format. Rather than spreading the information over several paragraphs, use bullet points to quickly highlight the main points. It will make your press release look shorter and tighter.

Cleaning Up Your Press Releases

Time for some spring cleaning! Yeah, it’s the middle of winter, but it’s never too early to get your scrub brushes and dustrags to spruce the place up. I’m talking, of course, about your press releases! They need just as much of a sprucing up as the rest of your business, office, and home, and there’s no sense in waiting until it gets warm outside.

scopa e palettaWhat’s wrong with them you ask? Nothing – until you take a closer look. There’s always a reason why your press releases haven’t been picked up, and it’s often from tiny mistakes that need to be cleaned up. Here are some of the more common problems you should get rid of as soon as you can.

Spelling, Grammar and Syntax

All it takes is for one tiny little spelling error or egregious grammar error to put your journalist contact off. Remember when that journalist or their intern goes over to the press release slush pile to find a good one to fill space, they aren’t necessarily looking for the best one. They’re simply eradicating possibilities until a winner emerges.

This means they’re actively looking for reasons not to print your press release. If they get to the first paragraph and you’ve majorly goofed, then you’ve just blown all of your credibility. Why go to the bother of editing your mistake when there are stacks of flawless press releases right behind yours?

Check your document thoroughly. Send it to someone who can look at it from an outside perspective. I guarantee you’re missing something.

Shorten It Up

Again the poor intern looking through all these press releases just needs one excuse to nix yours. If the press release is so long their eyes cross, they will move on without a second thought.

So it’s time to get out your proverbial scissors and snip away! Try trimming the document down to the bare necessities – the who, what, where, why, and how. Be brutal with your cuts – you can always go back and add stuff later. Once you’re down to the bare bones, think what actually makes it exciting and readable. If it doesn’t fulfill one of those two criteria, leave it out!

While you’re at it, shorten the title as well. Its job is to get the point across as quickly as possible. I guarantee there’s a way to make it even more succinct than it already is. Try taking another approach from a different angle – for example, instead of “Brand New Croissant Business Opens In Rising Toontown Financial District” try “Croissant Café is Latest Toontown Success.”

Quotes

It’s true a good quote can really knock your readers’ socks off. It’s a quick way to make them see the world through your eyes. However, it is very important to keep it succinct as well. More importantly, though, is the quote serving a purpose?

I don’t know how many times I’ve done this in the past: I get a great quote and think, much like the Dude’s rug in the Big Lebowski, that it will totally tie my release together. Upon introspection, though, I was totally wrong – the quote had little to do with the message and it stuck out like a sore thumb. Make sure all your quotes actually fit in and you’re not trying to cram them in because they look cool!

5 Things to Check Before Sending Your Press Release

Getting ready to send out your press release? Hold on a second. Don’t hit “Send” just yet. Before you send out your press release, you need to check these 5 important things:

  1. Names — It’s one of the first things reporters are taught: always get the name right. I’m not just talking about making sure the person’s name is spelled right, either. I’m talking about making sure you’re citing the right name in the first place. Sometimes, we get people confused or we just have a brain hiccup and type one name when we mean to type another. It’s vital that you check those names when writing a press release. Names are sacred. Get them right.
  2. Links — Including links in your press release can be a great way to drive traffic to your website and to increase your search engine rankings. But if you link to the wrong page or include a broken link, you’re not going to enjoy any of those benefits. Before you send your press release, click all the links to make sure they work and are directed at the right pages.
  3. Contact information — At the bottom of every press release, you need to include the contact information of the individual that reporters can contact if they want to follow up on your story. Double check to verify that this contact is right. Otherwise, you’ll be sitting in silence wondering why your phone isn’t ringing or your inbox isn’t filling up.
  4. Facts and figures — Read through your press release and make sure that everything is factually correct. Double check those statistics to make sure you got them right. Make sure any statements you make are substantiated. Providing the media with misinformation can kill your credibility with them.
  5. Spelling and grammar — Finally, go through your press release, looking for misspellings and grammatical mistakes. Nobody expects you to be Pulitzer Prize worthy writer, but you don’t want to come across like an idiot either.

Why You Should Get Peer Feedback Before Sending Your Press Releases

Tell me if this sounds familiar—you write your press release, give it a quick read through, and then fire it off to your media list. For a lot of you reading this, I’m willing to bet that’s exactly how you go about it. You’re the only one to see your press release before it gets distributed. For you, press release writing is a one-person process.

Today, I want to encourage you to rethink that approach. While you might think that you have the hang of writing press releases, I propose that it’s best to involve your peers in the process. Before you send out your next press release, show it to a few other people to get their feedback.

Why should you get peer feedback before sending your press releases?

  • Multiple sets of eyes are ideal for proofreading—Proofreading your own work is a tough task. When you’ve been staring at the same press release for a while, it can become incredibly difficult for you to view it with a set of sharp editing and proofreading eyes. Our minds have a tendency to read things the way we intended them, not necessarily the way we wrote them up. By showing your press release to a few other people before you send it out, you’ll have more people to help with proofreading, helping to ensure that any little mistakes get caught and corrected.
  • You can make sure your story is clear and easy to follow—The point of a press release is to communicate a story clearly and quickly. Sometimes, as a press release writer, you can be a little too close to the story. In your head, you know all of the details of the story, so when you go to type it up, you assume that everyone else understands it as well as you do, but that might not be the case. Having other people read over your press release can help you gauge if you really have done a good job at communicating your story.
  • Your peers might suggest an improvement you didn’t think of—Collaborating with others when composing your press releases can open the door to new ideas and new story angles that you wouldn’t have been able to come up with by yourself. Be a good listener and encourage people to provide their honest feedback when you show them your press release.

Let me know what you’ve done to get journalists’ attention 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 a free copy of the PR Checklist – a 24 point list of Press Release Dos and Don’ts here: https://www.ereleases.com/free-offer/pr-checklist/

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