Writing a media release is always a challenge. Sometimes, I have to convince others that the topic doesn’t even warrant a release.
When I do have a topic that is worthy of a release, I try to think about what would work best for the media.
One thing that hasn’t changed is the basics of a media release, which includes:
Strong headline: This is what reporters and editors see first so you want to make it memorable.
Strong lead: Focus on answering the who, what, when, where, why and how. Be sure not to bury the lead.
Strong quote: Add comments from key spokespeople, and make sure the quote adds value to the release.
Quotes can be a challenge. Often an individual wants to provide input for the quote, but what is offered is lengthy and doesn’t add anything new to the story.
Ann Wylie, who frequently provides writing tips, offered a PRSA webinar about writing media releases. Here are three tips to write better quotes in your releases from Wylie –
- She stressed that a quote ideally be one sentence and contain 20 words or less, plus attribution.
- To make quotes stand out in online stories, she suggested creating a quote rail by moving the quote off to the side of the article. If a release has long quotes, Wylie suggested removing them and using them to create a blog or a tweet.
- Quotes should not include clichés. Words such as pleased, excited, proud, thrilled and delighted should all be removed from releases, Wylie said.
I cringe to think how many of those words may be in my releases. I’m going to go back and review.
After hearing the presentation, I issued a two-part challenge to myself –
- Use only one-sentence quotes as often as possible.
- Avoid the clichéd words that often appear in releases.
Anybody else want to join the challenge?
I wrote two press releases this past week and pushed back on one other saying it wasn’t newsworthy.
When you do write a press release what should you include?
- Write a strong headline that lets the reporter know what the point of the release is. Don’t make it all about you or your organization. A reporter is looking for a story that will interest readers.
- Include the necessary facts and at least one quote. Don’t go overboard. If the reporter is interested, he or she will call to get more details or arrange for an interview. Carrie Schum, executive vice president of Porter Novelli, said press releases are most useful when written with simple, straightforward facts.
- The press release should be well written with good grammar and following AP style.
- Contact details also are critical. Who will be available to explain data in the release or track down additional information? Include that person’s name, number and email. That person will need to be available at most any hour since the news cycle is now 24/7.
- At the end of the release add a paragraph that tells what your company does and who it serves. This information is known as the boilerplate.
Once the release is written be sure that you have a spokesperson available in the day or two following the release. Reporters frequently want to speak with someone about the release and if you don’t have a spokesperson available, then the reporter may not write the story.
Many reporters are seeking jobs as public relations practitioners. It’s a natural transition because for years they covered news, which means they know what is of interest to reporters.
Writing a press release, though, isn’t like writing a news story. And since the media is bombarded with hundreds of releases each day, how do you make your release stand out?
Here are a few tips to keep in mind:
Write your release about something that people are interested in. Ask the question, “Why should anyone care?” Make sure the release has some news values such as timeliness, uniqueness or something truly unusual. Focus on the aspects of your news items that truly set you apart from everyone else. Just because your organization thinks it’s newsworthy, doesn’t mean that it is.
Start strong. Most reporters don’t have to write headlines, but when writing a press release, it’s the headline that grabs attention. It must be clever, unique and to the point. Then write a strong opening paragraph. You have seconds to grab your readers’ attention.
Write with a point. Press releases need to be about only one topic. It must be focused. What is the message that you want to convey?
Write tight. Reporters tell the whole story, but when you write a press release, you can’t do that. The goal of a press release is to get the media interested and then respond to ask questions. A long press release will not be read. Ideally, releases should be one page.
Write and then rewrite. A good reporter rewrites his or her story and then same holds true for those who write press releases. Write the first draft and edit it. Have someone else read and edit the release. Be especially critical of the first few paragraphs as they are the most important to the story. Often it is the only part of a release that the media uses.