Pro Tip: Writing a Press Release II

My college degree was a Bachelor of Arts – a Journalism degree with an emphasis on Public Relations. Because this degree was earned through the Journalism school, my course requirements included a bunch of classes that taught me about reporting rather than just about ‘PR.’ I learned about photojournalism, how to lay out a newspaper page, what it meant to be libelous, and how to write a press release like a reporter.

As most journalism students, I had one of the hardest professors in the entire department – known for his hard-lined writing expectations and poor grades. Jake Highton was an old school dude who quite literally, was old, and didn’t have a lot of patience. There was always a sense that he had a kind heart, but for me, it wasn’t easy to reach. I was mostly afraid of him, and found myself panicking over word choices in each paragraph, eliminating any fraction of fluff I could…which went against my typically verbose nature.

Oh, and God save you if you had a typo anywhere in your documents. I’d jump for joy if I earned a ‘C’ on any of my work (for the record, I earned a C in his class, which was considered a success). It was brutal, but I walked away with information that I feel has served me my entire career. Countless times, I’ve heard from journalists that they appreciated my facts-forward approach to releases, offering elements they needed…because after all, isn’t it their job to find the true story, colorful adjectives and depth?

You may or may not agree with this approach, but even taking some of the basics from this post will serve you and press release writing. Here are the top priorities you need to know before you get started, and working with these will help you to punch out your release in no time, even if you feel permanently moored in a writer’s block:

  • In general, try to keep your headlines to 30 words or less (I know! It’s not easy). It doesn’t have to be 30 words exactly, but the point is to edit, edit, edit. A-la Jake Highton, this isn’t a time to be fancy.

  • Your first paragraph should consist of your 5 W’s – Who, What, When, Where, Why (and How). Date, time, location, etc. Think:  Dawn Shalhoup announced today that she will be more consistent with her website blog posts. She noted her reasons for inconsistency and vowed to write one per month.

  • Write your entire release in the form of a triangle, with most important facts first and building out to the less critical aspects of your story. For example, even if I am eager to talk about my most popular post, and that I am a good writer despite my inconsistency, it’s not the most important fact. Note those elements later in the release.

  • At the top of the release, list yourself as the media contact with your cell number and email address. It doesn’t matter if you are the founder, and don’t have a PR representative…in fact, I think speaking with an owner is often preferred over a representative. PR people are generally a go-between.

  • Don’t use industry jargon – say it as simply and as directly as you can.

  • And a final note, directly informed from a recent client:  Even if you’ve already launched, it doesn’t hurt to still send out a ‘launch release.’ Call it what you want – was your previous work a ‘soft launch’/an opportunity to test the waters, or even get customer feedback? Often, journalists don’t even want to speak with you unless you do have customer engagement, so don’t overlook this as a positive.

Above all, watch for typos in your release. A typo, or a grammatical error is a sure way to lose a journalist’s attention.  

There are definitely other elements, but these are some of the most important basics. If you follow them, you’ll be well on your way, and will stand out amongst others who send out releases that are written like love letters to a journalist. Do you have any specific questions about your own release? Send me a note!