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Everyone loves free publicity.  And if you know how to write a press release effectively, it could be just the ticket.

The press release is the first step toward getting your company name printed in newspapers, trade magazines or online industry websites.  But well-written press releases follow a particular set of journalistic rules.  Here is my simple system, so that you too will know how to write a press release like the pros.

Define Your Angle

Why will anyone take the time to read this press release?  You have to have a news-worthy angle.

Company news – things like a move, a new hire, expansion into new services, or winning an award – are frequent reasons to write a release.  But what if you could tie your company news into what’s happening in the broader world?  Suddenly your press release becomes relevant, not just promotional pap.

Can you link your company news item to a current event?  Is there an issue that the public should be aware of?  Or even better, are you doing something controversial?  The media love these kinds of stories.

For example, a local business management and marketing consulting firm recently appeared on a local business news program, and they wanted to publicize this in a press release.  In creating our angle, we focused on some provocative comments he made on the show – which gave us a much more compelling story to tell than simply relaying the fact that he appeared on the program.  As a result of this angle, our release was picked up by more media outlets than we would have seen otherwise.

Make the Title Strong

The title of your press release should clearly explain your angle.  Try to grab the reader’s attention, and never be cutesy.  Keep it short if possible, particularly if you intend to email the press release to an editor since most email inboxes will display only the first 50 characters of a subject line.  If you’re planning on submitting this press release through on an online submission, you’ll want to optimize your title for the search engines – a topic I’ll discuss next month.

What’s Your Lead?

Also written “lede,” your opening sentence engages your reader and encourages him or her to read more of your piece.  There are a few standard types of leads, such as:

  • A descriptive story or an anecdote.  If you do this, save the end of the story for the end of the press release, in order to build a little suspense.
  • A compelling fact or statistic.  Even better if it’s surprising.  Just make sure it’s accurate.
  • A counter-intuitive statement.  This can arouse curiosity and engage your reader.
  • A statement that reinforces your reader’s beliefs.  Get people nodding their heads in agreement, and they’ll keep reading.

Make Your Point Quickly

However you start that first sentence, make sure to quickly segue into the meat of your content.  Explain the five W’s – Who, What, Where, When and Why – within the first two paragraphs.  Get to the heart of the matter quickly, and then use the remaining space of the press release to elaborate.

Journalists refer to this as the “inverted pyramid.”  The content of your press release should be like an upside-down triangle – with all the important details included up top, and the fluffy supporting stuff down at the bottom.

Keep It Simple

In the “olden” days of faxes and snail mail, the mantra for press releases was “one page only.”  With the prevalence of emails, it’s easier to fudge a little on length.  Just don’t fudge too much.  One page is great, two is the limit, a page and a half is common.

How do you keep it simple?   Avoid round-about, confusing sentences; get straight to the point and eliminate every single unnecessary word.  Wordiness doesn’t make your piece better; it simply shows the reader that you have no idea how to write a press release.

Provide a Call to Action

Always tell the reader what to do next.  Your call to action might be to visit your website at www.YourWebsite.com, it might be to call your office at 555-5555 for more information, or it might be to look for your product in the household goods aisle.  Tell people what to do!

Know the Formatting Rules

Provide contact information (name, title, phone, email) and note whether the contact is available for interviews.  I usually provide this information up top, although some companies place it last.

Next, state whether the item can be released immediately (“FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE”) or after a certain date (“FOR RELEASE MAY 1, 2011”).

On the next line comes the title.  Bold the title, and if you prefer, put it in a larger font.  Any formatting beyond that is unnecessary.

Now you’re ready for the body of the press release.  If you’ll be sending the press release to publications outside your immediate geographic area, it’s common practice to start the body with your location (“NAPERVILLE, IL – Today, Freelance Writing Solutions announced…”).

At the end of the document, provide notation to let the reporter know there is no more to the press release.  Three hashmarks – “###” – or the word “- END -“ are most commonly used.

And there you have it – a well-written press release!  Now that you know how to write a press release like a pro, stay tuned for next month’s article where I explore how to optimize your press release to get noticed by the search engines!