Writing a Press Release
What is a good general press release?
A great press release is one that gets you to take the action that the writer wants you to take—to call you, or run your story, or email you back, or whatever it is. It is only as good as its effectiveness. A well-written press release doesn’t mean anything.
Should a press release be on a single page?
If you can do it in one page then it should be one page. But if you have a compelling story it can sometimes take more. I think all these rules that people have are sort of silly. Some things just take longer than one page.
So it depends on the subject?
Definitely! If it’s a new beauty product it rarely needs a full page. If it’s about passing the gay marriage law in New York State it may need to go longer. Some things are just more complicated.
Should it have a picture?
It all depends on the topic. Pictures drive a lot of online hits, so it’s a good idea to use pictures if you want your news to get picked up on the internet; if someone posts your release and it has an appropriate picture, or that picture gets you to read further, it’s well worth doing.
Is a press release a forum for good writing or is it about simple, direct language? Which is most effective?
It’s about condensed writing. You have a headline, a subhead and a press release. Your head should be really effective—like a newspaper headline. Does it engage you to want to read further? After that, you have a subhead that should drive the point a little deeper. If they are repeat each other it’s a complete waste of space. Nor do you need to repeat the headline in the first sentence of the press release. A lot of these things read as if they’re written for fourth-graders. What people who write press releases never remember is that editors’ desks and/or inboxes fill up with dozens of these every hour.
So the headline or subject line doesn’t have to tell you the whole story?
Exactly. It’s something that’s going to make you want to read deeper, be it a subject line or a headline. Is an email a press release? Yes. Every email you get is a press release. Does the subject line make you want to click on it? If it does, then it’s effective. Everyone can do that test because we all get scads of emails a day, right?
Should a press release be written in the first person?
It’s very rare to send out a press release out about oneself, and if anyone does then it’s basically called a letter. And if you send a letter, send a letter—don’t send a press release. It’s a different quality of writing. A letter is more intimate, more familiar, less factual, it’s more you, more personality-driven when you write a first-person thing. A press release is generally about news that you would like to see reprinted everywhere. You have to remember that. If anything is there it’s going to get reprinted. It may even get mangled, but that’s the point of it. So writing it in the first person doesn’t really help. A poorly written press release is not going to help your cause. And a poorly written release is repetitive, boring, unengaging. A lot of the releases that get sent out are pro forma, as if they were all written by the same person.
Can a press release say too much?
Yes. People often try to tell too much, and what that may be saying is, “This is not news, don’t send it out.” Why are you sending this as a press release? Would an email to your subscriber list be enough? Probably. In fact, in most cases, unless you’re a news-creating organization.
So there’s a distinction between a press release and a newsletter?
A newsletter is definitely not a press release. A press release goes to the press, but it is also a bigger announcement. Believe me, though, so many small things get press releases now that nobody knows anymore.
What is the most absurd thing you’ve had to write a press release about?
I’ve never had to write a ridiculous press release. In my business I don’t use them that often. I like more individualized contact and usually do stuff that’s a little more targeted. But sometimes when it’s a big story you have to do one. I’ve never sent out a stupid press release, because I would tell my client that what they have to say isn’t worthy of it, not worth the effort. It wouldn’t help their cause.
Do you ever send the same release out twice—a teaser and the real thing—to help prevent its being overlooked?
Not the exact same thing. I like to do an update when we have news to release. New guests at an event, a new bit of something. Sometimes we hold something back and release it the day of, depending on the event.
Do you write “press release” at the top or is that like using www at the beginning of an email address or writing email at the top of an email?
I write “For Immediate Release” at the top upper left.
What else should we know?
How about what not to forget to put on your press release? Contact information. Dates. All dates need to be clear if it’s about an event. And why must all quotes in a press release read like quotes in a press release? If you’re going to quote somebody, then quote them. Make it sound like English, like a real person said it, not like a press release. Otherwise it’s just press-release speak. Check out prnewswire you’ll find plenty of choice—it’s ludicrous.—LUCY SISMAN