Don't let your press release fall flat

How to write like a PR pro —

Let me state the obvious. Being a great writer is important when it comes to public relations. But writing for PR can be very different than other kinds of writing, even from journalistic writing.

I started my communications career as a journalist and quickly noted the very distinct differences in writing for PR once I switched to the dark side. Luckily, my knowledge of newswriting became an asset in my PR career, as there is significant importance in knowing what reporters want out of a press release versus what will fall flat. If you want to peak their interest, you must know the distinct difference, purpose and approach for creating each press release or pitch.

While handling PR in-house for IBM and JPMorganChase—and for many other clients during my agency tenure—I found myself constantly reminding executives that press releases are used for various reasons and, believe it or not, some are not intended or expected to garner big articles.

Instead, they are used to showcase the momentum a company has. Others are breaking news press releases and are drafted with press coverage in mind. At the end of the day, all press releases trace back to the perception you want to create in the marketplace; they buttress the key storyline you are putting forth to press, investors, customers, strategic partners and more. It’s about recognizing the purpose for each press release as it fits into this strategy.

Here are a few tips that I share with my team and my clients regularly:

1. Decide who you are trying to influence and make it happen.

With a press release, it’s clear you want to connect with reporters so that they will write about your company. However, the content of this release can help your brand connect with other audiences, from investors to employees, customers to strategic partners.

While a reporter is expected to be unbiased, a PR person drafting the press release is using her writing as a tool to promote the featured company. When editing the press release, you want to make sure there are natural keywords for search engines and hyperlinks to research, websites, demos, bios and more. This level of planning in your writing expands your opportunities for enhancing your online presence, and it allows you to broadly engage with your public, customers, investors and strategic partners.

2. Get to the point.

After writing a number of press releases, many PR people feel the burning desire to change their approach in order to tell a story using prose, but that strategy will take you down a dark and dangerous path. Instead—and this is where thinking like a reporter does come in handy—put the most important thing first. In this case, your company or brand is the most important thing.

While a newspaper article doesn’t need the company name, your press release headline does. Without the company name in the headline of a press release, you are essentially throwing away the opportunity to swiftly communicate who the news is coming from. No need to be clever in this portion of the release; the reporter wants to know the facts fast, so they can determine if it’s newsworthy.

3. Don’t underestimate the value of quotes and factoids.

Reporters want to see who is associated with the news. Does your announcement contain a quote from the CEO, and if so, what’s his vision? Why does today’s news get him closer to the goals for the company?

Including thought leaders and visible executives in your press release exponentially boosts the credibility of your news. If you can get a notable customer or strategic partner quoted in your release, reporters will view that endorsement as an opportunity to connect with someone credible on the news.

I’m not a big believer in quoting a company “spokesperson” and offering that person up to the media. It pushes a wedge between the press and your company. The faces of your company should be the decision-makers at the helm. Get comfortable with quoting the right people and making sure they are available for interviews.

Lastly, before you begin writing your release—or perhaps when you’re in the midst of it and realize you need more meat—dig in with your client and get facts, figures and proof points to highlight in the announcement.

Highlighting your news with a verified value proposition containing well-presented, snappy data points adds intrigue and credibility to your release—hopefully bumping it to the priority inbox and out of the archive.

Remember, you aren’t writing the article for journalists. You are serving up all of the critical elements for their story, and then letting them grab what they need. If you’ve done your job well, your press release will not only entice reporters, but also support your company’s messaging and show the momentum you are building as a competitive organization.

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