When it comes to generating positive publicity, few tools are as valuable and cost effective as the press release. Compared to advertising, press releases require far less time and cost to create. And when done correctly, they produce positive news stories that readers are more likely to trust—unlike ads, which can sometimes be viewed with skepticism.
And yet, few know how to write the kinds of press releases that produce copious amounts of press coverage. Quite the contrary, many follow the school of thought that anyone can write a press release. The truth is, anyone can write an ineffective press release.
Here are some common mistakes we see:
1. A Boring or Confusing Headline. The headline is the most important part of your press release. It’s like the bait at the end of a fishing line. You want to entice readers with just enough information about your announcement to have them bite on the hook and keep reading.
Poorly written press releases often have headlines that have too much information squeezed into them, so there’s no need to read further. Others are overly vague or don’t read like a news headline. If your headline isn’t original and persuasive, why would anyone care?
2. It Has a Bad Lede. In journalism, the lede is usually the first paragraph which sums up the story in a nutshell. Just like the headline, a press release lede should be concise, but it should also answer the “five Ws” – the who, what, when, where and why – behind the announcement.
Badly written press releases often have ledes that leave out important information, or they include sentences so long that editors have to read them twice to figure out what’s going on.
3. It’s Written Like an Ad. The goal of a press release is to share news and information that the readers of a publication want to know – something informative and educational. That’s why editors will typically ignore any press releases that are overly self-promotional and include too many bold, unsubstantiated claims. Remember, editors and reporters are not paid to publish ads on your behalf. That’s what advertising departments are for.
4. It’s Not Written in AP Style. The Associated Press Stylebook is the standard and expected form of writing for mass communications. Almost every news website, newspaper and magazine you read is written in AP style. And most editors expect your press release to be written in AP style, too.
In amateurish press releases, you will typically find tons of AP style errors, such as the names of departments and job titles being capitalized where they shouldn’t be. It’s an easy tell that the press release was written by an amateur.
5. It’s Too Long. Press releases don’t have an official word limit. So, who cares how long they are? Well, editors and reporters do, because they don’t have much time. In fact, they may have dozens of other press releases to wade through the moment yours arrives.
Keep in mind that most press releases are between 400 and 700 words in length. That doesn’t mean they can’t be longer. An announcement about the merger of two large companies or an important study or survey could justify more words. But generally speaking, it’s best to be short and sweet.
A press release is a very powerful tool if written and used correctly. That’s why it’s important to invest in a professionally written press release, drafted by someone who is skilled at balancing your desire for publicity with the media’s need for valuable information. Plus, professionals will know how to best distribute and promote your press release to generate optimal press coverage.
If you are interested in getting optimal publicity from your company’s news, we can help. Just drop me a note at PR@StrategicVantage.com.