Writing a great press release isn’t always easy, but it doesn’t need to be complicated. Too often we think of a press release as the “announcement” and try to include far more than is necessary. In reality, the press release is just one element of a successful announcement.
Over the years I’ve written many press releases for both my businesses as those of others. I’ve also read and critiqued thousands as an analyst and advisor, often struggling through releases that are more sales than PR, and more tactical than strategically supportive. Here are some of the overlooked keys that, based on my personal and professional experience, can help create a successful press release.
1. A PRESS RELEASE IS ABOUT FACTS
A press release is the bedrock of any announcement. It’s the factual record intended for journalists and other media professionals to quickly determine what has been announced and why it’s important (the value it brings to their readers). Boasts about how great your product is, or how important this is to the world just don’t belong here. Press and media writers can smell a sales pitch a mile away, and have no interest in being part of your marketing effort. If it’s not a fact, and can’t be easily verified with a quick Google search, it doesn’t belong in a press release.
- Keep it short – 400-500 words max
- Keep it honest – nothing opinionated or subjective that could turn off a reader
- Keep it focused – one message per release
- Keep the story going – maintain a logical flow from beginning to middle to end
A press release can also be used to confirm a larger strategy or roadmap, setting the stage for future announcements. But hinting at specific announcements that are out of character, premature or may not take place is a bad practice that can ruin your credibility and detract from the message at hand.
2. ALWAYS TELL A STORY
Stories are compelling. They resonate with readers. They draw people in and, when done right, create an element of curiosity and anticipation. They highlight the value of the announcement, not just the announcement itself, giving the reader a reason to care. For example, announcing a program that solves a core business problem through improved employee education highlights the problem and the user’s value proposition much more effectively than a simple announcement of a new training program and discounted pricing. The former is part of a larger market-wide strategy, the latter a tactical move that leaves the question of “why” unanswered.
- Focused: One memorable message per release
- Compelling: Highlight the value proposition to the user’s business, not yours
- Flow: Maintain a logical path from beginning to middle to end
- Consistency: Use a user’s story to reinforce your story
3. USE THE RIGHT QUOTE(S)
A good quote can make or break good press coverage. It allows the reader to get a glimpse into the thought process of the firm (often through the CEO) and make the release a bit more personal. Don’t waste this opportunity on boastful material that sounds scripted. While an element of pride is fine, keep the quote simple, authoritative and natural. One compelling statement is much better than a list of items that merely recap the announcement. Done right, this will become the quote used by the media, influencers and bloggers in their own materials. Done wrong, it will never see the light of day.
“A customer quote is a chance to reinforce the value proposition… the why…”
Having a customer or partner quote in your press release allows the reader to relate to the announcement from a different perspective and perhaps create an element of trust. This is the chance to reinforce the value proposition of the announcement:
- What problem did it solve?
- What’s the actual value proposition?
- How it has helped others achieve their goals?
4. SUPPORT YOUR CONTENT STRATEGY
The press release is just one element of a major announcement, all of which should be part of, and reinforce, a core corporate or brand content strategy (across multiple mediums). Press releases that don’t fit within the greater corporate narrative can easily be discounted by readers (not part of the core strategy) or raise a red flag (the organization doesn’t have a core strategy). Other elements include:
- Background documents (why we’ve made this announcement, and how we’ll support it)
- Landing pages (how you can find out more to make a decision, to take an action)
- Sales and marketing materials (here’s the value proposition for your particular use case)
- Tutorials (here’s how you can implement our announcement)
- Webinars (the big picture – the ecosystem – of which our announcement is a part)
If you don’t have these other items in place, there is a tendency to make the press release a one-size-fits-all document, which rarely works.
5. EMPOWER THE RIGHT AUTHOR
Press releases rarely work when written by committee, nor do they work well when written by sales or marketing (though media and influencer relations is something I typically recommend be under the CMO). Input from various stakeholders (sales, marketing, corporate, etc.) on the idea and message being presented in a press release is always required, but leave the writing to one person who understands both the mechanics of the press release and the overall role that it will play in the larger content strategy of the announcement. There are few things worse than an overly word-smithed press release that hints at multiple personalities and conflicting agendas.
- One release, one author, one final authority
- Focus on “influencer relations” not sales and marketing
- Ensure buy-in/awareness on message and implementation by all stakeholders & departments
- Support the corporate brand and content strategy
A press release is not a sales tool, it’s a tool for influencer relations that must be integrated into your overall content strategy, laying the foundation for a solid announcement or campaign.
Photo licensed under creative commons via Michael J Chealion