What to Do (and Not to Do) in Writing a Press Release

science eraoflightdotcomCreating a great press release doesn’t just happen out of thin air. While it doesn’t take a stroke of luck and some personal genius to make a good press release, you can’t expect to come up with one that nails the information, hits the formatting perfectly, and appeals to the intended audience on the first try. It takes a lot of work to come up with your press release but that’s why you need to start considering what the do’s and don’ts are.

Writing a press release might come in handy someday for your job. You might not think of it now, but you could be asked by your boss or manager to write something up for the company or an event, and you don’t want to be caught flat-footed with no idea where to start. This is why you must have a handy guide to reference for when the time comes.

The best piece of advice for writing a press release is that it should be written in a way that would catch your attention, but that’s not the only thing that goes into making a useful press release. 

Here are the most relevant do’s and don’ts of making your very own press release.

What to Do

Starting with the do’s is a good place to help you begin crafting a worthy press release. These are some of the important steps that will help you get the ball rolling, and some of this advice is going to be useful when creating any press release, so it’s a long-term source of knowledge to keep in mind while writing.

Format Properly

Formatting is something you want to get right, but mind you, it’s not the end of the world if you get a little creative with it. If you look at some samples of press releases at eReleases, you can see that the general idea is there that most press releases follow a similar pattern, but it’s not the end of the world if you don’t follow it to a T. Here are the musts of the formatting that you must follow, however:

  • Headline
  • Dateline
  • Introduction
  • Body
  • Boilerplate
  • Call To Action
  • Media Contact Details

This the typical pattern that a press release will, and should, look like so it’s good to get familiar with it. Don’t be discouraged if your formatting isn’t exactly like the AP-style, but make sure that it has the most important details like the ones in that list.

Be Clear and Concise

This is something that you will have with you for the rest of your life when making any kind of release or report. This isn’t the time to flex your writing muscles or show what you learned in Creative Writing 101, it’s all about being clear and concise. So what does clear and concise mean? It means:

  • Similar tone and voice throughout (active tone preferred, third-person preferred)
  • Readable in under 30 seconds
  • Information is easily findable
  • Relevant details are first
  • Thoroughly checked for errors
  • Valuable to the reader/reporter

If you can follow those rules, you will be able to check off a major box when composing your press release. Clarity and conciseness is an issue that many people struggle with when writing any kind of corporate or journalistic report, but this is a set of rules you will be able to keep in mind in the future and should be followed closely, regardless of format or type of release.

Include Mixed Media

The modern landscape of media is evolving well-beyond the need for just text-based materials. Including mixed media in your press release is an excellent way to grab attention to the relevant information quickly. This could be done in the form of graphs, charts, photos, and videos to help illuminate important parts of the release, especially data figures and relevant numerical values. These can get tucked away easily in the text so it’s hard for people to see them easily.

Mixed media was never a part of formatting for many types of press releases, but as things change, it becomes apparent that these need to change as well. If you are going to include mixed media, make sure it’s high-quality, it doesn’t take away from other parts of the relevant information towards the beginning of the release, and it makes sense for the type of release.

Focus on Relevant Information First

Possibly the most important aspect of creating a great press release is to focus on putting the relevant information first. This begins with your headline. The headline should always be quick, clear, and concise, and feature details that draw a reader in. If you were writing about a report on best automakers it would look something like, “News Group Releases Top Automakers List of 2021”. This provides a quick snapshot of what to expect in the release.

From the headline, the first bits of information should always include:

  • Who
  • What
  • Where
  • When
  • Why

The 5 W’s, as they’re called, represent the primary questions that a reader will want to be answered, and they need to be answered fast. This should all be covered within the first skim into the introduction and first body paragraph. Including this information first makes it more appealing as they can gather everything they need to know without digging for it.

Provide Background Information

As you get into the body paragraph, usually only 2-5 short paragraphs, you can start to build upon the relevant introductory information from the headline, introduction, and initial body paragraphs. This is considered background information. While it is not as vital as the relevant details at the beginning, it helps build upon that to solidify the information, so it is still very useful.

This should not include word filler to take up space and should always be relevant as a context for the important bits of information. It’s not crucial to your overall press release, but any good one will include some supporting information.

What Not to Do

There are plenty of things you should do when creating a press release, but there are an equal amount, if not more, things that you should steer clear of whenever possible. It can be easy to find yourself getting into bad habits while writing, especially with something as objectively stated as a press release, but these are things you should avoid at all costs.

Use a Bland Headline

Never, ever start with a bad, bland, or uninformative headline. This is a number one no-no for writing any kind of press release. If first impressions last a long time, then a bad headline will last less than 5 seconds as someone opens an email, reads it, and tosses it. All of the work you do can be good, but sometimes reporters or editors barely read past the headline because it doesn’t include anything to indicate what the story is, who the audience is, and what the purpose of the release is. Remember the tips on making a good headline and spend a lot of time focusing on making this part of your release work well.

As an example, a bad headline would say, “An Exciting New Business Opens” What business? Where is it? Why is it exciting? And most importantly, who cares? Businesses open every day so if your press release was focused on a grand opening, it has to give us something that will entice us to read beyond the initial headline. “Promising New Tech Startup Plans to Enter Emerging VR Market,” is a much better way to capture attention. 

Make Grammatical and Spelling Errors

Clear and concise as a positive point of writing a press release covered this, but it’s worth going over again because of how crucial it is. There is no excuse to leave grammatical or spelling errors in your press release. With the fact that most releases are written on computers, spell checking and grammar checking programs are there to help eliminate this problem. Still, they can make mistakes so it’s good to go back and double check.

Another idea is to have someone read through it to see if they spot anything you may have missed. As a rule, you should keep it third-person and in the active voice, which is a problem you can miss as well. Double-check your work always when writing a press release because reporters hate to work with messy writing. It seems amateurish and sloppy.

Hide the Relevant Information

Keeping the relevant information at the forefront of the press release is a good way to keep a reader interested within the first few seconds past the headline, but when you hide the relevant information, you might as well throw the whole release out. Putting it at the bottom of the body paragraphs, scattering the important details, or even outright omitting relevant information will not a good press release make. This is a rule that should be compounded into your writing for any kind of report or release.

The best rule of thumb, as hinted at earlier, is that you need the release to be readable in under 30 seconds, roughly. This is often how long it would take to skim through a press release, with the operative word being skim, because often reporters don’t have the time to sit and appreciate it. Get the information out fast, because if you don’t, your release is just trash bin fodder.

Use Jargon and Confusing Terms

Grammatical and spelling mistakes are more egregious examples of language faux-pas when writing a press release, but they don’t end there. You might think you’re coming off as quite the intellectual by including industry jargon, journalistic terms, and other fancy-pants words but you’re just alienating people from wanting to read. If someone comes across a word that they need to Google to understand, you’re done.

Keep the language simple and focused on delivering the information as cleanly as possible. It doesn’t need to be dumbed down because you don’t want to come across as lacking in vocabulary, but the simpler it can be read the easier it is to digest the details and information. The best way to think about it is by reading example press releases and seeing how it’s written in a very matter-of-fact type of way that appeals to anyone without trying to do too much. 

Spam Inboxes With Your Press Release

This has less to do with the actual writing of your press release and relates more to the act of distributing it. Once your press release is done, you’ve edited it, checked it for mistakes, had it proofread, formatted everything, etc. it’s time to start sending it out in hopes a publication picks it up, but there is a big issue that you need to avoid and that’s spamming reporters, editors, editors-in-chief, and anyone in the journalism businesses inbox. 

It can be appealing to think that you can simply shoot off hundreds of emails in quick succession to get your name, the story, and your press release out, but you could end up just pissing them off. Why would this make them mad? Well, firstly it might seem that you have no idea who you are emailing, which happens when you don’t do your research on relevant reporters who would like the story (tech writers for example), and secondly, you could be sending it to editors who frankly don’t care and don’t appreciate that you haven’t done any research on their writing staff to see who would be interested. Compose a concise list that will be your target audience instead of going for the 100 email hail mary.

It shouldn’t feel hard to write a press release, and it isn’t, but that’s only if you have done your research on how to craft one properly. Included in this little guide are some very handy do’s and don’ts to make sure that when you write your first, next, or 20th press release, you’ll be ready.