Headline. Opening sentence. Body. (What’s the story, why does it matter?) Contact information.
These are the ingredients of a successful press release. Professionals and entrepreneurs should know how to write to create one. Shockingly, many of them don’t. They are formulaic, by nature, but so are poetry, tweets, columns and other written communications. Everyone has constraints. Chefs work within an 8-inch pan to create an omelet, and the great ones know how to pick the best ingredients, and mix them to create a savory sensation. Writers can season their sentences within the confines of a release.
Press releases are not features. They are not informal pitches. They are formal, official announcements regarding something new or significant about you, your business, a speaking event, or something of that nature. They should promote your business, archive important data for future use, and hopefully, improve your SEO. Within this narrow box the biggest problem, besides long sentences filled with acronyms, centers on intent. It’s like that Toby Keith song, “I Wanna Talk About Me”:
“I want to talk about me
Want to talk about I
Want to talk about number one
On my me my
What I think, what I like, what I know, what I want, what I see
I like talking about you, you you usually, but ocasionally
I want to talk about me
I want to talk about me.”
If you’re trying to convince the media to publicize your story, or posting this on social media hoping others will share, think of Dale Carnegie and his book, How to Win Friends and Influence People. “First, arouse in the other person an eager want. He who can do this has the whole world with him. He who cannot walks a lonely way.” The process is simple. Not easy, but simple. The three most important elements are:
- Write a short, catchy headline.
- Get to the Point –summarize your subject in the first paragraph.
- Body – Make it relevant to your audience
Subject headline – This is the MOST IMPORTANT feature. If your headline is not good, your email won’t be opened. Some reporters get 500 to 1,000 emails per day. In tennis, if you can’t hit the ball over the net, the point is over. If your headline stinks, you are done. Quickly get to the subject: what’s the story? Why should I care? Why now? Bonus: A good headline forces you to organize your thoughts.
Here’s what journalists think about your press releases with Advice from a previous column including thoughts from Derek Thompson, Senior Editor, The Atlantic. “I delete most releases after about .5 seconds spent on the subject line. Make the subject line personal, the way you would if you were asking a friend a favor. Not ALL CAPS or Super Formal but casual and knowing. “yo” has worked before to get me to open the email. ‘Hey Derek, wonderful piece’ has worked (flattery often does for journalists!). Other than that, you have to know me and what I write about, not just pitch me a story because it’s about business.”
Think of the subject headline as a Tweet. Is this something you would open? Send to your friends beyond your cubicle, ask them. Talking to Marcia down in HR or Bob in accounting won’t bring in the honest outside perspective. Here are some great ideas from Cision written by Susan Payton:
Use Appealing Data
Paint a Picture
Answer a Question
Get to the Point. What’s your pitch about? Say it. Avoid “echo headlines” where your Headline, sub-headline and first sentence say the same thing. Do you like excessive repeating? Do you like excessive repeating? Exactly. Rick Newman, Columnist, Yahoo Finance says: “If it’s a bald appeal for publicity without much substance, don’t bother because you do more harm to your reputation than it’s probably worth (unless of course the client is paying enough to justifying trashing your reputation).”
Jason Gilbert, Senior Editor at Fusion, notes that “Press releases, unlike pitch emails, should be thorough. We’re looking for all of the information about this new product or study or whatever that we can find so that we can determine if it’s worth digging deeper into. Links to websites with even more information are great, too. And you HAVE to have contact information at the end. And not just that, but you better be REPLYING to those contacts quickly, too. Don’t add an email address you never check, or a phone number for a line you never answer!”
Body. This is where you follow up on the headline and create something tasty. Samantha Murphy Kelly, Tech Editor, Mashable, says. “Often the language used is very dense and tedious to get through. I sometimes read an entire press release and can’t pull out the key takeaway. Subjects can be complicated to begin with, especially when it comes to science and technology, so language that really cuts to the chase and explains the news is most helpful. I always like to say, explain it to me in a sentence or two like you were telling your Grandmother, before getting into the specifics. It’s always good to know ‘why’ the news is important too.”
Here are some good sample headlines from releases sent to me or forwarded: