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Four Sure-Fire Press Release Tips

May 27, 2010

Let’s hear it for the press release! The transforming media landscape is forcing us to think ever-more critically about how to communicate our news, but the old-fashioned press release remains a key part of our toolkit. In the print world, effective releases garner exposure for our firms’ projects, enhance their reputations among clients and peers, and advance editorial relationships. Online, they provide ready-made content for web sites and blogs, not to mention easily recycled baseline for our self-published collateral— case studies, project sheets, etc.

Nevertheless, the tried-and-true press release tends to be undervalued. Firm leaders love good press, but they’re often reluctant to commit the time and resources necessary to develop effective press release protocols. We marketers are guilty too. Enticed by sexier vehicles like blogs, social media, and graphic communications, we dread the drudgery of cranking out these unglamorous Word documents. They’re always harder to write than we initially expect, and they don’t net us many kudos. No one has ever high-fived me for writing a brilliant press release.

But it pays to learn how to write a strong release. Better writing means more media “hits,” deeper editorial relationships, more compelling marketing collateral, a stronger reputation for your firm, and more incoming business development phone calls. What’s more, the writing process unlocks the “big picture” behind a project and improves our storytelling and communicating— all indispensible in an industry filled with technical pros that often can’t see the forest for the trees.

So how can we better embrace the press release? Most of us understand the basics— AP style; crafting an effective headline; placing the “who, what, where, when and how” in the lead graph, etc.— but we can do better! I’ve learned a few lessons along the way that have helped me advance my writing. Here are a few of them:

1) Take your time. Like a lot of us, I tend to associate press releases with haste— “Sure, I can make the meeting… let me just bang out this press release first.” It never works that way. Writing well takes time, no matter what the medium. You’ll save yourself frustration and get more results by not rushing through your press releases. Research, write, re-write, proofread, and, time permitting, take a look at your release with a fresh set of eyes the following day before sending it out.

2) Remember: It’s not about your firm. It’s about your firm’s news. We can all spot self-promotional press releases and clumsily written byline articles— the ones that start something like “Company X, a leading provider of every service under the sun, is once again taking the lead on progressive building design.” We tune these out instantly. Everyone does. Making your press release about YOU and not your news alienates editors who care only in the dynamics of an industry as a whole. Lead with the story they want to hear. Save the promo for your boilerplate.

3) Be brief, but be evocative. Press release writing impels us to distill complex developments into a concise, one- to two-page story. Embrace this challenge, because the writing process itself can illuminate a project in a way that a conversation with a technical pro can’t. As I write, I try to stay concise by focusing only on the one or two most significant outcomes— that’s the news. Then, I strive to illustrate how those things are impacting the world or the client. I try to show how they’re being used, rather than explaining their features. A sentence like “The dorm design features a wind turbine and co-generation units” is dry and boring. “The building is a live-in learning tool for students, with co-generation whirring below and a wind turbine spinning outside” is more evocative, and offers editors a possible story angle.

4) Get “real” with quotes. Quotations offer the potential to humanize your story. Don’t squander this opportunity by falling back on dry, longwinded business-speak. Write a quote how you would hear someone actually talk. “The project is a hit! It’s green, and its gotten students excited about eating on campus again,” is more realistic, and therefore more compelling, than something robotic and phony like “We targeted a resource-saving environment offering full-service dining options for our eclectic student body. This design, with its LEED Gold technologies, exceeded our expectations.”

Article courtesy of Alex Moore. Alex is a freelance writer, the Marketing Coordinator at Prellwitz Chilinski Associates, and a Consultant with Reilly Communications.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. May 28, 2010 9:03 am

    Nicely done, Alex. All true. Writing effectively is an endangered art. You give me hope.

  2. May 28, 2010 10:50 am

    Alex makes some great points about how good writing can elevate the mundane press release. As with anything in marketing, it’s all about differentiation.

    Better to send half as many press releases but make them count.

  3. Anna Luciano permalink*
    June 1, 2010 4:22 pm

    I agree – there are some great points here. I know I’m often guilty of trying to crank out press releases too quickly, but this has inspired me to slow down and really think about what our overall goal is.

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