The other day I was perusing my RSS feed reader and came across quite a few articles on writing advice. Bloggers I trust and respect revealed tricks like “Start with short, choppy one-sentence paragraphs to draw readers in,” “Readers are hungry for longform content,” and “Always begin your article with a personal anecdote.” (Do you see what I’m doing here?)
That’s all great writing advice…for a blogger. But, as a press release writer, I quickly realized that it doesn’t apply to me. Yes, writing is become more personal and informal in the digital age, but there is something to be said for a format that has worked magic for over 100 years.
Here’s why it’s still worth it to pay attention to press release format.
Write for Your Audience
Press releases have come to serve many functions in this day and age, but they still have one main priority: catch the attention of an editor or journalist and get featured in the press. (Hence their name!)
An editor doesn’t have the time for your personal anecdote or short, choppy, and mysterious lead-in sentence. She will have a quick look at your headline, and then maybe read your first sentence before she decides if she wants to either keep reading or pass.
For this reason, your press release should feature an eye-catching headline that succinctly sums up what the rest of the release is about. Then it should be written in inverted pyramid format with the most important information at the very beginning.
Remember that comment about “longform content”? It’s true that longform content is surging in popularity on the Internet, but that editor you’re trying to appeal to doesn’t have time to read a treatise. Keep it short and simple, because she has a whole inbox full of press releases to get through today.
Don’t Forget the Details
Those advice-giving bloggers I was talking about earlier? I have no idea where most of them are writing from. They don’t put a dateline in their blog posts, and that’s fine for their format.
But a press release should stick to the conventions of the genre and never forget important things like the dateline.
Editors need to see this information to determine whether the information is appropriate for their publication. In many cases, local stories get preferential treatment. The same goes for the date — is your release timely? The last thing you want to do is irritate an editor who gets excited about your story only to realize that it’s old news.
Also, don’t forget contact info. If you write your release in traditional press release format, your editor will always know how to contact you. If she was interested in your story but you make yourself hard to find, you drastically lower your chance of seeing your story in the news media.
Last But Not Least…
Using the standard press release format helps you. Yes, you! Once you’ve written your first press release, save it as boilerplate and use it again. You can write releases more quickly when you don’t have to reinvent the wheel over and over. This means you’ll be able to generate more company news and more press. It’s a win for you, your company, and the news media that regularly covers you.
Mickie Kennedy is the founder of eReleases, a press release writing and distribution service.
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