SOME OLD-FASHIONED REMINDERS ABOUT HOW TO WRITE A PRESS RELEASE
SOME OLD-FASHIONED REMINDERS ABOUT HOW TO WRITE A PRESS RELEASE
Writing press releases and hoping to get them posted online is very different from doing so and hoping to get them printed into paper & ink (P&I) publications. This article will review the main requirements for submitting press releases—both online and print. First let’s consider P&I publications:
Your Press Release Needs to Offer Value to the Editors of a P&I Publication
If the content of your press release were intrinsically newsworthy, reporters would be beating a path to your door. But it’s more than likely that you’re submitting a press release because that isn’t going to happen, and probably because your content is only incidentally interesting to a narrow swath of the P&I publication’s readership.
In other words, the appearance of the press release is probably of more benefit to you than it is to the P&I publication. Thus, the incentive for the P&I publication to print your press release is small to nonexistent, especially nowadays when P&I publications are shrinking for lack of revenue and are commensurately starved for space.
This brings to fore a public relations conundrum: P&I publications don’t need or use press releases as much as they once did because they no longer have a need to fill cheap abundant space. As a matter of history, in newsrooms and editorial offices, “press release” has always been code for “filler”—and the need for filler is largely gone in the online age wherein P&I publications are getting smaller and smaller.
This means that it’s mission critical for you to follow the rules of good journalistic practice, i.e., to craft your news release in the form of an inverted pyramid, which has been the basic formula for news writing for more than 100 years. Why? Because like the rest of us, editors can be overworked, harried, or just plain lazy. More on that later, but first:
What Exactly Is The Inverted Pyramid for Writing Press Releases?
The inverted pyramid (actually an inverted triangle) is a metaphor for trisecting your content into a three-part hierarchy of information, from the most- to the least-important, respectively called the lead, the body, and the tail.
- The lead (1) should contain the crucial content necessary to the coherence of the article.
- The body (2) should include important content—not necessarily crucial to the coherence of the article.
- The tail (3) should include wholly optional content that simply reinforces what was reported in (1) and (2).
Don’t Inadvertently Make It Difficult for a P&I Editor When Writing Press Releases
When the editor of a P&I publication needs to fill space, she is going to choose the press release that is crafted into an inverted pyramid. This is because “editing down” the article to fit the available space is simply a matter of snipping off as much of its bottom as necessary. So truncated, the article remains cohesive and still imparts the crucial content.
Conversely, if the article is written in some artsy form such as “naturalism,” or “storytelling,” or plain old “disarray,” it will require the editor to expend the considerable time necessary to rearrange, eliminate, and/or redact sentences and headlines so as to make your press release fit the available space—and that ain’t gonna happen.
Editors are short on time, long on things to do, and so they will gravitate toward articles written in the editor-friendly inverted pyramid if and when they have P&I space to fill, which is nowadays seldom. In sum, submitting a press release that isn’t crafted into an inverted pyramid is the editorial metaphor for shooting yourself in the foot. Don’t do it.
So What About Writing Online Press Releases?
For marketing professionals who remember when P&I publications were the rule rather than the exception, nowadays one of the great pleasures (and amusements) of submitting a good press release to an online publication is having it appear onscreen sometimes only hours (and even minutes) after emailing it off to the editor.
Then, it gets propagated across the Internet through links to sister publications, social media, and what-have-you. Contrast that against waiting one, two, or three months for the publication cycle of a P&I magazine. Ain’t technology wonderful?
And as to editorial feedback—except in cases where the online publication keeps strictly to a weekly or monthly or similarly cyclical posting schedule for press releases—if yours doesn’t appear online soon after your submitting it, you can more or less guess that it’s a dog that don’t hunt.
The Inverted Pyramid Is Also Important For Writing Online Press Releases
Because the amount of online editorial space is virtually limitless for an online publication, an argument can be made that the inverted pyramid is less important to online editors.
This might be true in some instances. But onscreen space is also at a premium. Thus, it’s common for online publications to post only a “teaser” paragraph terminated by the invitation to “Read More,” which will whisk you off to some less-valuable onscreen real estate.
Of course, the “teaser” paragraph is simply the online equivalence of the “lead” portion of the inverted pyramid. If an editor has to conduct major surgery to extract the teaser from your press release, he will probably pass on it. Time is money—and there are too many fish in the sea.
Don’t Break a Leg to Try to Win a Race
Suffice to say, plenty of online press releases have been posted that present their content helter-skelter, ignoring the inverted pyramid convention. But it’s like meeting a man who won a footrace with a broken leg. At the risk of stating the obvious: the broken leg was not an asset, it was a liability. You wouldn’t purposely break your leg before your next 10K. Likewise, eschewing the inverted pyramid is akin to asking for your press release to be ignored—and then hoping that doesn’t happen.
Don’t Be Self-Aggrandizing When Writing a Press Release
Writing a press release is very different from writing advertising copy. An editor is going to be repulsed by content that is overtly self-aggrandizing. 1If she takes the time to read it at all, the only way she’s going to post (or print) blatant self-promotion is for a fee, as in “The following is paid commercial content.”
That’s called advertising, and while advertising is a legitimate and important part of marketing, it runs opposite your parallel efforts for no- or low-cost PR. Also, the publication’s audience will view your content very differently (as a paid announcement) from how they would if it read more like straight news. So what to do?
1(Buying some advertising space might also grease the skids—but that’s a different topic.)
Your Press Release Should Only Incidentally Promote Your Product or Service
Your press release is much more likely to get posted and/or printed if you emphasize the news surrounding your product or service rather than aggrandizing the product or service itself. For example:
- Imagine a successful2 press release by Company X that begins by talking about the production challenges universally faced by them and their competitors within a given manufacturing sector due to some pertinent change in their market. This could be the lead.
- Further imagine the successful release goes on to explain how these challenges are even more acute for them—Company X—since orders have tripled as a result of their recently winning this or that quality award. This could be the body.
- The successful release might additionally discuss how these pressures are causing Company X to increase capital expenditures and hiring, and in regard to the latter, how they face recruitment challenges because the market for their product is so robust. This could be the tail.
2Successful = printed and/or posted
Notice that the voice is subtle, i.e. the self-promoting content is presented secondary to straight news that likely has broader appeal to the readership. Compare that to a press release wherein the self-promotion is upfront & center, and the probability of one getting printed over the other is patent.
Remember That Your Goal is to “Get Your Name into the Papers”
You might notice in this example that what Company X wants most to talk about (i.e. increased demand, awards, expansion, etc.) resides in the body of the pyramid instead of the lead, which might seem counterintuitive to the discussion so far.
This is an artifact of the stark reality that what’s of most interest to Company X is only tangentially so to an editor, which is why it’s important to integrate your company’s name somewhere into the lead (to make sure it gets included) while reserving your subtle self-promotion for the body.
Sure, your bread & butter content might get tossed with most of the body if the editor aggressively redacts your press release. But remember that the primary goal of a press release is to “get your name into the papers.” Anything after that is gravy.
Also bear in mind that this concern is probably moot for an online press release, as your lead will be the teaser and the entirety of your body and tail will likely be assessable somewhere else, as in “Read More.”
As to a P&I publication, if all the editor has room for is a brief lead, better it be your lead with your company name rather than someone else’s who organized his or her content more judiciously. Take whatever “ink” you can get when it’s for free!
If a press release offers value to an editor, it has a much better chance of being printed or posted. One of the things editors value most is time. If your article can easily be redacted to fit a space, it will have a much better chance of occupying that space. Editors also desire the appearance of objectivity. Your press release should balance self-promotion with straight news, or it will get passed over.
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