6 Proven Secrets To Writing A Trash-Proof Press Release

Free Publicity, The Newsletter for PR-Hungry Businesses


In baseball, it’s said that you know an umpire is top-notch when
you never notice his presence. If he’s doing his job, he won’t
call attention to himself in any way. It’s much the same for the
writer of a press release. When the recipient of a press release
focuses only on its content — and not on its creation — the
writer has succeeded. With that in mind, here’s how to develop a
style that can help give you a big edge in placing your press

1) Master News Style By Reading News Stories

The folks who write wire copy for the Associated Press are
masters at presenting information without calling attention to
themselves. Read all the AP wire copy you can:
http://customwire.ap.org/dynamic/fronts/HOME and get a sense of
the rhythm and flow of their writing. Examine their choice of
words and sentence structure (typically, they choose the simplest
way of saying things) and their overall tone of solid
objectivity. This is the style to which you should aspire.

2) Write a Great Lead

The lead paragraph in a press release should, theoretically, be
able to stand alone as a news item. A standard news lead answers
the Five W’s — Who? What? Where? When? Why? Successfully answer
those five questions in one paragraph and you’ve summarized
everything beautifully.

Bad lead:

The new Acme X100 is drawing raves from customers, who call it
the best thing to happen to the flanging industry since the X99.

Good lead:

Philadelphia — Calling it a “milestone day for our industry”,
the Acme Company unveiled the first flanger capable of creating
widgets using only solar power. According to Acme President Joe
Blow, the X100 is expected to find wide use in the developing
world, where access to traditional electric power is unreliable.

The Five W’s are answered! Who: the Acme Company. What: the
introduction of the solar-powered X100. Where: in Philadelphia
(the headquarters for our fictional company). When: August 15.
And, most important, Why: for use in the developing world.

Remember this: in almost every release that’s successful, what
put it over the top was the answer to “Why?”. You must make plain
the significance of your news by answering that question
succinctly and without hype!

3) Write in Third Person

Perhaps it’s a silly convention, but press releases really should
be written as if they’re coming from an objective outsider to
your company, not from within your business. Of course, the
journalist knows better, but nonetheless, they expect releases to
be written in the third person. In short, here’s the difference
between first person and third person:

=> First person: We’ve developed the Acme X100.It’s our most
advanced model ever.

=> Third person: Acme Industries has developed the X100, which a
company spokesperson called its “most advanced ever”

4) Attribute All Opinions

Never flatly state an opinion. If you want to state an opinion
or, as in the above example, make a claim, always attribute it to
a representative of the company (which very well may end up to be
you!). Anything apart from entirely factual info (dates, store
availability, product features, biographical information, etc.)
should be attributed. Again, the best way to get a feel for this
is to read wire copy. Start sorting out the things a reporter
feels comfortable including without attribution and things for
which he uses a named source.

5) Use the Inverted Pyramid

On the first day of Journalism 101, aspiring scribes learn about
the Inverted Pyramid. Basically, it’s way of organizing
information so that the most important information is at the top
— the widest part of the Inverted Pyramid — and, as you funnel
down to the narrowest point, the information becomes less and
less vital. There’s a good reason for this: if a reporter’s 10
paragraph story gets cut to 6 paragraphs because of space
considerations, the reader will still be informed of the most
important news. What’s cut will be background, quotes and other
nonessential material. When writing a press release, the Inverted
Pyramid is equally important. First, it’s the style the
journalist is comfortable with and second, it assures that even
if a rushed reporter can only read the first couple of
paragraphs, she’ll get enough info to decide whether to use the
release or not. If you bury the best part of your release in the
fourth paragraph, the recipient may never make it that far.

6) Remove all “Stoppers”

A “stopper” is something that will stop a journalist in her
tracks and distract her attention. Once that happens, your
release is toast. The point of your press release: to present
information in the least obtrusive way possible. Consider it this
way: the journalist isn’t dumb — she knows full well that you’ve
sent her the press release for purely commercial reasons, hoping
to get publicity that will make you more money. She can live with
that as long as [a] there’s something in it for her (a good
story) and [b] she’s not reminded of your commercial desires too
often. A “stopper” breaks the suspension of disbelief needed for
this little dance to be successful. It’s the boom mike showing up
in the frame of a movie — once you’ve seen it, it’s hard to
convince yourself that you’re really experiencing something that
happened during, say, the Middle Ages. Here are some “stoppers”
to avoid:

=> Clunky language. Journalists keep their language pretty
simple. Long words, compound sentences and lofty, pretentious
phrases are no-no’s. Keep your sentences short. Don’t try to
present more than one idea in a paragraph. Avoid words you
wouldn’t use in everyday circumstances.

=> Hype and puffery. The ultimate “stopper”. Confusing press
release copy with advertising copy is a pervasive problem with
businesspeople. Don’t call yourself the greatest, the hottest,
the coolest, the most unique or anything of the sort. If you must
make a claim of superiority for your product, service or company,
attribute it. Acme President Joe Blow said the X100 “has the
opportunity to revolutionize the industry” is much better than
The revolutionary Acme X100 is the greatest industrial advance
since the Wright brothers flew at Kitty Hawk.

=> Trademark Symbols. Including TM or copyright symbols that
scream, “hey, check me out! I’m a press release! I come from a
business! The legal department made me include this stuff!”

The bottom line: write like a journalist, avoid the stoppers and
answer the Five W’s and you’ll succeed!

Bill Stoller, the “Publicity Insider”, has spent two decades as
one of America’s top publicists. Now, through his website, eZine
and subscription newsletter, Free Publicity: The Newsletter for
PR-Hungry Businesses http://www.PublicityInsider.com/freepub.asp
he’s sharing — for the very first time — his secrets of scoring
big publicity. For free articles, including our no-cost report,
“Press Release Secrets”, go to: http://www.publicityInsider.com