Press releases , a.k.a. news releases, are a staple of many public relations efforts and continue to provide traditional and social media audiences, as well as consumers, with a wealth of information on products, services, people and events.
Press coverage (both traditional and online) and attention across social networks can be more effective than any other type of advertising, and a well-written press release can garner great rewards for your company by increasing sales, driving qualified leads to your website or drawing attention to important causes and events. Writing releases smartly and strategically is extremely important: editors and bloggers alike read press releases quickly and with a well-trained eye, and if they can’t find what they are looking for within the first paragraph (sometimes even within the headline itself), they are more likely to disregard it altogether.
How do you compose a well-written and well-structured press release to grab the attention of your audience? The steps below can help.
DISCLAIMER: In this post, I’ll speak to more ‘traditional’ types of press releases — social media press releases  (SMPRs) assume an entirely different format. In upcoming posts, we’ll cover how to put together a great social media press release, how to best use multimedia to enhance your release, and how to make your releases search-engine friendly.
Step 1. Make sure your release signifies a newsworthy event
The most important element of the release is its newsworthiness; it must contain something relevant and interesting to the reader. What makes for a newsworthy event? Consider writing about:
- New product announcements, recalls, availability, shipping, etc.
- A major new customer or significant partnership or alliance
- Corporate, or “C” Level, activities or changes
- Significant changes in company structures (large hirings, layoffs or re-organizations)
- Facility changes
- Updates in technologies
- Earnings statements  or guidance
- Exceptionally good or unusual news, such as a company winning an award
- Other newsworthy events
And remember, your news doesn’t have to be important to everyone (rarely is that the case), but it does have to be important to the audience you’re sending it to.
Step 2. Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How
These are the cornerstones of your press release; use them to build the headline and body of your release. While this information needs to appear throughout the release, many editors look for answers just from the information in the headline and opening paragraph of the release.
Step 3. Know your audience
Think about which journalists and bloggers will be interested in your release. Is your news of national importance, or important to a local or niche audience? A well-researched and targeted list is a better distribution strategy than simply blasting your release to thousands of non-specific contacts. More does not necessarily mean better! Avoid using too much technical or industry jargon — any confusion of these terms will only serve to alienate a reader that isn’t familiar with them. Include links that give the reader more information and consider a social media press release  for the greatest online and offline distribution.
Step 4. “Grab” with your headline, “pull” with your opening paragraph
Often, your headline is what makes your release stand out. As you are writing it, picture in your mind exactly how you would want the headline to appear in a newspaper or atop an online magazine column. The headline needs to be written so that it is as alluring as it is informative.
After you grab a reader, use your opening paragraph to pull them in with the most vital information. For example, if your release is serving as a product announcement, the very first paragraph should include the price, availability/shipping date, and perhaps a customer reference for comment.
From an online perspective, your headline or title is extremely important because it will be displayed in syndicated feeds and assist search engines like Google, Yahoo!, and Bing in ranking your news in search engines .
Step 5. Get organized
Similar to a newspaper article (in print and online), make sure that all the information you present is organized from most important to least important. Although the most important information should appear in the opening paragraph, make sure the information in the following paragraphs is still pertinent to your topic and your objective. Research has shown the inclusion of rich media such as pictures, audio, and video goes a long way in increasing your chances of being published online, so consider including them as well.
Step 6. Be accurate
Being accurate means avoiding flowery or subjective statements, such as statements of belief or superlatives. Statements of belief are mislieading, unless they can be substantiated (the cheapest, the most successful, etc). Similarly, superlatives (best in the industry, the strongest made, most widely used) are weak unless they can be proven. That said, superlatives that are true make for excellent opening paragraphs, or even headlines.
Step 7. Stick to the facts
Stay on topic, be as concise as possible. Sometimes less is more. Stay away from hype and stick with the facts. Unfounded statements will only cast a shadow of doubt on the release, your company, and even your own credibility as a writer.
Step 8. Include quotes
Support your assertions with quotes from analysts, customers (especially if the release is product-related) and executives from your company. Quotes can help make a release exciting, while also substantiating the information that release is conveying. The quotes need to be approved by the person that said them and in some cases also by your legal department.
Step 9. Include a background and links to additional resources
Include details about your news and any implications it will have on your industry or the world as a whole. If possible, try to include history in order to give context. Provide as much information as anyone would need to understand your news. The more self-contained your release is, the better; the more easily a writer can create a story directly from your release, the better its chances of getting published.
NOTE: Using links and SEO is extremely important – stay tuned for future posts.
Step 10. Finish with a corporate summary (‘boilerplate’) and contact information
Conclude with a short corporate summary – it doesn’t have to be longer than three to six lines, but should include full company name and headquarters location. Be sure to include the name, phone number, and email address of someone who can be contacted about the details contained within the release to provide more information. This must be a person who is extremely knowledgeable about the topic and readily available to answer the phone.
And last but certainly not least, make sure you proofread for spelling mistakes, and try to have several people look it over before you submit. When reviewing the release, consider the tone and think about the goals and objectives you are trying to achieve. Are you merely trying to disseminate information or are you trying to increase sales? This should be reflected in the tone.
Don’t get discouraged if your release isn’t picked up immediately or if it takes several releases until you finally get the coverage you want. It may take a lot of time and persistence to make the news. Send press releases regularly, monthly or even weekly, depending on your budget and communications strategy.