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Walking the Fine Line between Hard Sell and a Commercial When Writing a Press Release

By Adam Lovinus

One of the most common pitfalls in drafting a press release is injecting it full of copy that belongs in an advertisement.  Think of advertisements and press releases as being cousins:  they are of the same family, share a few common characteristics, have the same broad goals — but too much intermingling is taboo. So how can we avoid it?

Center your release around something newsworthy. Before you write a single word, take time to pinpoint the element that will make your press release appealing to the news media, your target audience. Tradeshows, conferences, grand openings, product launches, new hires, mergers & acquisitions, notable stock activities – these are the bread-and-butter reasons for writing a news release.  Without a solid news peg, a press release naturally has to resort to the storytelling methods more akin to advertising. A good news peg makes writing a press release simple: just answer the what, who, when, why and how of what your company has going on.

Use headlines, not taglines. The overarching aesthetic of a press release should resemble a news story. So, just like a story you’d find in a newspaper, a press release should contain a well-crafted headline that is fact-based and summarizes the story your press release tells. This is the opposite of a tagline, which might use wordplay and abstractions to implore the reader. Instead, tell the reader in about 70 words why you are writing a press release; use a subject-verb-object sentence structure for optimal clarity.

Implement an inverted pyramid structure. This refers to how a journalist orients the hierarchy of a news story: the most important facts up top in the beginning paragraphs, the lesser facts and supporting details toward the middle and bottom of a press release. This helps a press release flow, keeps it concise, and most important, makes it stay factual. Your “facts” are the answers to the who, what, where, when and why questions; it might help to make a list of these facts before drafting the release so you can orient them accordingly.   

Attribute all opinion statements. The narrative of a press release must never be confused for opinion. That mars the tone of your news release, and under some circumstances, news outlets may be unable to use your information.  But don’t let that stop you from adding opinions in a release altogether; just remember, anything that seems like an opinion needs to appear as a quote or a paraphrase. Let the company CEO espouse the opinions. You, the writer, stick to the facts.

Avoid exclamation marks and flowery adjectives.  These types of elements distract from the factual tone that a press release should have. Plain and simple. There’s rarely any reason to use an exclamation mark in news reporting; the same goes for a press release.

Implement these five tips in each stage of drafting your press materials and you will be in good shape. For other points of advice on how to make an impactful, resonant news release, here are a few more articles to reference:

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