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How to Create a Press Release, Part II

The essence of quality press release writing is a sophisticated command of words because words are, like, you know…nice.

Yet even lacking a facility with language, anyone can craft an effective, well designed and informative press release by following a few instructions no more complex than those required to program a flight simulator.

First…or maybe second depending on where you started…determine if the subject of your press release is really news. As noted in a previous Write Good!: The Blog blog, reporters are busy people who require clear, concise, digestible content, preferably chewed into a thick paste, then regurgitated directly into their open beaks.

Before writing the first word of a release, even before you begin chewing it into paste, you need to assess whether the topic is newsworthy. Begin this by thinking like a reporter. Ask yourself if the content answers the classic 5Ws of journalism: Who? What? Huh? Me? and Could You Repeat That? If you can answer even two of these – and not even correctly – write your release, then apply for a job at the Chicago Tribune.

Prepared now to begin writing – hands neatly folded on your desktop, a sharpened No. 2 pencil in your pocket protector – the novice communicator will ask, at this point, “Soooooo…what do I do now?” Hmmmm…a fair question. Give Write Good! a moment to think while you go sharpen that pencil again.

OK, got it! Just create a lead paragraph that conveys in a single thought your most vital news. Make sure that it engages the readers, doesn’t talk down to them but uses snappy phrases. So, go ahead and do that. Yes, right now! Write Good! will wait.

Sorry! Write Good! is just messin’ with ya’. You should have seen your face!

When constructing a press release, public relations professionals draw on several simple writing tricks or, as they refer to them, “a five-year, multi-million dollar hierarchical communications strategy, Phase I.” Here are several:

Use active verbs. And hurry!

Active verbs are the Bruce Willis of a press release. They grab the reader, move the action along, and leave a trail of mangled, bleeding corpses in their wake. Passive verbs, while important, serve a press release more like Ben Kingsley in Ghandi – informative but, oh my God, so very long and boring!

Avoid puffery (No! That has nothing to do with your fashion sense.)

Puffery refers to undue, false or exaggerated praise that “puff up” an image. Common idioms considered puffery include “Awesome!”, “Bitchin’”, “Bruce Willis” and “press release”.

Always include a quote, he said.

A quote humanizes a release, even if it’s a quote from your CEO, who is anything but. An effective quote is strong, opinionated, perhaps even provocative, but it must always stay on message. Compare these two quotes for a news release about a storewide sale:

QUOTE 1: “We’re reducing prices because that’s what our customers want,” said CEO Kevin Kevinson.

QUOTE 2: “My wife’s leaving me. Get that mike out of my face!” said CEO Kevin Kevinson.

Now, which quote is awesome and which is merely bitchin’? You make the call.

 

In future Write Good!: The Blog blogs: “How to Write an Attention-grabbing Headline before the Oncoming Comet Smashes into the Earth!”

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Most frequently asked of Write Good! The Blog by small business owners is “Can you teach me how to write a press release?” and “Is my company going into receivership?”

The answer to both is “probably.”

Let us tackle the former and distance ourselves as far as possible from the latter.

Surprisingly, many business professionals, even some with their own office with a door, are unsure how a “press release” differs from a “news release.” In fact, the two are virtually identical, but “press release” harkens back to a time when business announcements were “pressed” into wet adobe bricks, dried in the sun, then hurled through the plate glass window of the local newspaper. On the other hand, news releases are printed on shiny paper.

The purpose of a press release is quite simple: to clearly impart Just read the quote. It's rather catchy.newsworthy information about your company’s products, services and activities to reporters or, as they’re known in developing countries, journalists.

Writing a press release that captures the attention of a reporter is not as easy as it was in the old days when they drank heavily. Shrinking newsroom budgets and staff layoffs have forced remaining reporters to do the work of three – fortunately not three reporters. More like one-and-a-half reporters, three-quarters of an editor, half a custodial worker, and half a delivery boy riding two-thirds of a bicycle. Not sure if that adds up. Better do the math yourselves.

Interestingly, this changed media landscape also offers unprecedented opportunities for the voice of small business to be heard, especially when combined with the Internet’s voracious appetite for information. (Note New York Times Online latest tagline: “All the News that Dogs can Skate!”)

The key to unlocking the marketing potential of the Internet is a well-written news release,Stop wasting time! Read the blog. and the keys to a successful release are brevity, quality and news value. That’s a lot of keys and I’m not sure what those other tarnished ones do, but bring them along just in case we get locked in.

It would take too long to explain “brevity,”* and “news value” is an important enough topic for a later Write Good! The Blog blog. (Proposed title: “What is News? Anyway?”) So you’re stuck with “quality,” which we will explore in our next Write Good!: The Blog blog, titled “Quality is Job Three out of Seven!”

*See “Brevity: A Write Good! The Blog White Paper – Volumes XXII – LXVII

Permission to re-use this material for non-commercial purposes is granted provided that Dave Jaffe, Dave Jaffe Communications, Inc., is appropriately credited as the author and source. Please feel free to link to this page.

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