Certain concepts just carry over well from print journalism. The press release, the tried and true method of updating the public on an organization’s affairs, is an example of just how well such a concept can survive. While there have been a few adjustments to the specifics, such as the use of keywords and SEO-oriented writing, the core structure of the press release remains the same.
Of course, as with all well-established writing conventions, the press release has seen its share of abuses. Press releases are such a routine part of any organization’s operations that they often see quality sacrificed in the name of quantity. They’re viewed as a source of easy SEO rankings if they’re given any thought at all, and naturally the quality of these publications suffers in line with the degree of neglect.
Of course, no one has to follow this trend. There are a number of things one can do to create a solid press release. Here are a few of the simpler but oft-overlooked steps that can redeem this marketing tool into a primary force.
Hook with the Lede
The lede is that first sentence in a journalism story, a press release included. The lede must contain everything the story is going to talk about. If nothing else, it must boil the story down to its most relevant points, because very often people read the first few lines of a news story, then move on.
The key then lies in finding the most interesting part of the story and making the lede into a verbal “hook” that people can get ahold of. Don’t hide your big announcement; sure, it works for Steve Jobs because attendees at the Apple conferences aren’t going to leave mid-speech. But people reading a press release can always click away, so make sure you get the “what’s that now?” out in front of them immediately.
Keep the Headline on Topic, Not on Company
The headline is not the place to brand your company. There are many wonderful venues for promoting your brand or company name; trying to sandwich it into the headline is simply asking for trouble, because all it does is give the press release away as a marketing effort. The story may well be solid journalistic gold, but it will still be ignored because people were turned off by the marketing.
Instead, treat the headline as a summary companion to the lede, with catchy writing and an on-topic message that draws readers’ eyes down to the lede in order to see what the headline is talking about.
Remember Strunk and White’s eternal maxim: omit needless words. Remember once more that people tend to read a few lines into any news story, then move on. The longer a story can keep the reader’s attention, the better it is doing. Words that hinder this process are introducing friction into what should ideally be a smooth process. This includes words that are obscure, very long words and, worst of all, jargon.
There is a place in the world for jargon. That place is between experts in a field who want to communicate more precisely and effectively. It is not in the lines of a press release. Most people are not experts in any given field, so using highly specific terms such as jargon is not going to help. It does not make a publication sound more intelligent — it makes it sound like it’s geared toward someone else at best, or pretentious at worst. Discard the jargon and go for simple explanations instead.
Dress it Up
Simplicity is ideal for the core message of a press release, but there are ways to amplify the effectiveness of each part of the release given the power of online media.
Given the widespread access to broadband, embedding photos and videos is no longer a faux pas. If you’re doing a press release on a trade show, include some pictures of the booths from the last year’s show, perhaps a video of a short interview talking about the highlights of this year’s events. Again, keep the material on-topic; the goal is to amplify what you’re talking about in the release, not to distract from it.
Additionally, linking content is easy and efficient. Perhaps your release cites a major study your organization just completed and is releasing. Include a link to the study in the headline or lede so that people can click over to it immediately. This technique works for all manner of content, incidentally. If you’re mentioning some manner of content that your organization is providing, be it product or service, put a link to it in the lede or near to the lede, so people can go right over and take a look.
It shouldn’t have to be said anymore, but there is always a need to remember the basic principles of good writing. Pay attention to grammar and punctuation. Use brief and active-voice statements. Don’t editorialize. Keep the press release straightforward and cite the facts you want conveyed.
These are not options, they’re important fundamentals. If you break the rules of the basics, your credibility will suffer. Remembering to mind them will help reduce the polish that has to go into a release later on.