Contributor: Zendy Labs
A great press release should do one thing: catch a journalist’s eye, and convince them to write about you. However, most journalists receive a huge amount of press releases in their inbox, so they’re forced to adopt strict guidelines as to what they will actually consider good prospects and take the time to read. To give your press release the best chance of reeling in a journalist’s attention, you should focus on two things: understanding what a journalist is looking for (and what will make them instantly delete your email) and writing in a simple, powerful, straightforward way. Like Hemingway. More on that later.
Knowing your audience: Understanding a journalist’s 9-5.
Journalists are busy people. They are bombarded daily with people pitching them story ideas, interview leads, press releases and more. A major part of their job is developing a good intuition of which stories will do well and interest readers, and which will dive. To write an effective press release that actually gets read, you should keep in mind the following do’s and don’ts. Doing so will help you write as attractive a press release as possible (and avoid instant deletion!)
Things you should avoid like the plague.
- Sounding desperate. Nothing will get your press release sent on a one-way ticket to the trash bin faster than this common mistake. You want to convince the reader that your story is interesting enough to publish on its own merits, not beg and plead for press.
- Using caps, bold or hyperbole anywhere in the release. They all scream desperate, and few journalists will take the time to read past them.
- Generic subject lines. Do you know how many emails a journalist gets daily with titles like “press release”, “article idea”, or “interview opportunity?” Too many to count. Do you know how many they read? Few to none.
- Misleading subject lines. Don’t use an outrageous claim or otherwise misleading subject line to gain attention. Not only is it dishonest, it will anger the reader as soon as they discover your press release is not what they expected.
- Bother journalists. After you’ve sent your press release out, don’t send a follow up email the same day, call the journalist, etc. If they are interested, they will let you know.
Avoiding these should allow your press release to pass the journalist’s initial deletion reaction. To get them to fully read your press release however, there are a few more things you can do to boost your chances.
- Think like their audience. A journalist’s main consideration is writing content that appeals to their readership. Keep this in mind when writing your press release. If your press release is announcing the launch of your tech startup and the journalist you’re emailing writes sports columns, you’re wasting your time.
- Read what they write. Before sending out a press release, take the time to check out your target journalist’s work to get a better understanding of what will interest them. Read their work, find past articles, and etc. Do your homework.
- Think beyond print. This is a big one. Adding photos, graphs and other illustrative elements help to spice up your press release, and make it easier to quickly grasp for a reader, something they will appreciate. Linking to an explanatory video can be an extremely powerful tool, allowing the journalist to easily learn more information on the topic in a way that they will remember.
Following these simple rules will help your press release get the attention of target journalists. Of course, there’s still the most important part – actually writing a convincing press release.
Writing a short, powerful press release.
Considering the amount of press releases a journalist must slosh through to find a worthwhile story, it should be obvious that an interesting pitch on its own is not enough. Your writing must be straightforward, short, and have punch. Here are a few rules to follow to make the writing in your press release as attention-grabbing as possible.
- Get straight to the point. Most journalists skim their emails, so if you’re going to convince them to read your whole release, you need to do it in the first two sentences. Don’t wait any longer than that to announce your main point.
- Have an awesome headline to grab interest. Put time and effort in creating a headline. A great headline can make your email stand out in a crowd, while an uninteresting or generic one will probably get it tossed out without another glance. Make it short, simple, and interesting. Look through newspapers for good examples.
- Write like Hemingway. How do you do this? It’s simpler than you may think. Use short sentences. For emphasis. And break long thoughts down into multiple sentences. Avoid commas to increase sentence speed (the speed at which a reader reads a sentence.) Use simple words for diction. These will further increase sentence speed. You don’t want to write like this all the time. But do it sometimes. It’s powerful.
- Include hard numbers when you can. These hold much more value for journalists than vague phrases. If your press release is announcing the opening of a zoo, tell how many animals are there, how many exhibits there will be, how many people the park can hold, etc. This reinforces your message.
- Include direct quotes only if they are original. Press releases are full of droll, cliched quotes from business people saying mostly the same things. “This is a great company/product, blah blah. I recommend it highly.” Remember that journalists will only be interested in quotes if they can publish them. And they will only want to publish them if they are original and interesting.
Here are a few more tips to keep in mind while writing your press release:
- Include contact info. This is a simple one, but also a common mistake. Make sure you include a way for the journalist to reach you should they be interested in writing about you.
- One page is best, two is max. Never write more than two pages – and try to keep it to one if you can.
- Provide access to further information – send links the journalist can follow if they want to learn more about you, your company, etc.
- Consider using bullet points for emphasis.
Paying attention to these steps should help you to write powerful, attention-grabbing press releases that are effective in holding a readers attention, and may just get a journalist to write about you!
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