How to Format Your Press Release for Best Results
You can use a press release for a wide variety of purposes – such as to announce a new product or service, an upcoming event, or a management change; you can also use it to create buzz around a new initiative, campaign or resource. Unlike paid advertising, a press release can lead to pick-up and coverage by media and bloggers, increasing awareness and generating third-party brand endorsements – and that lends greater credibility to your message than if it came directly from your company.
Press releases have been around for more than 100 years and remain a core public relations tool. Although they’ve dramatically evolved with the times, they’re still a cost-effective way to create brand visibility among your influential audiences. Those audiences now typically include a mix of ‘traditional’ (print and broadcast) and online media together with social media, reaching journalists, bloggers, Twitter communities and consumers, thereby spreading your message to new markets and opening new business opportunities. In addition, today’s press releases perform a multitude of marketing functions such as driving traffic to your website where you can collect and convert sales leads, and sending news and multimedia content to search engines, websites and social channels where they can be shared and even go viral.
To get the most out of your press releases, it pays to know the ground rules.
How to Format Your Press Release
Although people are bending traditional formatting rules, a press releases should include the basics outlined below. Use an inverted pyramid structure, keeping the most important facts up top in the beginning paragraphs, and the lesser facts and supporting details toward the middle and bottom. This helps a press release flow, keeps it concise and, most important, factual. Your “facts” are the answers to the ‘who’, ‘what’, ‘where’, ‘when’ and ‘why’ questions. When writing your press release, refer to the AP Stylebook for grammar and punctuation. It is the most widely accepted style and usage guide in the news industry.
- Headline:This is a succinct statement of your press release’s purpose. Make it descriptive and compelling, and try to keep it short. Google search results only display about 55 characters, so think about how your headline will display. In addition, a short headline makes for a great tweet – think about leaving enough room for a link or comment in Twitter’s 140-character limit.
- Sub-headline: If you want to further clarify your main idea, do it in here.
- First paragraph:Summarize all the important information in the first paragraph; use subsequent paragraphs for supportive information.
- Body copy:Be concise; don’t repeat and ramble. Consider using bullet points to quickly summarize key points.
- Quotes:Use a quote or two to add a human element and express subjective thoughts that lend color to your news.
- Boilerplate:In 100 words or less, at the end of your release summarize what your company does, using words that help position you against your competitors. Include your stock symbol if your company is publicly traded.
- Media contact:Make sure you include a person’s name, email address and phone number so reporters or bloggers have someone to follow up with for additional information and/or interviews.
Standard Press Release Template
How to Optimize and Enhance Your Press Release
As you create your press release, make it work harder through hyperlinks and multimedia.
- Hyperlinks:Identify your keywords – the words and phrases that are most relevant to your message and your audience. Use the primary one toward the beginning of your release and link it to a relevant page on your website. Insert other links to internal pages on your website, but use keywords sparingly. Don’t repeat links, since that diminishes their value.
- Multimedia:When it makes sense, always try to add a multimedia element to your press release. Consumers spend more time on a press release with an image or video than one without. Plus, adding multimedia contributes to greater sharing potential, and visuals often remain on websites long after the text of your release is gone.
Most Common Press Release Mistakes
Do your press releases get picked up, commented on and shared among your target audiences and other key influencers? Or, do they simply reach their target destinations and languish? If the latter is the case, it helps to be aware of the most common press release mistakes:
- Wrong slant
Look at your news from the perspective of your audience. Ask yourself, “What’s in it for them?” When writing your press release, make sure you look at your message from the outside in — how it will be received by the people you want to reach and engage.
- Poor audience targeting
Where you send your press release affects its visibility and audience engagement. A single release can reach multiple audiences in multiple ways. When making your selections of newslines and distribution channels, take a look at your PR or business objectives to determine whether to send your release to niche or specialty markets and/or to narrow or broad geographies. Consider sending it to your personal lists and post it to your social channels. Be sure to think both ‘traditional’ and ‘social’ media.
- Use of “gobbledygook” or industry buzzwords
Don’t use initials and acronyms unless you clearly define them. Stay away from buzzwords and marketing-speak like “state-of-the-art,” “groundbreaking,” and “innovative.”
- Tooting your own horn
Don’t inject your press release full of copy that belongs in an advertisement. Have a legitimate news angle; a press release is not a cloaked advertisement.
- Grammar, punctuation and spelling errors
It can’t be stressed strongly enough that your press release needs to be error-free. Proofread it thoroughly – you’re in competition with other companies and a poorly written release will discount your brand’s credibility.
- Writing in the first or second person
Using “I” or “you” or “we” makes your press release sound like a marketing piece. The only place the first or second person should be used in a press release is in spokespeople’s quotes.
- Bad timing
In general, the best time to distribute press releases is on a Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday morning. But really, the best time for your specific release depends in large part on your audience: what online channels they frequent the most and when as well as where they’re geographically located. Consider doing some testing to see what generates the best results.
- Not learning from your results
Most press release services provide a post-distribution report that gives you valuable information about how your press release fared. You can find out how people came upon your release (e.g., direct traffic or through search engines), and what day and time it received the greatest activity. You can also see what links and multimedia assets people clicked on the most as well as who shared and mentioned your release, and on which social networks. You can then use this information to improve the content, timing and distribution targets of your future press releases.
Press releases offer more opportunities than they ever have to expand your brand’s visibility and help achieve your goals. While there is no guaranteed path to success, following the guidelines we’ve outlined here will increase your odds of getting your press release in front of the right audiences and encourage them to share and promote your message.