What to Include in a Press Release
According to Webster's New World Dictionary, a press release is "a statement or story prepared for release to the news media." Therein lies the problem that many companies have when they prepare a news release. They write them as if they were designing marketing brochures to be handed to the end user, and forget that the medium is really intended for an editorial audience first, not a consumer audience. Sticking to the original intention of news release formats will help you write press releases that are picked up, not ignored, by the media.
You may see other companies going for the sensational, promotional type of press release writing style. Don't worry! The media won't pick these up and are more than likely going out of their way to ignore the company that practices this technique. Just because you see press releases written in this style does not mean the editors receive them with warmth and admiration.
Basic Press Release Components
In general, releases should include the following standard components:
Company logo, location, and contact information - Remember, many of the editors you send your release will not be familiar with your company or where it's located, so include that info on the electronic submission. If you still are using hard copy, print the release on company letterhead and just key in "News Release" across the top right hand portion of the page. There is no need to order special paper just for news releases.
Contact information that can be easily found - It's helpful to put the contact information at the beginning or top of the press release, including name, number and E-mail address of the person who is responsible for handling media inquiries. Some companies include the information at the end, but the editor may not read your release all the way through.
Headline - Decide what you are announcing, and make the headline clear: "XYZ Masonry Hires Susan Doe as President"; or "ABC Masonry Announced New Capabilities for Residential Builders."
Subhead that summarizes the focus of the release - This subhead should really hit the hot buttons of the announcement ? what are the implications, benefits and ramifications of the announcement? If you're announcing a new service, what succinct benefit does it provide the customer? If you have a new president, what is she or he chartered to do? Is your company taking a new strategic direction?
Dateline - Editors work on deadlines and like to compile information that is fresh. Include a "dateline" on every release, one that mentions the date and the city or town where your company is issuing the announcement. If it's from company headquarters, use the headquarters city. If it's issued during a trade show at which you're exhibiting, you can use the location of the trade show itself.
Body - This is perhaps the area that most companies trip up on. In the first paragraph, try to include as much as possible of the who/what/where/why/when so that an editor need only read the first few lines to get the "meat" of the announcement. If you're announcing a partnership with another company, or a recent customer win, it's helpful to include a brief, informative quote from the other partner or company. Try to make the quote meaningful and descriptive of what the customer's perspective is.
Remember, however, that most quotes are not taken seriously by editors because they suspect (and in 85 percent of the instances they are probably correct) that the vendor created the quote for the customer in order to make themselves look good.
Include straightforward detail about the announcement you're making. If you have a new service, when is it available? Does it replace other services? How much does it cost? What will it help customers do? Try to think like a detective who has to write a complete synopsis based only on the information you provide in the release. Anticipate the questions you'd have if a competitor of yours had an announcement. What would you want to know? Press releases are public documents, not sales hype, so this is not the time to be cagey or coy. Spell it out.
Company boilerplate or bio - These company descriptions are located at the end of every release and range from beautifully brief to Ph.D.-dissertation long. Aim for the "30-second elevator speech" type description if you can.
Trademarks - If your company name and/or products and services have trademarks, include them at the very end of the release. Remember, only you can protect your trademark or copyright.
Writing Style: Follow the 10K
Now that you know what to include, what should you know about writing style? If you ask editors what they dislike most about the press releases they receive, their answers are consistent. They don't like copy that is full of hackneyed superlatives, such as "leading provider," "state of the art technology." If you want to see what good informative copy can read like, take any large company's 10K form and try to emulate the tone. It represents a neutral reporting style that conveys important messages in an enlightening manner without sounding like a circus hawker with a microphone.
If you try to think of press releases as narrative, legal documents that briefly announce a milestone or event, you'll significantly increase your chances of getting your company noticed by the media. They'll remember you for your brevity and appreciate you for your straightforwardness.
About the Author
Linda VandeVrede is the principal of VandeVrede Public Relations, a Scottsdale, Ariz., company that serves clients nationwide. VandeVrede Public Relations offers expertise in public relations, crisis planning, issues management and analyst relations.