Here at the MyPRGenie offices in Times Square, we’ve been talking quite a bit lately about potential topics for white papers and webinars. We asked marketing communications specialists, journalists, and PR people for ideas, and one that kept coming up was a focus on helping our clients improve the quality of their press releases.
A Forbes.com blogger put it this way: “I’ve seen press releases lately that are so filled with buzz words and adjectives that I have no idea what they’re about,” he said. “Please remind people that if they want me to write about their product or service, they have to start by telling me WHY my readers will be interested. I don’t have time to do a ton of research before I hit ‘delete’ – so if the press release isn’t well written and understandable, they stand zero chance of getting coverage.”
Here are four rules that will help your news releases deliver better results.
The 10 Word Rule
The first 10 words of your release are the most important, so make sure they’re memorable. Don’t start your press release with a whole sentence (or worse, a whole paragraph) telling the reader who it’s about.
We’ve seen releases where the lead sentence (the most important idea) was buried in the third or fourth paragraph, after long sentences about the company or companies issuing the release. It may seem like a good idea to put all the background information and positioning statements up front, but it can be a shortcut to the “delete key” instead.
For better results, start with a brief description of the news, then distinguish who announced it, and not the other way around.
Doing it right: Adding protein to your diet reduces common diseases. That’s the word from researchers at University Medical who today released results from three-year study today in a report titled, “Adding Dietary Protein Improves Overall Health.”
Doing it wrong: A team of scientists, led by Dr. Serious Scientist of the Westport Campus of the University Medical Center, today announced the results of a three year study on the impact of diet on overall health. They study, which followed more than 12,000 healthy adults between 25 and 60 years of age, concluded that dietary factors were as important as genetic factors in the development of certain diseases.
The KISS Rule
If you want your press release to get noticed, Keep It (your language) Simple and (your sentences) Short. Avoid using too many adjectives, and too much complex language.
Even if your press release really is about a complex subject like rocket science, you can write simple, clear language. For example, compare these two opening paragraphs for a press release about the sale of a rocket ship.
“The first private commercial space vehicle was sold today. Intelsat bought the Falcon Heavy Rocket from Space Exploration Technologies (Space X) to deliver a communications satellite into geosynchronous orbit.”
Deliver the key news in the first paragraph. Only then, add the typical corporate descriptions of the company or companies involved, quotes, positioning information, and background data. Compare the wording above with a “typical” press release on the same subject.
“Today, Intelsat, the world’s leading provider of satellite services, and Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX), the world’s fastest growing space launch company, announced the first commercial contract for the Falcon Heavy rocket.
“SpaceX is very proud to have the confidence of Intelsat, a leader in the satellite communication services industry,” said Elon Musk, SpaceX CEO and Chief Designer. “The Falcon Heavy has more than twice the power of the next largest rocket in the world. With this new vehicle, SpaceX launch systems now cover the entire spectrum of the launch needs for commercial, civil and national security customers.”
“Timely access to space is an essential element of our commercial supply chain,” said Thierry Guillemin, Intelsat CTO. “As a global leader in the satellite sector, our support of successful new entrants to the commercial launch industry reduces risk in our business model. Intelsat has exacting technical standards and requirements for proven flight heritage for our satellite launches. We will work closely with SpaceX as the Falcon Heavy completes rigorous flight tests prior to our future launch requirements.”
This is the first commercial contract for SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy launch vehicle. Under the agreement, an Intelsat satellite will be launched into geosynchronous transfer orbit (GTO).
Compared to the original 29-word opening paragraph, the second example takes almost ten times as many words (201) to get to the point. Most of the press releases written every day are about topics that are certainly simpler to understand than space craft and rockets. So writing shorter, clearer, simpler opening paragraphs should be relatively easy for us, right?
The Dragnet Rule
One of the first blockbuster crime dramas on television was called “Dragnet”. The lead character, Detective Sergeant Joe Friday, started nearly every interview with a female suspect or witness by saying, “Just the facts, ma’am.”
That’s certainly the key to a press release that delivers better results: Deal with the facts – just remember it’s not an ad.
Let’s face it, a lot of press releases are written to sell products. Don’t be shy about stating the facts about a new product, a sale, a partnership, or a package deal.
PR people are often accused of “spin,” but when it comes to news releases, it’s vital to make sure that they don’t sound like advertisements. Why? Two primary reasons. First, news outlets make money by selling ads, so they’re not going use a press release that reads like an ad. Why give away what they sell?
Second, in some states there are a legal differences between a press release and an advertisement. For example, a press release can include a quote that states someone’s opinion – while an advertisement has to meet specific standards of proof before making a performance claim.
Last, but hardly least, if you focus on making sure you’re delivering the facts, you’re less likely to fall prey to over wordy statements. The key facts of your topic can usually be conveyed with just the 5W’s of effective writing: who, what, where, when, and why. Once you’ve included that information, ask yourself what else really needs to be included in the release — and what can be offered on a landing page, or your website instead?
The Time Wasting Rule
The media you hope will write about your company are busy people. So are the potential customers who may read your release.
Waste their time today with an incomprehensible press release, and you’ll have to spend a lot of your time later to try to get their attention again. So make it as easy as possible for your readers to take the action you want them to take.
First and foremost, a press release has to contain easy-to-understand information that grabs attention. Simple, direct writing that uses action verbs and avoids buzzwords and long, convoluted sentences, will get better results than overworked hyperbole that leaves the reader scratching his head and wondering what you meant to say.
Before you send out your next press release, ask someone who knows nothing about your company to read it, and summarize for you what action the press release is asking people to take. If they can’t provide a simple answer like, “They want me to try the product” or “They’re trying to get me to visit their web site,” then you have a problem.
Yes, there are press releases that are intended for positioning, background information, and regulatory compliance. Not every news or press release wants to sell something. But if the writing isn’t clear about the purpose of the information, why are you spending time and money on it?
To make it easy for your readers to take the action you want them to take, be sure to include:
- Accurate, verified links to additional information. Instead of writing, “For more information, visit www.ourwebsite.com”, write “For immediate access to details about the new product, visit www.ourwebsite.com.” Or perhaps, “Visitors to www.ourwebsite.com can get product details, participate in the growing community of our product fans, and download valuable stuff now.” (You’ll want to spell out what they get, of course – access to a new video, coupons, discounts, white papers or documents, free activity pages for kids or hobbyists – whatever it is that you’re offering site visitors, if anything.)
- A cover note for journalists/bloggers that tells them what you’re offering them. Interviews, products for review, invitations to an event, additional photographs, guest blog posts, “B” roll footage that broadcasters can re-use: those details don’t belong in the release, but adding them to the email that accompanies the release can make a difference.
- Clear contact information and instructions. A press release is no place for an anti-spam email address like “john (at) ourwebsite (dot) com”. Go ahead and create a publishable email address, and recognize that there will be spam – it’s worth it in the end. Take care with using employee’s personal cell phone numbers on your press releases. What happens to inquiries that arrive after the employee has left for a new job – perhaps with a competitor?
As we noted at the beginning of this blog post, we’re actively searching for content ideas that readers want. What kind of information would YOU like to see in our blog, or as part of our continuing white paper and webinar series? Tell us in the comments, and we’ll do our best to deliver.