As a Public Relations major, I have been thrown into the world of writing for the media and throughout my several writing intensive classes I have learned how to successfully write news advisories, broadcast releases, and letters to the editor. However, most importantly, I have learned how to write press releases. Every public relations class I have taken has always stressed the importance of constructing an effective and creative press release that will gain media coverage for the client. I found an article, The Ten Commandments of a Press Release written by Bill Stoller while looking for some extra writing tips. In the article, he outlines the ten “shalts” and “shalt nots” to help any press release get published.
- Thou Shalt Be Professional. No goofy fonts, rainbow paper or silly gimmicks. Even lighthearted press releases represent a communication between one professional and another.
- Thou Shalt Not Be Promotional. If you can’t get enough objective distance from your company to write a press release that’s not filled with hype and puffery, hire someone to write it for you.
- Thou Shalt Not Be Boring. Even the driest subject matter allows for some sparks of creativity. Journalists like knowing that there’s a human being communicating with them, not some corporate robot.
- Thou Shalt Be Brief. Learn to cut out extraneous words. Keep your sentences short. Include only the points necessary to sell the story. The well-crafted one page press release is a thing of beauty.
- Thou Shalt Know Thy Recipient. A features or lifestyle editor is a very different creature from a city desk editor. If you’re promoting the opening of a new winery, the food and wine editor may be interested in all the details about what kind of aging process and wine press you’re using. The city desk editor just wants to know when the grand opening is and what’s going to happen there.
- Thou Shalt Use The Proper Tense. When writing a hard news release (a contract signing, a stock split, a major announcement, etc.) use the past tense. When writing a soft news release (a trend story, a personal profile, etc.) use the present tense.
- Thou Shalt Think Visually. A press release is more than words — it’s a visual document that will first be assessed by how it looks. Whether received by mail, fax or e-mail, a journalist, the reader will (often unconsciously) make decisions about whether to read the release based on how the release is laid out. Big blocks of text and long paragraphs are daunting and uninviting. Short paragraphs and sentences make for a much more visually inviting look.
- Thou Shalt Tell A Story. How to arrange the facts of a hard news release is pretty much cut and dried. The old “who, what, when, where and how” lead and “inverted pyramid” concepts still hold.
- Thou Shalt Not Bear False Witness. This may seem an obvious point, but it always bears repeating. Tell the truth. Don’t inflate, don’t confabulate, and don’t exaggerate. Don’t twist facts, don’t make up numbers, and don’t make unsubstantiated claims. Any decent journalist will be able to see right through this. If you’re lucky, your release will just get tossed out. If you’re unlucky, you’ll be exposed.
- Thou Shalt Know Thy Limitations. Not everyone can write a press release. A good feature release, in particular, isn’t an easy thing to craft. If you just don’t feel like you have the chops to get the job done, hire a professional.
What do you think of these “commandments?” Can you think of any of your own to add to the list? Let us know what you think!