Writing and distributing a press release

Write, revise, edit (repeat), then distribute

Writing starts out as a messy business. Don’t worry about it. Just start, and then get on with the painful job of crafting your release. Here’s how to do it:

  • Don’t “bury the lead.” Few writers escape the “spinning your wheels” effect on the first draft. Do not be distressed. A pitcher needs to warm up; so does a writer. You will labor over that first draft and then need to cut the first couple of paragraphs (and save elsewhere!). Make sure the lead encapsulates your story and your message in one sentence.
  • Yes, you want to provide the audiences (both gatekeeper and “end user”) with the benefits and features associated with your new technology, but also concentrate on providing information. A press release is not sales collateral. Those that are end up in the trash. To this end, adopt a journalistic tone. Good gatekeepers (journalists, analysts, and other influencers) pride themselves on spotting bald advertising in releases. Don’t be obvious in your use of “loaded” words and don’t be effusive in praising your company and its products or services.
  • If the tone of a release is to be journalistic, so should the details of the language. Use AP style, correct grammar and proofread. To follow AP Style, you will need to buy the AP Stylebook (available in print, online — there’s even the AP StyleGuard Word plugin). This guide defines the rules that journalists write by. As well, good journalists are grammar and usage talkers. Dangling participles and misplaced commas will ring alarm bells and destroy your credibility. If you are not sure of your grammar, either learn it (isn’t about time?) to produce professionally written copy. Or you need to hire a professional.
  • Include a company information boilerplate at the end of your release: the five W’s—who what, when, where and why (plus the how) of your company and its technology. Do not make the mistake of hyping this up. Just the facts, ma’am.
  • Provide available and credible contacts for journalists. Nothing burns a reporter more than being given the names of unreachable people who don’t return calls. Not only must your contacts be reachable, they should be people who have the most knowledge about the topic and the authority to speak for the company. The word “contacts,”  a list of names and a description of their “part” in the story should appear along with telephone numbers in the upper right side of your release.
  • Look at your timing. It is impossible to predict the news load and content of any given day in the future. In general, some people like to send out good news early in the week, thinking that their chances of getting coverage are better then. Others hold back bad news until late in the week, but trying to “sneak one by” the press just invites negative scrutiny. In general, it’s best to release news when it happens.
  • Even in the age of “Kim K just got a bikini wax,” thinking about and then choosing an angle for your release still makes sense. Appealing news topics tend to fall into dialectic categories: the newest (why do you think they call it news?) and oldest, the first and last, the biggest and smallest, the best and worst, the top and bottom. You can consider hanging your start by any of these angles. News is also topical. That is, there are waves of interest that vary according to subjects and attitudes. Current issues such as the environment, the family and the health-care system can provide angles for your company’s news. For example:
    • Describe how your news involves a useful tactic about surviving in your technology sector.
    • Cite experts in your technology sector, especially if your company employs one or more of them.
    • Show how your news pushes the envelope. If you can, demonstrate that your news marks the beginning of a trend.
  • Finally, target your distribution. A distribution service will help you with this. But there is no substitute for identifying those publications and people who are most important to reaching your “end-user” audience. (See Preparing for a press release for more on the importance of gatekeepers.)

Posted in Using Media

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