5 tips for writing press releases that actually get read

What’s the point of a press release? You’re hoping to gain exposure for your business, while the publisher is looking for something of genuine interest to their readers.

Shouldn’t be too hard to do both, right? But in practice, it’s easy to write an sales pitch for your services, and harder to write something that people are excited to read about.

When press releases go bad…

Bad press release


This is a newsworthy story, for sure – a new service that will help hospitals to reduce costs – but what the writer’s failed to do is find the part of the story that will capture the reader’s interest. So here are our five top tips for avoiding snooze-ville!

1. Find the newsworthy part of your story

I read a brilliant anecdote – forgive me, I can’t remember where – that outlined this scenario:

Imagine you work for a school. You’re writing an announcement regarding the fact that the principal is sending all of the teachers on additional training days. These training days will help them communicate better, identify problems quicker, and be more effective. The training will be conducted on Monday 11th and Tuesday 12th, during which time the school will be closed.

If you’re writing to the parents of the pupils, then you’re going to emphasize the benefit of the additional training, and understate any inconvenience caused by the closure.

But if you’re writing to the pupils, the key thing is that school’s out! For two whole days!

It’s essential to know your audience!

If you’re a promotional products distributor, there are many things you can write a press release about (we compiled a list for you here), but key to making them actually interesting is to know your audience.

If you’re sending a press release about a new product into a trade publication, bear in mind who’s reading it – and make sure your story has real value for them. Find the hook that the product has and lead with it.

If you’re doing charity work and want to, you know, subtly TELL EVERYONE ABOUT IT, then lead with the human angle. Overcoming a lifelong fear of heights to jump out of a plane for a charity that’s dear to your heart because of _____…

2. The title’s the most important part

Great subject lineOnce you’ve found the kernel, the nugget of excitement in your press release, it’s essential that that appears in the title of the press release.

I follow a running community on Facebook, who post content about 10 times a day. They are past-masters at writing titles that make you want to open their articles.

They make it look effortless, but just think how dull the title to the pictured blog could have been – “New gym classes now available”, “New year – new you! Here are our favorite gym classes”… Ugh.

Test, test, and test some more. Ask your friends, family and colleagues what title would make them most intrigued, trying out several options until you strike gold.

3. Load the first paragraph with the good stuff

Everybody skip-reads. So get the key data into your first paragraph – the five W’s (who, what, why, when, where). I love this tip from The Guardian newspaper:

…Imagine your story is going to be covered on a TV or radio program. A presenter generally has around 5-6 seconds to introduce each item e.g. “And coming up next … why a local cafe owner is giving a free coffee this weekend to anyone born in July.” If your story was going to be featured on the radio today, how would the presenter introduce it? Asking yourself that question should give you the top line of your story.

You don’t need to give a potted history of your company there, either…

It’s tempting to say ‘Promobuy, established in 1995, the leading provider of promotional products and corporate apparel to the Chicago area, is pleased to announce…” but does anyone care at this point? Get to the exciting stuff as fast as you can: “Promotional product provider Promobuy announces…”

It’s perfectly acceptable to have an ‘About Your Company’ section at the bottom; this is your opportunity to explain more about who you are, what you do, and why you do it.

4. Don’t use quotes as a sales pitch

CEO Brad Waters comments: “Our company is the best of the best, and this makes us better than the best. We’ve grown 3,000% since doing this. Buy from us, we’re the best!”

I’m exaggerating, obviously, but it’s easy to see how a poorly thought out quote could turn an otherwise credible piece into trash.

Quotes are great for adding opinions and insight to your press release, but they should not be used to squeeze in any of the following:

  • An over-blown sales pitch
  • Facts and figures (these should be in the body of the press release, not in a quote)
  • Anything that doesn’t sound like someone actually said it.

5. Nail it every time by following these simple rules:

  1. Start with a story of genuine interest to readers
  2. Tailor your press release to the people who will be reading it
  3. Write a killer title and make this the subject line of your email to the publisher, too
  4. Pack the opening paragraph with the essential details
  5. Write – at most – 400 words
  6. Use quotes to add insight, and make them sound ‘real’
  7. Save your company blurb for the footer.

Need ideas on what to write about? Read this article.

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