Shelley Widhalm

Writing eye-catching press releases

In Shelley Widhalm, Writing on May 11, 2014 at 11:00 am

(I’m diverging from my usual writing topics to discuss press releases after receiving several requests to explain what they are during my day job as a journalist.)

To write an eye-catching press release, there are a few standards and tips that will get your story noticed by your target news publications.

Newspaper editors and reporters scan through their emails, paper mail and other sources of communication looking for the stories that will inform or interest their readers. When you pitch your story idea, you need to get their attention right away about your event, an update to your business, a new service or product, an award, a people item or a milestone.

A press release is a written statement announcing your news item that includes facts, any important statistics and at least one or two quotes from the key players in the story. Start with the date and city, so that the journalists you send the release to can make sure the story is relevant to their publication.

Follow with the headline, which is the title of the piece. The headline, as well as the lead or first paragraph of the release, should be clear, concise and to the point and contain the most important information. It should briefly explain the 5 Ws and the H, or who, what, where, when, why and how.

Specifically, the 5 Ws and H ask:
• Who is the story about?
• What is the news topic?
• When will this happen?
• Where will it take place?
• Why is it newsworthy?
• How is this happening?

The lead is the first sentence that summarizes what’s happening in the rest of the release. The body should be concise with short sentences and paragraphs, backing up what was said in the headline and lead.

At the end of the release, you should include your contact information in case the journalist wants to contact you for additional information. Make sure there is an About Us paragraph at the bottom of the page that gives a synopsis of what your business, organization, church or group does in one or two sentences.

Here are a few additional tips on writing and sending press releases:

• Send it in the morning and not at 4 p.m. or later at the end of the workday.
• Don’t address the journalist with dear sir/madam, or reporter/editor; find out names if possible.
• Keep it to one page.
• Write in third person, using he, she and they.
• Avoid clichés and avoid exaggerations, such as unique, breakthrough and special.

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