When the first press release was issued by Ivy Lee on 28th October 1906, 50 people had lost their lives in a railway accident and there was no particular format to constrain the public statement. Yet he did something right which impressed the journalists.
Fast forward to more than 100 years since then – more innovative tools, the social media, courses on communications, experience in public relations and search engine results on ‘how to write press releases’ that generates close to 249,000,000 results. Yet there are thousands of press releases sent across to journalists that never translate into news stories.
What Ivy Lee did right, or the bigger question – what we don’t
Cardinal Rule 1: The Headline
A good peg is alright, but what is the hook for the journalist?
Out of the hundreds of press releases that land in the journalists’ inbox what draws their attention – A generic “Launch of xxxxx” or a headline that in itself gives the USP of the product or establishes the supremacy of the brand in that space?
Cardinal Rule 2: Information Should be Presented in a Neutral Way
Having said that, leave the supremacy to speak for itself through statistics and numbers. Apart from the headline having highlighted the key message such as “The tallest rooftop bar in Chandigarh” or “The first gaming arcade in a Tier III city”, the release must then bring in the vision and brand values of the company to light.
On the other hand, it’s a good idea to keep from superlatives like “the best”, “the no.1”, etc. A press release announcement, though made to draw attention of the users, is hardly one that is designed to be the copy of an advertisement creative
Cardinal Rule 3: Writing the Quote
Always add the full name and designation of the spokesperson who quote is being included and highlight it in bold. A quote always needs to say something over and above the entire release, as it is being said by a senior person – so always save some key information and figures to be put in the quote. It should have some element of thought leadership and overall industry/consumer trend, as the top management is involved. The language should be impressive but simple and it should have some overarching message about the company as a whole. Not more than two quotes should be there in a press release – the first quote should come after the first paragraph of the press release
Cardinal Rule 4: The Inverted Pyramid
It almost seems like the term was invented for us PR guys. It is interesting that a famous college offering media courses schedules Journalism and Public Relations classes together for the Press Release module, where the rule of the thumb is “5W’s (who, what, why, when and where), and 1H (how)”. The chunk of your information or announcement can hog all the space within the first paragraph and then lesser details can be said towards the end.
Rather than having the journalist snipping it short and risk missing out on relevant information that was hid in the middle of a few sentences here and there, brevity will get you the satisfaction of a press release being printed exactly the way you had created it. Also, a point to note is that most online uploads for press releases these days do not allow more than 400 words of content.
Cardinal Rule 6: Company Info etc. in the Boiler Plate
Once you’ve drafted the entire press release, you also want to give the journalist a background of the company. It’s essential that you include your contact details at the end so the journalists know whom to get in touch with for any clarifications or added information they might want. This should comprise not more than 100 words.
Written by Ananya Ghosh for Image Management