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7 Rules for Perfect Press Releases

Nearly every startup I have worked with has been nervous about writing press releases.  Lack of experience is one reason but people also think there are a set of secret rules to writing one “properly.”  I’m also hearing startups say they believe press releases are irrelevant in an age of social media.  I disagree.   The majority of press releases really stink but they stink because they are written like we wrote them 15 years ago.  A modern press release can be a valuable marketing tool for startups and I believe anyone can create a great one.  Here’s how:

1.  Decide Who and Why Before What – Why are you writing the release?  Who do you want to reach?  What would the perfect response be? We used to write releases for journalists who then wrote articles about them.  Today releases go directly to news sites, bloggers and customers in addition to journalists.  The press release needs to stand on it’s own and tell a story.  Once you’ve decided who your audience is, define what you want them to do once they’ve finished the story.  Do you want them to write their own story, click for more information, download something, or make a purchase?

2.  Write A Great Headline – Most people never get past the headline.  If there is one part of the press release that you really need to nail, this is it.  Great headlines are short and grab people’s attention.  The headline should be easy to share – ideally it should be short enough to Tweet (I’d keep it under 60 characters if you can because a Tweet will also include at lease one ID and a short url) or put in a Facebook status message.

3.  Keep it Brief – Get to the point as quickly as you can and stop.  Provide some links to deeper content for those that are interested but don’t try to say everything in one release.  Take out everything that doesn’t add to the story, including quotes from an executive that don’t say anything more than “We’re Great!”

4.  Provide Valuable Content – What sort of value can you provide beyond the company news?  For example, can you provide guides or templates related to the topic you are covering?  Think about the audience you are writing for.  What can you give them that makes the release valuable?

5.  Include Sharable Content – In my opinion the day of the text-only press release is over.  Can you include a downloadable logo, pictures, video?  People will share content if you give them something to share.

6.  Make it Search Engine Friendly (but don’t go crazy) – I generally dislike content that is written specifically for SEO but paying SOME attention to this is important.  The title should be short and contain your keywords if you can, just remember that having a title that people want to click on trumps having a title that contains your keywords.  Your keywords should come earlier in the release, rather than later and include links.

7.  Make it Worth Talking about – Again, think of your press release as a story (rather than the thing reporters write stories about).  What makes that story interesting right now? How does it relate to what people are already talking about?  The press releases I’ve done that have gotten the greatest traction have been either explicitly tied to a current trend or timed such that I knew they would be part of a larger conversation that was taking place.  If you can’t imagine people talking about your release over lunch then it still needs some work.

I wrote earlier about my experiences with newer-style Press Releases in my post A Skeptics Guide to Social Media Releases.

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237 COMMENTS

  1. Hey April,

    Thanks for the article. I find a lot of people write about tips for press releases, but don’t show how a great press release can have impact after it goes out, and case studies using different announcements or “news.” Great to hear your different experiences and the tips and tricks that made them successful.

    Cheers,
    Erin

      • We use a template questionnaire to start the press release process. I find this forces thinking about who, what and why and the value of the news. It might even make sense to use these 7 points to make a similar template, especially points 1, 2, 4, and 7.

        What do you think of releasing “smaller” news items on social media rather than traditional PR news services? I think social media is looking for more regular updates than once a month press release.

        • Hi Bill,
          Thanks for the comment. For traditional press releases, there is a high bar that items have to clear in terms of “newsworthy-ness” – i.e. it needs to be something that’s really new like a new product release, closing a significant deal, announcing a new partnership, etc. For releases that target more social media channels, there is a different bar. The news isn’t necessarily “smaller” but it’s more like you are sparking a conversation than broadcasting news through a megaphone. I’ve had great results using social media new release services (as opposed to using the traditional newswire), particularly for smaller companies where the chances of you getting some mainstream media action from the release alone is slim to none.
          April

  2. Can you blow this up into a poster for my office? The next time someone tells me PR-is-a-dift-animal-and-releases-have-to-be-written-this-boring-way no longer gets just an eye roll from me… This is brilliant. Thank you.

  3. A marvelous article; as with any marketing material, is must be well-articulated and directed to its proper audience and niche. Although we tend to suffer from media overload at times, a well-crafted message does eventually reach its intended market.

    –Joe Breunig
    Reaching Towards His Unbounded Glory

  4. How we wish that everyone who sends press releases to our site (http://www.your-story.org/ ) – then maybe our moderators would not have to remove quite so many submissions!

    You’ve hit the most important nails on the head.

    The most important thing people always forget is to get picked up, your press release must be interesting, not just an advertisement.

  5. i think this guide should mention something about presentation of the PR as well as including assets (video, images & attachments).

    Any thoughts on that ?

  6. Thank you for these excellent tips. A very good article regarding press releases. I absolutely agree with you that writing a press release takes time, research and some skill. But I think anyone can success with some patience and a good strategy.

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