Press Releases: Format Matters
I’ve been sending press releases since 2007 and they have been instrumental in helping me to build my online business. First, let’s discuss what a press release is and what it’s intended to do for you and for your business. A press release is a document that announces newsworthy information about a business to members of the press. It is not intended to advertise your business or products, and it is also not an article similar to one you would read on a blog or in a newspaper. For it to be effective it must be a succinct communication with the media concerning noteworthy events.
You need to keep in mind that a press release is intended for the media. It is everyone’s hope that a release, will lead to coverage of some kind, which will in turn bring added business and attention to your business, but this is never guaranteed. That is why a press release is just a first step and must be part of a larger public relations picture. If you want more consistent coverage, there has to be a consistent relationship between you, the media, your community, and your industry. Press releases can play an integral role in this process. And, most of all remember that you must be sharing something that is actually newsworthy in your industry.
Press Release Format
Let’s focus on the basic elements of a press release. You are now aware that a press release is something that is used to get media attention, so let’s move to an outline of the foundations and format of effective press release writing.
No two press releases are the same, but they should all share similarities. While it is worthwhile to make a press release stand out, all press releases should include specific elements – a headline, dateline, opening paragraph, body paragraphs, boilerplate, and contact information. Let’s go through those elements one by one.
Because of its prominence and position, the headline is the first thing the media will read. Most people, even journalists, decide to read or skip a press release based on the headline alone. Because of that, the headline is without a doubt the single most important component of a press release. Make it stand out from what others may be saying on this topic.
A headline has to grab people’s attention as well as be informative about the content of a release. Knowing how important headlines are, many people try and write sensational headlines that all but demand to be read, but that is the exact wrong thing to do. The best headlines are simple, one sentence explanations of a press release’s purpose and origin. If the information in a press release is newsworthy, then it will sell itself. No sensationalism is needed. As you advance in your press release writing skills, you can learn the subtle art of adding pizzazz to a headline while maintaining its objective integrity. Many of my own headlines are written in the form of questions, such as ‘Who Else Wants To Build A Business That Gives You Time Freedom?’
Many people add a subhead to the press release. A subhead is an additional sentence that provides newsworthy details that either create a new hook or angle for the media or supports the previous hook given in the headline. A subhead is not required and many times not needed. I recommend you do not use subheads, at least in the very beginning of your efforts with sending press releases.
A dateline is a very simple element that plainly states when and from where a press release originated. Datelines appear in the first line of a press release, before the actual release begins, and they list a city and state then the date when a press release is issued. For the time being, just writing your city and state the way you would for your address is fine.
The opening paragraph is the second most important part of a press release, right after the headline. Also like the headline, the opening paragraph has the function of capturing and holding people’s attention while informing them of the important details in a release. This first paragraph can often be thought of as an ‘executive summary’ to a press release because it will be skimmed by readers trying to see if reading the whole release is worth their time. Again, do not make this sensational in an attempt to keep people interested. Sticking to the important information will work just fine. Many people find that, when trying to write this paragraph, it is best to skip it at first, write the rest of the press release, and then write the opening paragraph, highlighting only the most important, newsworthy information that is discussed in the body.
The paragraphs that comprise the body are the meat of the press release. There are usually three to five paragraphs in the body that flesh out information so that readers can have a fully nuanced understanding of what the press release is announcing.
There aren’t really any hard and fast rules to abide by for these paragraphs. Simply state what needs to be said in a manner that is both fluid and understandable. It is important that each paragraph builds upon the previous paragraph(s) and that they in their entirety support and fully describe the headline and opening paragraph.
A boilerplate comes next. Of all these listed elements, this is the only one that is preferred, but is totally optional. It’s a short paragraph that provides a little background information about the company or person issuing a press release. That way anyone reading a press release issued by an unfamiliar person or company can have a basic understanding of the person or company’s credentials without having to do additional research. Boilerplates are made to be standardized paragraphs that can be used in many situations, and most large companies position them at the end of every press release. But most small businesses leave them off to help save space. They are preferable to include because they help reporters understand basic background about the press release’s source, and they do help reinforce name and brand recognition. There are no rules stating that you have to have one. However, once you have written one, you can recycle it again and again in future press releases.
Contact information should be the last entry in a press release. The information provided should be for an individual press contact. The press contact should be someone who can speak for the company and who can answer any questions that the press may have. Ideally, contact information should include a name, that person’s title, phone number, email address, and the company’s website. Optionally, a fax number, after hours numbers, and additional contacts can be included as well. The press would rather have only one contact, however, so use multiple ones only if it is necessary and there are clearly defined reasons for each contact. Many individuals still try to write the press contact at the top of the press release.
I use a company called WebWire.com for the majority of my press releases. Which sites can you recommend for this? Are you sending press releases on a regular basis for your online business? What other questions do you have on this topic?