by Phil Britt
This is the first of four posts on how to write a press release. Each post will focus on a different aspect of press release writing.
Perhaps the most important element of a press release is the purpose.
Is it to elicit a call from an editor? Is it hoped to run as is in a print publication or on a Web site? Is it meant to draw attention to a product, research or a person? Or does it have another purpose?
The next consideration is the audience. Remember that the primary audience of the press release is your client. If he or she is unhappy with it, even if you know it is well written for its purpose, you will need to rewrite it. Unfortunately, some or most corporate clients don’t know what types and style of press releases will and won’t see the light of day.
You can advise the client on the types and writing style that should be used, but the bottom line is that the customer has the final say. This presents a little bit of a Catch 22 situation, because if the client insists on a lot of superfluous information, or press releases that provide no meaningful information, they’re unlikely to be noticed. Yet your work will be evaluated in large part by the client mentions in the press. So you have to win enough battles with the client to win the war with the press.
Typically, the secondary audience is the editor. Remember that he or she sees hundreds of these a day. What makes your release stand out from the others? Is the press release going to several editors of several different types of publications or to editors of publications with more targeted audiences? The tone for a targeted press release might include more technical information, while a general press release would be wasting time and space with such detail.
You may have another audience if writing the release for a public relations or marketing firm. Though the PR/marketing firm is your client, you need to satisfy their client as well. The good part about this type of client is that the PR firm will handle any issues regarding the types of releases that should be written. The firm will typically set the tone and style of releases with the client before bringing in a freelance writer. But you will have to satisfy this customer as well as the firm’s end customer as well as any press in an effective press release.
What are your thoughts?
Phil Britt is a 30-year writing veteran and has operated his own firm, S&P Enterprises, Inc.,([email protected]) for the last 17 years, with articles appearing in many national publications, primarily in financial services and technology. He has worked with companies and PR firms from around the country, some as a journalist, and others as a subcontractor (never working on the same item “from both sides of the desk.”).
Lucy Smith says
“if the client insists on a lot of superfluous information, or press releases that provide no meaningful information, they’re unlikely to be noticed.”
– I remember this from when I used to work in PR for a university. You’d get people wanting press releases for all kinds of minor things, to be sent out to the country’s major newspapers, when in reality they’d be lucky to make it into a community rag, then wonder why they didn’t make it to the front page. Especially when it HAD to go out on Friday afternoon! We’d usually just send an advisory, like a watered down press release, to individual beat reporters, rather than editors.
The best part was when papers would run your press release verbatim…with their reporter’s byline at the top :-s (Then we’d get charged copyright for the clippings we got from media agencies!)
Interesting question: how do you all deal with a client who has an overinflated sense of their newsworthiness?
That’s a question that PR firms have to deal with all the time. The best advice is to educate the client about the need for ongoing releases, but ones that will catch the attention of an editor. Even the best releases may not get picked up because of the news of the day. I was working on deadline the day the Challenger blew up. A local bank had done much more than a release; it had set up a big press conference for a new low-income lending program. Once the shuttle disaster happened, all efforts of the local press (two competing afternoon papers, plus radio) were placed on that — no one went to the press conference.
The situation is even more difficult today because so many pubs have cut back and there’s a lot of “noise” on the Internet. So it’s best to learn what print/Internet sites will pick up and run releases and try to target those as much as you can. Also, follow up press release with a phone call to the targeted pubs. Editors and beat reporters are busy. They can easily miss a release in the crush of daily e-mail.
Elisa Peimer says
I wrote a press release for a client who, when he saw the first draft, said “I know where you’re going with this. Let me make some changes.” He then proceeded to give me a ten page revision that read more like a full length article than a press release. I had to remind him that a)editors won’t have the time to read a ten page press release and b)publications don’t have room to run a ten page press release. The trick is to come up with something short and interesting to inspire the editor to want to get a full story – and to convince your client that that’s the right strategy.
– Elisa Peimer
Absolutely right. And, as I mentioned, I’ve been the journalist “gatekeeper” on those releases. I’m always stressing that anything over two pages is largely wasted. Placing a full article is a whole different animal than issuing a press release.