Freelance writers, by necessity, learn many types of writing. Writing an effective press release is something non-profits never seem to have the staff to do, and authors and other entrepreneurs need to learn. Writing effective press releases gets my foot in the door with marketing managers, and often leads to more work.
An effective press release is one that’s picked up by the media outlets you send it to. Simple. Right?
Here are some thoughts based on my experience writing press releases as a contractor with non-profits such as Teen Challenge and World Vision.
Keep It Simple
Reporters and editors are busy people. While they’re always interested in what’s going on in their community, you have a better chance of coverage if you make their job easier. When I’m writing a press release, I include all the details I would need if I was to write about the event myself: the who, what, when and where, and Why readers should care. Have an angle, remember you’re ‘selling’ the event essentially. I never make my press releases more than one page and I use short paragraphs. More often than not, I will find my press release in the paper shortened, or expanded upon in places, tailored to the editor’s preferences. They often don’t bother to write something new, they just cut and paste what I’ve sent. Write as though you expect them to copy your words.
Always write an engaging title that could double as a headline for an article. It must grab interest and tell the reader right away what the article is about. Editors and reporters could change that title, but I’ve found often they just use the one I provide.
Always place the date at the beginning of the first paragraph.
In one or two sentences I try to capture the important physical details of the event (venue, city, time, etc.). Newspapers write in the inverted pyramid style (that’s another blog post). You need to include the most pertinent details right up front. What is the event about (this will tie into the title), where will the event be held and the date at the very least. The following one or two sentences are the ‘hook’ for the article. The person I am trying to hook is not the person who will read the article, but the editor or reporter whose desk this press release lands on.
I break the body up into three sections generally. If there are persons of interest who are going to be the draw for the event, I will include a short bio (by short I mean one sentence, maybe two if I can list published books or other noteworthy achievements that lend credibility). If there is more than one ‘headliner’ so to speak, I’ll include a bio for each of them. I might slip in a one or two sentence paragraph about what an audience will gain by attending the event. (Be sure to mention your target audience if there is one: children, women, men, couples, etc.)
The next paragraph expands on the event details: time, location, ticket information, etc. I do a separate press release for every stop in a tour or event lineup, instead of a general press release for the whole tour and listing each event at the bottom. As a contractor paid to deliver results, I find this method more effective than writing one general press release. If the tour will be making ten or fifteen stops, or has a name for the tour, I will include that information, but I won’t list the other stops. If the writer or editor wants to know where else the tour is going, they can check out the website for more details (they’re going to do that anyway to make sure everything is legit). Usually, they’re only interested in knowing the details for their own city or town. General press releases are more effective with national publications and media rooms on websites.
The final paragraph in the body will be a few comments or joe-public endorsements. “This was the most fantastic speaker/message I’ve ever heard in my life…” Don’t lie. You need honest comments from people so that it doesn’t sound canned (written by a writer). I’ve had editors use those comments, but I include them to give credibility to the event more than for any other reason.
The final paragraph in the press release will include any further pertinent information such as websites, blogs, facebook pages, etc.
Under this title, I will list the media contact person for the event. This has never been me as the contract writer. I include a name, title, phone number and extension if there is one, and an email address for the media contact. This way the reporter or editor knows who to contact if they want an interview, photos, or more information.
Finally, at the end of the press release, place -END- centred at the bottom. This lets the person reading the press release know they’ve gotten the whole press release. There are other ways that have historically been used to end a press release harking back to early writer’s union disputes and such–but I won’t go into that here.
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