It’s all gone online.
Talk to just about any journalist these days and you’re bound to hear this refrain, or a version of it. In a time when digital – or, in other words, online content marketing – reigns supreme, we PR professionals need to change our game plan for effective and relevant communication with media. But there are also some seemingly quaint ways of communicating that still do the trick – like, for example, press releases.
No matter how the world around us changes, the press release still acts as an essential means for PR pros to convey key messages or tell intriguing stories to their target media; for journalists, meanwhile, a handy and instantly accessible tool like a press release provides necessary information for their articles. Therefore, a well-written press release can be beneficial to both sides – and of course, while the criteria of writing a winning piece changes across time and context, there are always some golden rules to make your press release stand out from the crowd:
Just like any other piece of content, a clear purpose or a specific angle has to be set before you start to write. Is it for a new product launch, a new initiative or a ground-breaking concept? Are you using your release as a tool for brand building and awareness? Are you announcing a new appointment within a company? Each of these themes appearing in the same press release is a fast-track to confusing your audience, especially when journalists are busy people who would prefer to-the-point information.
Imagine every press release you issue tells one chapter in the story of your brand. To make the chapter appealing, you need to identify a strong and meaningful hook. Putting yourself in someone else’s shoes can help locate this (often intangible) idea – as a PR pro, thinking like a journalist is somewhat mandatory. These days, maybe it’s also time to start thinking like an influencer, since press releases also form part of the storytelling toolkit of many KOLs. Knowing what your audience wants – sometimes before they even know it themselves – is key.
Now that you have your hook, you need to ensure that the information your audience requires is easy to locate. The inverted pyramid model is a handy reference to use here: the most important information, i.e. the Five Ws (what, when, why, who and where) always come first, followed by secondary details such as quotes and additional brand information like a boilerplate. Always make use of tables and charts to present event details or complicated figures, as the last thing a PR pro – or their client – wants is to have key media publishing inaccurate information in their stories on account of misunderstanding the information you’ve provided.
The above points cover the basics of press release writing. Yet in this ever-changing world, there are some more areas to consider for a smashing press release:
The prevalence of social media has broadened the potential reach of press releases. No longer are they exclusively accessible to media, but press releases nowadays have become direct communications tools for the public, and can be found and downloaded from a variety of sources. More importantly, press releases can also be regarded as a key SEO tool, to help target groups such as customers and investors who want to learn more about a brand. Hence, by adopting a mindset of writing a SEO-friendly press release – say, by using specific keywords related to the brand – one can optimise the accessibility of the press release to make it more searchable in search engines. It doesn’t hurt to put your brand hashtags up the top of a press release for tracking and to encourage sharing.
In a time when global exchange of information is part of our everyday lives, the awareness of any cultural differences can become a factor in success (or lack thereof). We see so many stories these days of PR failures brought about by cultural insensitivity or even worse, cultural appropriation. A press release, as one of the primary ways in which PR pros reach their target audience, has to be culturally informed, especially if it’s being translated into different languages for different markets. A good writer ought to know that even one subtle change on word choice has the potential to carry totally different implications to an audience from a different culture.
Even in our age of automation, there’s no shortcut to writing a killer press release. But it still pays to bear in mind one crucial thing: always get your facts right!