Press releases should have a news angle, so here are a few questions to ask yourself before touching the keyboard:
- Why will the audience care about this story?
- Is this story relevant to my target audience?
Beard notes that it’s “important to remember that a press release is an official statement provided to the media as well as current and potential customers. Therefore, you need to focus on writing about a relevant and newsworthy topic.”
Today, however, press releases should reflect the media’s desire to digest information quickly. That means shorter word counts and content that is “clear and concise,” suggests Beard. “Always give the why in the first sentence. Then, follow closely behind with the who, what, when, and where,” she adds.
In short, everything important you want to communicate should be up front in the first or second sentence, while the rest of the press release provides details.
The expression, “You only get one shot at making a first impression” holds true with press release headlines. A headline is the first bit of information your audience will see, so it needs to grab attention and stand out from the crowd. But to really stand out, a good headline “needs to be catchy as well as informative. Be clear about why your press release is important and relevant to your audience,” suggests Beard.
Here’s several of Beard’s headline writing tips:
- Include numbers: Including numbers in headlines generate higher engagement with your audience. (example: “U.S. Convenience Stores Serve 165 Million Customers Daily”)
- Action Words: “Using verbs in your headline gives a sense of urgency and grabs the attention of readers,” she suggests. (example: “Convenience Retailers Dive Into Summer With Strong Sales”)
- Keep it accurate: “Including numbers and attention-grabbing language only works if the headline accurately describes your press release,” advises Beard. “Writing a misleading headline will ensure readers lose trust and avoid your content in the future.”
When crafting a press release, there are different schools of thought on whether to write the headline first or tackle it after all the content is written. We suggest the latter: “Don’t waste time trying to pick the perfect headline before you’ve even written the release,” says Cathy K. Hayes, principal/director of Crescendo-Public Relations Turned Up. “Write the story first, and then come up with the headline last […] This way you see the story as a whole, and you can better identify the most newsworthy title.”
Like convenience stores, today’s news cycle is 24/7. Shorter is always better, and keep in mind that journalists are looking to fill holes or information that can be quickly incorporated into a developing piece.
Brevity can be your friend, but don’t trim so much meat from your story that journalists must guess what you’re talking about—because they won’t. About 400 words is a good rule of thumb for one-page of copy.
“Get to the point and stay on point throughout the release,” suggests Beard. “You need to provide all the relevant information a journalist needs to write their story, without wasting time repeating yourself.”
Beard also notes an important aspect of your releases: include links to your website where they can find more information. “This will also increase search page rankings for your website when a reader visits a link you included in your press release,” she says but cautions not to overdo it: “Try to keep it to one to three unique links, or one link per 100 words.”
You can see this play out on social media. Reporters may only file one or two stories a day, but on social media—especially Twitter—they are constantly sharing links to news stories relevant to their beat.
This is a question we ask a lot at NACS: “What are we asking our audience to do?” Is it register for an event, join a networking opportunity, contact their member of Congress, read a breaking news story? And if we’re sharing industry news, like the latest industry sales figures, how can retailers use this information to help their business?
“What action do you want the reader to take? A strong call-to-action lets your audience know what they need to do next,” suggests Beard, adding that most readers won’t read the entire press release, so keep your call to action high in the copy.
“Think somewhere between the first and third paragraphs. Don’t make the mistake of throwing a for more information line at the end and think that will get anyone to visit your website or click-to-buy,” she advises.
Quoting a top company official provides a frame of reference for why your news is important. It’s also an excellent way to state an opinion about your news—to put your “spin” on the story, and the more interesting the quote, the more likely it is to be included in a story.
Quotes can also help time-crunched journalists tell your story accurately and confidently. “Most will pull the quote directly from your release to use in their article. You want to make sure to use natural language,” suggests Beard, noting it’s a good practice to read the quotes out loud to ensure it sounds like something a person would say. Also, keep it short and simple.
Multimedia can enhance your story by providing additional information, clarification and a visual reference. Also, quality counts: Professional images and videos with quality sound are more likely to be picked up shared across social media.
Beard suggests the following types of multimedia:
- Videos: Audiences engage the most with videos, so keep them relevant and short (60 seconds to 2 minutes maximum).
- Photos: The go-to multimedia for most press releases, such as product launches, personnel announcements, new store openings and awards.
- Infographics: Visually telling a story with more complex information.
- PDFs: Provide a link to access or download longer-form content, like a whitepaper or eBook, published in a PDF.