7 Steps to Writing the Bullet-Proof Press Release

Press releases are so easy to write that everyone's writing them. That's just the problem. Reporters are inundated with press releases. Some good. Some bad. Some they post by the copy machine so everyone in the newsroom can have a good laugh. With the current trend towards electronic submission of press releases, this problem has been compounded. In self-defense, reporters have begun to brandish a lethal weapon: the delete option of their e-mail programs.

To make sure your press release escapes the round file (electronic or otherwise) and gets the coverage it describes, follow these Seven Steps to a Bulletproof Press Release.

Step 1: Send it to the right reporter.
If you have just invented a way to power your car with chicken soup, do not send a press release announcing this to the local newspaper's financial reporter, a trade publication specializing in garden products, or the Fisherman's Gazette. They will not read it, will not print it and will not like you for it. Identify the publications, reporters and editors who cover your topic and send your press release to them. This can easily be accomplished by using a media directory such as Media Finder (mediafinder.com) or Finder Binder (finderbinder.com).

Step 2: Send it how they want to receive it.
Find out your target reports' preferences: do they prefer to receive press releases by e-mail? Fax? Snail mail? Carrier pigeon? If you submit your press release through a vehicle that they like, you have one less hurdle to clear in getting them to read it. Reporter preferences may be listed in a media directory; If not, ask.

Step 3: Make it newsworthy.
A press release announcing a new hire is often newsworthy (dull, but newsworthy), unless you've hired a temporary stock person for the holiday season who will not even be around when their hire is announced. Make sure your press releases contain real news that will be of interest to at least some of the publication's readership.

Step 4: Avoid hype.
Words like "revolutionary," "best" and "leading-edge" should be avoided, or at minimum backed up by facts and figures or used in quotes from non-biased reviewers. Otherwise, leave them for the infomercial magnates. Chances are, they'd be edited out anyway. No self-respecting reporter would include them in copy to an editor. If you're not sure how to avoid hype, try writing as if your closest competitor was writing it on assignment for the publication. It will probably come out grudgingly factual: just perfect for the news media.

Step 5: Avoid non-meaning words and phrases and industry jargon.
You know these non-meaning phrases; You see them often in high tech press releases. Phrases like, "cross-platform functionality," "utilization procedures" and "user-facilitated interface." These terms will only confuse the reader. The reporter will have to either take the trouble to decipher this babblespeak, call you for a translation, or-the delete option is just a click away.

Step 6: Use standard journalistic style.
Use the inverted pyramid style. This is the practice journalists have of putting the most important information first, followed by information of decreasing importance (but still germane to the release). The lead should contain as many of the 5 Ws and H (Who, What, Why, Where, When, How) as possible without creating one big run-on sentence.

Step 7: Be brief.
I once edited a press release for an aspiring public relations writer. It started as two pages. I edited it to one half-page and it still contained the same information. As I handed the writer the revised press release, I worried about her reaction to being so severely edited. I was trying to think of a way to spare her feelings when she asked, "But is not it too short now?"

There's no such thing as "too short" in a press release. If you've said what needs to be said, stop writing.

So I will.