PR pros are well aware that reporters, our target audience, sometimes don’t read the press releases that arrive in their inboxes. On the other hand, every day some press releases are read and used for news stories.
What can you do to increase the likelihood that your release will grab a reporter’s attention? In brief, don’t give the reporter reasons not to read it.
Here are 11 things to double-check before sending your next release to a reporter:
1. Spelling matters. You’d be surprised at the number of releases that end up in the garbage because the reporter saw a typo and simply tuned out. Proofing involves more than just running the spellchecker (it doesn’t catch everything). You should read and reread your release or pitch, and even ask a co-worker to read it if possible.
2. Don’t bury the lead. The first paragraph of a release should focus on the announcement you’re making Say your release is about a new product you’re launching. You don’t want to start the release with a bunch of mumbo jumbo that doesn’t mention the product. Make sure you include the who, what, when, where, why and how in the first paragraph or two. Then include supporting details down lower in the release.
3. Follow inverted pyramid style. To reinforce the point above, the release should be written in an “inverted pyramid” style. That is, put the information in the order of most important to least important. There’s research to support the idea that reporters spend less than a minute reading each press release, so you want to catch their attention early. Then, they can continue reading if they’re intrigued. Miss the opportunity to engage them in that first paragraph or two, and they may not read any further.
4. Don’t forget the quote. Quotes help bring a release to life. Include one, maybe two at most, in the release. Don’t get “quote happy” and add too many. A good rule of thumb is to include one quote from your CEO and one from a customer or partner. Third-party quotes are great to include because it’s not just you talking about how great you are. Remember: When you write quotes, it’s always a good idea to make them sound like something a person might actually say. Read them out loud to see if they pass the “human” test. If it sounds too robotic, chances are it isn’t adding anything to the release.
5. Sweat the details. How many times have you seen announcements about events and notice that the date, time and location are missing? This is a big no-no. If you’re writing about an event, include the details in the first paragraph, so that anyone reading it will immediately see it. When it comes to events, these are the first pieces of information people want to know (whether it’s a reporter or just the general public reading your press release). And it’s a good idea to double- or triple-check the numbers on dates, phone numbers, addresses, etc. One error can cause confusion.
6. Include data. Reporters love data. If you have some of your own to include, great. If not, do a Google search to find some related research you can cite. Do be sure to cite any research you include. If you don’t, reporters may wonder where the data came from. Don’t make them go searching for it.
7. Be careful with buzzwords. Words like “groundbreaking” or “revolutionary” should be used sparingly in releases. And never say you’re the “leading provider” or the “first to market” unless it’s really true.
8. Keep it brief. Releases much longer than 400-600 words may automatically be deleted based on length alone. Keep it short to grab the reporter’s attention and if they want more info, hopefully they can click on a link within the release or in your cover email to find out more.
9. Check your links. Yes, it sounds simple, but again, if you don’t do this and, heaven forbid, a reporter clicks on a link that doesn’t work, you’ll have lost the one opportunity you may have had to capture this reporter’s attention.
10. Include your contact information. Yes, it’s true that some press releases leave this out. Or worse, they include contact information with an email address that no one ever checks. Include a phone number and an email that is being actively monitored so that if a reporter does contact you, you can get right back to her or him.
11. Don’t forget the boilerplate. The boilerplate is a paragraph at the end of the press release to describe your company. It should be consistent and at the end of every release you issue. Some folks don’t know what it is. I was once giving a talk when someone asked a question referring back to the boilerplate but called it a “boilmaker.” That’s a different thing altogether. Perhaps you could add one after you create your boilerplate.
Will using these tips ensure every one of your releases is read? Probably not, but at least they’ll stand a better chance of breaking through the noise.
Michelle Garrett is a PR consultant and writer at Garrett Public Relations. Follow her on Twitter @PRisUs or connect with her on LinkedIn.