The basics of writing a strong press release

Why an upside-down triangle is crucial to a successful pitch.

Want to write a better press release? Go to journalism school.

If that’s not an option, brush up on the basics of news writing, such as the five Ws (and one H) and the inverted pyramid style. As the journo-nerds who read this blog have already figured out, my corny reference to the “upside-down triangle” is a nod to the latter—the fading art of writing in inverted pyramid style, particularly when it comes to composing press releases. If you want to get more attention for your press releases, start incorporating the inverted pyramid concept into your writing.

Inverted pyramid? What the heck do you mean?

If you studied journalism in college (or are reading this post on your laptop during your Journalism 101 class), you already know what I mean. For the benefit of those of you that didn’t go to J-school, the inverted pyramid is a traditional news reporting style designed to communicate the most important and relevant information at the beginning of the news story and information of diminished importance as the story progresses.

In the days when most news had to be communicated in a set number of column inches or read in a particular number of seconds, it was important to have all the most relevant information up front, so only less-important information would be left out when the story was cut by editors. In case you missed the metaphor, an upside-down pyramid has more up top than at the bottom.

The inverted pyramid is more important than ever

In the blogosphere and other digital outlets, there are few limitations to the amount of information you can share. If I wanted to make this blog post 5,000 words, I could. With the exception of Twitter, there are few limitations. With more space available, writers tend to bounce around from point to point. The most-important information could be in the middle or end of a post. Don’t do that.

With only a few seconds to capture the attention of your audience, you really need to hit them with the most relevant information upfront. When you’re outlining your press release content, outline from “most important” to “least important’ points you want to cover and write it from there.

Most formal instruction on writing in the inverted pyramid style advises you to break the pyramid into three parts:

  • Part one: The opening paragraph (lead or lede), where you answer the questions who, what, why, when, where and how. This is the information that has to be in there for you to get your message across—the must-have information.
  • Part two: Additional information that is helpful, but not necessary. This can be information that adds color or supporting information.
  • Part three: The least-important information. This is the “nice to have,” not the “need to have” stuff.

That’s really it. It’s a simple but powerful concept. The more you start to adapt the inverted pyramid into your communications—particularly press releases—the more likely you are to generate interest and deliver your message. This also makes it easy for you to keep your press release short.

Bonus tip: Shoot for 400 words or fewer on your press release. By writing shorter press releases, you’ll improve your chances of getting the release read, and you’ll save on wire distribution charges. (Most services charge extra over 400 words.)

Jeremy Porter is a veteran public relations professional with more than 10 years of experience developing and managing strategic public relations programs for clients. He is the founder of Journalistics.com.

Topics: PR

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