Essayist and short story writer Flannery O’Connor once said: “A story is a way to say something that can’t be said any other way, and it takes every word in the story to say what the meaning is.”
The same can be said for a press release. A press release isn’t a tweet, a newsbite or factoid. It’s a press release. And it’s your story. Here is how you can tell it:
Love Your Headline
According to a Columbia University study, 59 percent of links shared on social media have never actually been clicked. That means that most people seem to share and retweet news based on the headline alone. How can we reconcile this with our intention to treat our release like a story? Simple. The headline is flash fiction. Your headline should tell its own story. Not only that, it should function as both a thesis statement for the content to come and be a concise summation of that content itself. Of course this all has to happen within 80-100 characters or so lest the search engines deem it unworthy.
Sound difficult? It is. Sometimes by sheer providence, the perfect headline will readily come to mind and fit all the criteria you need. Many other times, however, it’s going to be work. Hard work. There are times when crafting the perfect headline may take as much time as writing the release, itself.
The amount of time and effort it takes to form the perfect headline means that for a headline to succeed you must truly love it. The rush of endorphins and relief you experience when completing the perfect headline should last you hours, if not days. You should walk around with a glow as though you’ve pulled off the impossible because you have. Love your headline. Take ownership of your headline. Tell random passerbys that today you wrote a headline that you’re proud of. Maybe they’ll be in the communications industry as well and give you a congratulatory handshake.
Write like a reader
How do you know what to write in a press release? Well, what would you like to read in a press release? Something concise, presumably. And as colorful and entertaining as the format and information allows. So in writing the release and crafting your story, do it as if you were a reader. Granted, the information you’re communicating commands primacy. That information can still be communicated in the way you want.
Don’t think you’d read past the first paragraph if you were a reader? Update the first paragraph. Not a fan of the quotes you’ve received? Ask for new ones. Don’t feel like reading at all? Well you’re not alone. And that’s where multimedia comes in. When we say, “write like a reader” we do so with the knowledge that there is almost nothing a reader likes more than not reading.
Research indicates that press releases with photos average 1.4 times more views than text-only press releases and press releases with videos average 2.8 times more views than text-only press releases. Using a photo to help tell your story isn’t cheating. Well-placed multimedia assets should be considered part of your press release and part of your story.
Get the “boring” stuff right
I know I just spent several hundred words telling you to follow your bliss but here’s the killjoy part: you’ve got to get the “boring” stuff right. What do I mean by boring stuff? Well, how do you feel about Oxford commas? What about capitalizing titles? The fact of the matter here is that it doesn’t matter how you feel about either of those topics. You just need to know what the AP Style Guide position on them.
Learn AP Style. Readers may appreciate the press release that you’ve lovingly crafted as your story but readers also need to trust that its coming from an authoritative source. To achieve the proper authoritative voice, your press release must read like a press release. To learn some of these best practices for structure and craft, check out How Your News Release Can Help the Media Do Their Job.
Use keywords in the headline and first paragraph. Limit yourself to three links per press release. Include a company boilerplate. These are the nuts and bolts that will make your press release a press release.
Your press release doesn’t need to have a “denouement” or carefully crafted ending. The story you’re telling is ultimately about important information and when that information has been carefully, concisely and correctly imparted, your release is over. This isn’t a release, however, so here’s your ending.
In the hyperactive, ever-changing media environment we all share: press releases have still have their place. Learn their language so that you and your brand can best communicate your story.