Editor's Note: This post from 5/24/17 was updated on 6/5/18.
In her collection Mystery and Manner, essayist and short story writer Flannery O’Connor 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 newsbyte or factoid. It’s a release for the press — and, even more importantly, it’s your story.
It turns out that how you tell your story can matter almost as much as the story itself.
Take, for example, the case of Joe, who wanted to sell his ’95 Pontiac Grand Am GT. He settled on posting it on Craigslist, as many people do. Only Joe didn’t just post a typical, black-and-white ad online and then sit by the phone, hoping that somehow his post would stand out from the thousands of other car ads on Craiglist. No, he took a bolder approach. Check out his ad below:
Joe got tons of offers on the car. Of course he did — blown head gasket and all. His approach worked because Joe didn’t just toss a bit of news out there into the world and then cross his fingers, he turned his news into a story. And, on top of this, he told the story well.
So let’s talk about the five steps you should follow in order to tell your story well.
1. Love Your Headline
Let’s start right at the beginning: You have to love your headline.
According to a Columbia University study, 59 percent of links shared on social media have never actually been clicked. This means that most people share and retweet news based on the headline alone, without even reading the article.
This can be a scary fact – but, scary or not, this is where we need to meet our readers.
Think of your headline like a piece of flash fiction. Your headline should, for all intents and purposes, tell its own story. Since 59 percent of readers may not even make it past your headline, you need to put the most important information from your release right there at the top.
Yes, your press release is a story, but it’s not a mystery novel. You’re not building up towards a climax or a big twist right at the end. Instead, the climax of your press release should be the first thing readers see.
Want to fall in love with your headline? Try asking yourself these two questions:
- What’s the single most important piece of the entire story?
- How can I express that in 80-100 characters?
And really — that second question is important. If it takes you more than 100 or so characters to draw out the most important piece of your story, then you haven’t distilled it enough.
2. Write Like a Reader
If you want to know what you should write in a press release, your first clue is to try to empathize with your readers a bit. Don’t just ask yourself what you want to write — you need to ask what you’d want to read.
If this were someone else’s story to tell, how would you want them to tell it to you? Would you want it to be concise, colorful, informative, entertaining?
Of course, you would, which means that’s what your potential readers want, too. Think about it:
- Would you click on the headline? If not, then neither will readers.
- Would you keep reading past the first paragraph? If not, it’s time to rewrite it.
- Do the quotes you’re using make sense, fit the mood, command primacy? If not, ask your executives (or your clients, as the case may be) for new ones.
Think of it like giving a gift: you don’t give your spouse what you want them to have, right? Of course not! – you give them what they want to have.
3. Throw in Some Color
Of course, all of those things are just the words of the release. Don’t forget that we, as humans, are attracted to color and vibrancy. In fact, our research shows that press releases with photos average 1.4 times more views than text-only releases. Further, releases with videos average 2.8 times more views than text-only ones.
Since your press release is a story, think of it like an illustrated book. (Really: who doesn’t love Dr. Seuss?)
And what if you don’t have a photo or video that fits the story? Don’t worry, your story is still worth telling. Simply try some other visual tricks:
- Use section headers to break up the text.
- Remember that bullet points are easier on the eyes than big paragraphs.
- Throw in some bolding or italics to emphasize the really important, interesting parts.
It’s not cheating to use photos or videos or other visual elements to help tell your story. It worked for Dr. Seuss and for Joe’s Pontiac Grand Am, and it’ll work for you. Well-placed imagery should be considered an essential part of your press release/story, not just the icing on the cake.
4. Get The Details Right
Perhaps all of this sounds like it could almost be a little fun, right? “Start with the climax!” we say. “Wear someone else’s shoes!” “Eat cake!”
Don’t you already feel more excited about writing your story? Well then … let’s not forget the not-so-fun part of the process, either.
You’ve got to get the little details right, too. Sure, your release can be vibrant, but it needs to be accurate and spelled correctly, too.
I know, I know, that part isn’t as fun, but u dont wanna loose ur readerz just cuz u 4got how wrds wrk lol.
- Spelling is important — it gives you credibility.
- Grammar is essential — it makes you understandable.
- AP style exists for a reason — it makes sure that your release fits where it needs to fit.
Yes, you can get your readers to appreciate – and maybe even enjoy – your news, but it’s vital that they trust it, too. They need to know that it’s coming from an authoritative source.
We might even say that these things are the nuts and bolts of the press release. Maybe they’re not as fun or hip as the pizazz we’ve been discussing, but they’re the things that show your readers how trustworthy and worthwhile you are.
5. Don't Really End it
We’ve already discussed that your press release isn’t a mystery novel with a big surprise at the end. In fact, you don’t even need a fancy ending at all. Your readers don’t need to see your CEO live happily ever after, and they don’t need to be promised that they’ll lived happily ever after, either.
In fact, you don’t want to wrap up your press release too much.
Yes, really. You want to leave your readers wanting more, don’t you? You want them to visit your website, reach out to you with questions, request a demo of your products or services. Your press release should whet your readers’ appetites, not load them up like Grandma’s Thanksgiving dinner.
If you keep your story simple, colorful, and accurate, you’re practically signing people up to invest in the “sequel” (i.e. reach out to you and become a user of your service), which is the whole point of putting your release out there in the first place.
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