Here are more tips on how to write an effective news release.
Write in meaningful English.
Explain technical terms. Avoid acronyms if possible, unless they are commonly used (e.g., “ATM” for “automated teller machine”). If you must use an acronym, define it first and put the acronym in parenthesis after that, e.g., “World Interoperability for Microwave Access (WiMAX).” From then on just use the acronym.
Also avoid gibberish and jargon, which seem especially prevalent in the technology world. Words like “solution,” “robust,” “synergy” and “next-generation” have lost their meaning. Avoid them if you want a strong release.
A good resource is the Bullfighter software, which you can download free from www.fightthebull.com. The software will analyze your writing and rate it according to its jargon and understandability (or lack thereof).
Write on an appropriate level.
The rule of thumb is to write four years below the education level of your audience. The Wall Street Journal is written on a 12th grade level, even though most of its readers are college graduates.
Years ago, the standard rule was that news releases should be just one page. That is still fitting for feature releases.
However, few hard-news announcements, especially technical ones, are that short anymore. Two- and three-page releases can be successful if the topic warrants it. However, in general, the shorter the better. If you have more information, you can always refer readers to your website.
It helps to have someone else read the news release before distributing it. I’ve seen cases where the product name was misspelled or some other important information was missing or incorrect. Only a fresh perspective saved the day.
Read the release aloud.
You can learn a lot by reading a release aloud. For one thing, if you have to take a breath in a sentence, it should be two sentences. If a word appears too often, it’s time to substitute some other word(s).
For example, consider the sentence: “Peanut Butter Plus, the new peanut-butter machine from Nuts ‘R Us, makes peanut butter from peanuts faster than any competitive machine because of the product’s patented dual-power charger and large canister.”
It’s a good tongue twister but it tries to do too much. In the process, it does not clearly present the news, nor does it identify its target market. A better, more effective headline could read: “New do-it-yourself product makes peanut butter in less than five minutes.”
This example is exaggerated, but the principle is simple. Read your release aloud.
End the release with a boilerplate.
Include a boilerplate, one or two sentences that describe the company and give contact information including the Web site. The boilerplate is the same for every release.
Here’s an example: “PClip Corporation is the world’s largest manufacturer of paper clips. For more information about the Boise, Idaho-based company, visit the Web site at www.PClipCorporation.com, e-mail info@PCClipCorporation.com or call 800-800-0008.”
If possible, include a call to action in the boilerplate. “To get the free e-book, ‘101 Uses for Paper Clips,’ e-mail info@PClipCorporation.com.”
Here are examples of real boilerplates:
“Village Enterprise Fund (VEF) helps break the cycle of poverty in rural East Africa through training, seed capital and mentoring for small, income-generating businesses. Since its start in 1987, the not-for-profit 501(c)3 organization has helped improve the lives of hundreds of thousands of people in sub-Saharan Africa. For more information about the San Carlos, CA-based organization, visit the website at www.VillageEnterpriseFund.org, e-mail info@VillageEnterpriseFund.org or call 1-800-785-1775.”
“CableWholesale provides cost-effective, quality products with superior service and quick delivery for the corporate, government, education, and consumer markets. The privately held, woman-owned company is headquartered in Livermore, California. For more information, visit www.CableWholesale.com, e-mail info@CableWholesale.com or call 888-212-8295.”
Use a style guide.
To look professional, follow the guidelines in a style guide such as The Associated Press Stylebook or The New York Times Manual of Style and Usage.
These books, which are available at virtually any bookstore, provide guidance for word choice, punctuation and the like. If stylebooks are new to you, read a page or two a day to familiarize yourself with their directives.
Check your release at HubSpot’s Press Release Grader.
To get some automated feedback, submit your draft to www.PressReleaseGrader.com. The website evaluates your news release and provides a “marketing effectiveness” score. This score is based upon basic PR factors (e.g., language and content) and advanced online factors (e.g., links and search engine optimization characteristics).
Press Release Grader will not tell you that your release is good, but it can help you improve it. And the service is free.
So there they are, lots of tips on how to write a great news release. I’ll discuss how to make your release “search engine friendly” in a later post.
In the meantime, let me know if you agree with my tips, or if you think I’ve forgotten something. www.CommunicationsPlus.net.
Susan Monroe says
Another good job, Kay.
I think that if all students in an academic PR program read your posts, they could probably cut class. Of course, these posts are a great refresher for anyone who writes press releases only occasionally and needs a fast review of the principles.