3 (More!) Tricks For Writing Knife-sharp Press Releases
Happy Monday all! I'm in a writing-theory mood today, so I thought it might be a good time to give some more advice on writing effective, interest-seizing press releases. It's a topic that interests me a bunch, partly because I'm a big nerd and love talking about the structure of words and sentences, but also because I get about 10-billion awful press releases emailed to me a day, so I figure a little writing instruction could go a ways to easing my own electronic suffering. I've written a bit about press-release craft before, in two other posts from a few months back, which I'll link for you all handy-dandy here and here. Otherwise, not much else to say I suppose, let's just get right to it!
1. Numbers are Good
When you can, add numbers to your press releases. They make facts stick, and immediately create context for readers to understand the scale of your accomplishment. Here are two examples to show you what I'm talking about:
(No Numbers) Harold's Pen Extravaganza Hires Some New Staff
(With Numbers) Harold's Pen Extravaganza Hires 5 New Employees
See how the second option is immediately seems like a better accomplishment compared to the first? The scale is clearer ("Five new people? That's kind of a lot!") and the effect on the reader is better. ("They must be doing really well to be able to hire so many people!")
You can, and should, apply this "numbers trick" whenever possible. Are you announcing new products, or 250 new products? Did you have a record third quarter, or did you exceed your old record by $6 million? Did you recently win an industry award, or did you win it for the tenth year in a row?
Don't force yourself to use numbers if you don't have favorable ones (hiring one new person, ranked #199 out of 200 companies), but if you can swing their inclusion, it can be a great, easy way to strengthen your writing. Including them in your headline is usually good, but don't forget you can add them to the body of your writing as well. Really anyplace you're trying to emphasize a point or an accomplishment is a good place to add some impressive digits.
2. Your "Fluff Quotes" Need Substance. Badly.
"Fluff quotes," those silly little blurbs from a company's CEO that usually live at the bottom-middle of press releases, are often a painfully missed opportunity. It's not that they're unnecessary, it's that they always seem to say exactly nothing.
"This new technology platform is going to be the best technology platform because I say so." "I'm thrilled we hired Steve Blorp because he's going to bring that personal Blorp touch to our company." "Our new products are great because they're new and great and also, did I mention, new and great?"
Every line of your press release should add some value to the reader. Quotes from your CEO can add some nice weight and shine to your release, but if they don't say anything of meaning, they'll just come off as hollow-sounding fluff. And since fluff is only good for sleeping on, you want to rip every single atom of it out of your writing. Choose hard, shiny quotes that will stick out and add something, either to the message of your release or to the marketing of your company as a whole. Some examples:
Example 1: "Our new technology platform cuts our users' order-time down by 75%," said Alexander Awesome, CEO of Awesome Co. "It gives us by far the fastest storefront in the promotional products industry, as an absolute fact. I know because I've personally tried and timed the speed of each of our competitors' sites, with a stopwatch in hand," he said. "It was boring, tedious, and I bought a lot of second-rate products I don't want, but at least now I can definitely back up what our web engineers have been saying for months: We have, without question, the fastest website in the industry."
Why it has value: Includes numbers (see first point), shows the CEO's dedication to truth and his business overall, shows a (slight) sense of humor and personality.
Example 2: "I'm so excited for Slappy Dan to be joining our company," said Maria Beatdown, president and owner of Promo Brawlers Inc. "We have kickers and punchers, even a few biters here at Promo Brawlers, but Dan will be our first slapper. And let me tell you, Dan can really slap," said Beatdown. "Hands-across-face, he's the best palm-swinger I've ever seen. No lie? He actually holds the North American land record for most slaps slung per minute, about 10,080. I think we can agree, that is some matchless, merciless, slapping!"
Why it adds value: Explains a new hire's place within the company, the scale of his skill and value, and that the owner actually cares about and knows her employees.
If you're not the president or owner of your company, you may feel you don't have the relationship with your boss to pull such lengthy and sincere quotes from them. I would recommend two things here: Either don't include any quotes, or better yet, take the time to talk to them briefly about the project/event you're promoting. Just 10 or so minutes, very informally. You can buy a $20 audio recorder off Amazon.com if you like, use a recorder on your smartphone, just take written shorthand notes, do it all through email, whatever. Encourage them to forget about giving you the perfect sound byte (finding that is your job) and just talk. Why the news item matters, how it happened, how they feel about it, how it affects your competitors, etc. You can clean up and polish what they say later, for now you just want to find our what they think or feel about the item you're trying to promote. Whatever you pick though, make sure it matters and actually says something worth reading!
3. Add Secondary Links
Most people have the sense to add their company's websites to their releases, but they often neglect to add links to relevant secondary web material. Does your CEO have a blog? Add a link! Do you have a super-duper Twitter feed where you share all kinds of product photography? Add a link! Is there a relevant news story or study online? Add a link!
You can add links to the footer/bottom of your release if you like, but I would also try and add them to the upper-body of your press release. Something within the text, like this:
"I wasn't too impressed with their barware," said Kyle Richardson, editor and promotional products blogger. "The screenprints were cheap, flaking off with a little scratching from my thumbnail."
Adding secondary links will not only help you market other parts of your company, but also boost your credibility and make you appear a little more technically savvy.
MONDAY MIKE FACT: I managed to see The Dark Knight Rises this weekend. Absolutely worth seeing and an amazing conclusion to the series.