Writing Press Releases that Don’t Sound Like Advertisements

Today’s communications strategies hinge upon content, and the press release release is an important part of that content mix. However, to be successful, a content marketing strategy needs to serve the needs of the audience first. Traditionally, press releases have been geared toward telling an organization’s story. Can press releases be made to fit into the content marketing paradigm?

According to the members of the Public Relations Professionals on LinkedIn, the answer is a qualified “Yes,” depending upon how the press release is written. Tips sourced from the conversation include:

  • Plan for and encourage online visibility by using multimedia in press releases – a tactic that we know generates more views and wider sharing of messages.
  • Make the obligatory quote in the second paragraph really work. Instead of a canned quote in which the quoted exec notes how excited he or she is about whatever is being announced, use this space to address – and answer – key marketplace questions, or to clearly describe what is special about today’s news.
  • Instead of a press release, write the news story. Eliminate jargon and hyperbole, focus the message and substantiate the claims just as you would if you were submitting the final work to a ruthless news editor. Paying attention to the readability of the message is important and will produce a better final product.

To these tips I’d also add the imperative to write from the audience’s perspective – which (I will concede) is a little counter-intuitive when it comes to press releases. Here are some ways you to bring this important point of view into your writing:

  • Develop an ongoing understanding of what your customers and prospects are talking about online. Use frequently asked questions and unresolved marketplace issues to frame your communications, including press releases. Make the answer to a key question the focus of the announcement, not the fact that XYZ Co. is Today Announcing Something.
  • Highlight actual people – customers, production staff, design engineers – in your writing. Involving a variety of people will surface more stories and angles, and help you create content that resonates with your readers.
  • Speak in the language of your marketplace, not your marketing department. Present information and quantify data using metrics that are actually meaningful to the people you’re hoping to influence. You’ll need to do a little market research, but there’s no better way to give your content a boost than to ensure that it’s contextually relevant to your audience.

As you plan your next press release, try to incorporate a couple of these tactics. Pay attention to the results your press release generates – and look beyond simple page views as you do so. If you dig a little deeper into the results from your press releases, looking at the number of times the content was shared in social networks, and the number of people who clicked links embedded within the release, you’ll start to understand what sort of messages actually inspire your readers to action. That’s intel you can use to fine tune future press releases and improve their results.

Sarah Skerik is PR Newswire’s vice president of social media, and is the author of the free ebook Unlocking Social Media for PR, which we’ve updated for 2012.

Image courtesy of Flickr user barto.

7 responses to “Writing Press Releases that Don’t Sound Like Advertisements

  1. Sarah:
    Thanks so much for this information. One would think that the items you mentioned would come natural to public relations specialists or companies, but they do not. Press releases are not ads, and unfortunately, many professionals write them like they are.

    Before writing a press release I *always* put myself in the readers’ shoes and ask the questions: “Would they (the audience) be interested in this information?” and if so, “why?” If I cannot answer those 2 questions with a good enough answer, I start all over again. It takes practice, but if you stay up on trends, put yourself in the audience’s shoes and ask those 2 vital questions, you can actually write a release that is compelling and of interest to editors, journalists, bloggers and of course the readers.

    Thanks again and happy holidays to you!
    Cheers,
    Diane R. Castro, CEO of Young at Heart Communications, LLC, a boutique social media marketing and public relations agency.

  2. If the purpose of a press release (something newsworthy), and the structure of the release is followed, it’s easier to prevent it from sounding like an ad. I think people would be better off studying press releases which have already been accepted before submitting theirs.

    What’s strange is how sometimes otherwise eloquent people can get thrown off by not knowing how to write a PR and not sound like an ad. I guess it’s an art as much as anything else. Very good tips in your post – esp. speaking the language of your marketplace vs marketing team.

  3. This post is so informative and interesting to go through it. With all the information displayed, I have acquired a lot considering my career as a content marketer e,g the need to serve the needs of the audience first. Thanks for the such an awesome post.

  4. And I shouldn’t need to say this – don’t forget the basics. I can’t tell you how many releases I see that are heavy on hype and zero on facts. If you want to know more, you can read about it, here: “Public Relations: Three Mediabistro PR Lectures; One Low Price” (at http://amzn.to/uED4bW ). But, really, it’s as simple as just saving the hype for the advertisements and making sure the releases focus on the 5 W’s and the H. It’s all journalists really want.

  5. In today’s society, it seems as if everything is related, in some way, to advertising. While the tips mentioned in the blog post are all essential for a successful press release, it is also important to note the significance of brevity. Audiences are inundated with content and have diminishing attention spans. For a successful press release without an advertising feel, including main points clearly and upfront enables readers to decipher the story without getting caught in fluff.

    I found this article, written by PR Daily, to be informative and include additional tips that lead to a successful pitch:

    http://www.prdaily.com/Main/Articles/10531.aspx

    Successful PR needs to engage audiences, whether that be a journalist or the general public. With the proliferation of social media, scripting a successful press release can be the break the client needs to take business to the next level.

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