The art of the modern press release

There is no such thing as a press release – much like the tooth fairy. Oh sure, you can make one up if you like, but that still doesn’t make it real. Press releases today are brief news articles that are well-researched, should include quotes from three credible sources, written in inverted pyramid style and strictly adhere to AP style — in the best-case scenario, that is. Unfortunately, as a writer for hire I am often at the mercy of my client’s wishes and their “experts” who also give editorial input, so I rarely have an opportunity to write what I consider to be the Perfect Press Release. If I did, it would follow these rules below…

1) Format: Format for a press release includes…

TOP: “FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE” and include contact info for who to contact to schedule interviews or for additional information, fact checking, etc. General contact info included name and phone number and email address and sometimes physical address. The date also is included here.
BODY: Include the location, followed by an em dash. (EG: St. Petersburg, FL–Award winning poet and activist R. MonaLeza…) Keep the body to ont page on a MS Word document. Font size can be from a 12 point to 11 point. Usually Times New Roman or other basic font.This rule is important: paragraphs are never more than three sentences, ever. One sentence paragraphs are more than acceptable.
ATTACHMENTS: Feel free to include a photo (no more than two, but one is preferred, a bio sketch and if applicable, links to recently published news articles on you or the subject you are promoting.

2) Content: Keep the content tight, relevant and topical and be certain that the most important information you want known is in the first sentence or at least the first two sentences. This news article versus press release when you write.

TRENDS: Research trending topics in new sources that are hot right now. Find a way to tie your press release to these trending topics (think key phrases more than words).
STYLE: Write in AP (Associated Press) style – not APA, MLA, Chicago, etc. Use reverse pyramid writing style, which means all of your most important information is at the top of your article so if an editor chops your content for word count, she can just remove your bottom paragraphs and the most important parts of your story are still there.
INCLUDE: Who, what, when, where. why – and an important one: Who cares? This last one is actually addressing two points–1) Know your audience, who you are addressing, and 2) Why do they care about your topic? How does it directly impact them in a meaningful way?
EDITING: Self-edit first. Use active voice–this is critical. Rearrange any sentence or phrase that may appear passive. Also, be direct and a minimalist in your wording–rework sentences to ensure they are not wordy, complex or abstract. This is a news piece, so you are writing to an audience with a 6th to 8th grade education at best.
LAST EDIT: Before you even send this to someone else to edit it, ask yourself this question as objectively as possible and do a final edit to address: If I am my target market, do I care about this content and do I want to take the action asked of me after reading this content… ask this question for each paragraph. If the answer for the paragraph is yes – great, move to the next one. If the answer to the next paragraph is no or you’re not sure, rework the paragraph until you are sure.
CALL TO ACTION: Remember that you are always asking for someone to take action, or don’t bother with a press release. You may be asking someone to care about something, share information, buy something, attend something, support something, talk about something, get involved with something, join in on something, interview you about something, request more information about something… Is your call to action clear from the beginning?
CLOSE: End the press release with this centered at the bottom, alerting the copy editor that they have reached the end of your press release: ###  OR -30-

3) Distribution: Distribution is a whole other bag of tricks… Coming soon to a theater near you.


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