Write a Press Release, but Don’t Do These 5 Things

Press releases are important when it comes to getting publicity.  A press release is a specific kind of content – very unique from blogs, articles, white papers, and other cornerstones of a content marketing strategy.  They can be extremely powerful when used right, but can also be either ineffective of disastrous when used incorrectly.  Need convincing?  Check out Content Marketing Today’s Examples of Bad Content and come back when you’re done cringing.

A press release can be a very powerful tool, at the end of the day.  To learn more about press releases and what not to do when employing them, read on.

Extra, Extra, Read All About It: The Scoop

A press release has its roots in journalism, not content marketing.  Essentially a press release is exactly what you’re thinking of – news that’s fresh off the presses, hot and ready to be delivered to a salivating audience.  Without further ado, here’s the first don’t:

1.     Don’t use a press release if you don’t have any news to release. A press release should be used if you’re offering some breaking news about your business that people will actually be interested in reading.  Good things to write press releases about include conventions, sales, new and impressive team members, mergers… anything that’s actually noteworthy.  Don’t write a press release about your product.  While widgets may be big news to your business, the fact that they exist isn’t exactly newsworthy.

Remember that the point of a press release is to get people excited about something.  Doubtlessly you’re always excited about your business, but there’s a reason why you never see the headline “Everything Is Fine” in a newspaper.  It’s not newsy.

2.     Don’t wait too long to make your point.  A press release is not a place to spend a lot of time stuffing keywords into the first paragraph.  While press releases can technically be up to 800 words long and still be considered a press release, I typically advise clients to go no longer than 500 words.

Longer is not better with press releases.  You want the story to hit your readers so fast that they’re left reeling with the news and have no choice but to search for more information.  If you put them to sleep halfway through the release, that’s defeating the point.

3.     Don’t advertise. A press release is not an advertisement for your company – it is about as far from sales copy as you can get.  You don’t want to spend the majority of your press release talking about great your product/company is.  Rather, you want the event to be the main part of the press release.  Press releases always pay attention to the moving parts of your company – the ones that are novel, and the ones that are new and might change soon.  A sale doesn’t last forever.  A merger soon becomes de rigour for the company.  A convention ends.  Press releases hit upon these topics, not how great your company is.  (I am assuming that your company is great all the time, of course – at least, you offering superior products and solid customer service should be a given, not a press release!)

Advertising copy is death to a press release.  Furthermore, many press release sites (which is where you go to release the press releases) won’t allow advertising copy.  PRweb, which is one of the top press-release distribution companies, specifically forbids advertising copy in press releases.  Read: if advertising is in your press release, it won’t get out.

4.    Don’t put yourself in it.  Staying objective is key to writing a good press release.  Remember that press releases need to be approached with a journalistic eye – unlike blogs and white papers where you may have ghost writers that blend in and act as part of your business, you want your press release to be markedly objective.  You don’t want the piece to sound like an advertisement for your business, a la #3.  This also means that you want to keep the words “I” and “you” and “we” out of it.

Remember that journalism is supposed to be impartial.  With that third-person distance from your press release, it makes it even more news-like.  Consumers are savvy – they generally realize when they’re being marketed to.  Make sure not to market openly in your press releases for maximum impact.

5.    Don’t forget a quote. Think of the quintessential nosy journalists.  They’re always following the subject around with pen and paper (or a microphone, depending) and trying to get the subject to make a statement.  That’s exactly what you want in your press release.  A quote from somebody in your company will help give the press release a current vibe and also brings the voice of your company into the press release.

Remember that press releases need to be objective in tone… but if you’re using them in a content marketing strategy, you’re going to need to find some way to advertise your company.  A quote from someone pertinent in the company means that you can get your “our widget company is proud to sell better widgets faster and with better customer service as compared to any other widget company” line in.  Quotes are also the one exception to rule #4, so take advantage of the loophole!

With these tips in mind, you’ll be able to write a press release that both passes the guidelines of press release distributors and gets the attention of a company.  If you’ve got something big and exciting happening right now, a press release is a perfect content marketing mechanism to use.  But just like with all kinds of great power, great responsibility comes with it – don’t fall into the five pitfalls listed above!

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Laura Hancock is a co-owner of ContentEqualsMoney.com. She has also been a long time writer for us. She writes with a passion for accuracy and flow. While her administrative duties have grown, she is a still a big piece of our content writing services team! Currently pursuing a certification in Technical Writing at the University of Washington. She lives in Seattle. +Laura Hancock

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