Press Release Writing Tips for PR People

Joan Stewart

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A press release is often your only chance to make a great first impression.

Newspapers, magazines and trade publications receive them by the truckload. That means sloppy, long, inaccurate, pointless releases are the first to hit the newsroom wastebasket or a journalist's “deleted" folder.

To make sure yours isn't one of them, avoid these major mistakes:

-Failing to write a headline that explains what the story is about. Don't try to be too cute or tease readers. Remember that journalists spend an average of five seconds reading a release before deciding whether to use it or toss it.

-Failing to write a sub-head. A sub-head communicates to journalists a little more of what the story is about and helps get your message across quicker.

-Writing press releases that are too long. Each release should be no longer than one printed page, or one computer screen of type. Remember, the purpose of a press release is to make a journalist pick up the phone and call you for a larger story.

-Failing to double-check all facts. Before you send a release, double-check everything. If your press release includes a telephone number, call the number to make sure it's correct. If it includes a website address, send the release to yourself first and actually click on the link to make sure it takes readers to the correct page. Don't rely on your computer's spell-check. Have someone else proofread the release.

-Sending it too late. If you want publicity for an event in your own community, send releases to local newspapers and TV stations about three weeks before the event. If you want publicity in national magazines, however, you might have to send your information six months before the event because many magazines work several months ahead of the publication date. Make sure you know deadlines for every publication on your media contact list.

-Sending a press release that focuses on the company sending it, not on the reader. Instead of saying, “The Pacific Gas & Electric Company today issued eight tips for lower utility bills. . . " say “Homeowners struggling with high utility bills can cut heating costs by doing eight things to weather-proof their homes before cold weather hits. "

-Blatant commercialism. Avoid hackneyed words and phrases such as spectacular, incredible, the only one of its kind, breakthrough, cutting-edge, unique and state-of-the-art.

-Including industry lingo that no one understands except people in your industry.

-Failing to include information on where consumers can buy what you are selling.

-Omitting a contact name and phone number. At the top of the page in the left corner, let editors know who they can call if they have questions. Include day, evening and cell phone numbers. Remember that journalists work around the clock. Don't offer a phone number where people work only from 9 to 5.

The purpose of a press release is to communicate the news as quickly as possible. The easier you can make a journalist’s job, the greater the chances that your news will be used.

Publicity expert Joan Stewart is co-author of the ebook “How to be a Kick-butt Publicity Hound. " Download a sample chapter at her website at where you can also sign up for her ezine “The Publicity Hound's Tips ofthe Week. " Contact her at or at 262-284-7451.


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