How Not to Write a Press Release

Michele Pariza Wacek
 


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Several years ago, when I was working for an agency, I was fired from an account. What that means is the client didn’t want me writing for him anymore.

Another writer, a friend of mine, got the account and life went on.

Of course, I was pretty upset by the situation. I had completed several writing projects already for that client, which had seemed to go well, and had just finished a press release when I got the boot.

My writer friend told me later her “secret" for making this client happy. Basically, what she did was rewrite the press release so it focused solely on the client and the client’s business.

I said: “But what you’ve written isn’t that newsworthy. I don’t think the newspaper will accept it. "

She said: “That’s not what the client wants. Therefore, I don’t worry about it. "

And she was right. (She kept the account after all. ) The client wanted an “I’m so great" press release. He didn’t want something that might actually result in coverage for him. He wanted something that would make him feel good when he read it.

In the world of public relations, press releases are the explorers. They travel far and wide, visiting media outlets everywhere, and presenting information about your products and services. Media people decide whether or not to cover your business based in large part on those hard-working press releases.

So, there's a lot riding on them. Therefore, it pays to take a little extra time to make sure they're outfitted correctly for the job.

When you get an idea for a press release, ask yourself this question: “Is this something someone else would be interested in or is this something only I (and maybe my mother) would want to read?"

Sounds easy, right? Well, if it was that easy, there wouldn't be so many “Look at me - I'm so great" press releases running amuck out there.

Unfortunately, the “I'm so great" press releases are seductive. They sound so good when you read them. They whisper things like: “Of course the editors will want to write about me. I would make a wonderful human interest/special feature/business feature story. Didn't I just see a story like this about my competitor/another business last week?"

You need to be on your guard when one of these ideas shows up. Question them. Interrogate them if you must. “Why will the media like you? What do you offer that's different than any other press release? What's so special about you? Why will someone want to read more about you?" Don't allow their pretty words to influence you. You must get to the truth. Chances are what seduces you probably won't seduce the media.

Remember, media people are looking for an angle or a story that would interest their readers. They want to know things like: “What's in it for my readers? Why will my readers care about this piece of information?"

If you can answer those questions correctly, then you have an excellent chance of getting the coverage you're looking for.

Creativity Exercises - Write a newsworthy press release

The only way to get better at recognizing a good press release is to practice writing them.

Start by writing what you think is a good press release. Put it away for at least 24 hours. Don't look at it. Don't even think about it.

After the 24 hours is up, pull it out and read it. Ask yourself this question:

"Is this something someone else would be interested in or is this something only I (and maybe my mother) would want to read?"

Really ponder the question. Don't let yourself answer it too quickly.

Still feel like it's newsworthy? Then try this exercise. Replace all the references to you and your product with another business and product. I recommend inserting a business that is not one of your competitors. Use the Find/Replace function on your word processing software to make this a quick and easy process.

Put your release away again. If you can wait another 24 hours, all the better. But even moving on to a different project and coming back a few hours later will help it sound “fresh" to you.

Read it again. Do you still find it interesting now that it's about someone else?

It's tough to view your business objectively. Fortunately, this is a skill that will get easier the more you do it.

Michele Pariza Wacek owns Creative Concepts and Copywriting, a writing, marketing and creativity agency. She offers two free e-newsletters that help subscribers combine their creativity with hard-hitting marketing and copywriting principles to become more successful at attracting new clients, selling products and services and boosting business. She can be reached at http://www.writingusa.com

Copyright 2005 Michele Pariza Wacek

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