by Natalie Hartford
So today Miss Jenny and I decided to do a little blog swap. I’m taking over her Techie Tuesday post to show off a little of my day job side (shhhhh…don’t tell anyone).
While I am here regaling and thrilling you with media tips and tricks, Jenny’s gonna be tearin’ up a Twisted Tuesday post at my place (Two words: bladder dominatrix). I hope you enjoy our little bait and switch.
In my 9 to 5 life, I am a communications officer. I have a degree in journalism and have been in the communications field for over 15 years. Although the majority of my career has been spent working with non-profits, about six years ago I took the plunge and got into corporate communications (an entirely different beast in and of itself).
So why should you care about media and writing a press release?
Because authors, whether traditionally or self-published, are being asked to do more and more of their own self-promoting. Putting together a compelling press release is going to be a key tool in your marketing arsenal.
As fiction writers and even bloggers, putting together your own press release can seem pretty daunting (if not deadly boring). In your every day writing life, you are used to unbound creative freedom, spinning wild tales and manipulating dynamic characters. It’s creative, innovative, and thrilling. Being asked to turn around write something that’s unembellished, based in the real world and is more centered around YOU can feel a little…weird. Not to mention, a wee bit structured.
My 12 tips for mastering the press release.
1. Headline: You know from your blogging experience that headlines are key.
The more attention-grabbing you can make it, the better. For newspapers, headlines should be to one line and try to keep it as short as possible. Use the present-tense and exclude “a” and “the” as well as forms of the verb “to be” in certain contexts. You can use a subheading for a bit more eye-catching deets. Go through the newspaper you are planning to submit to and get a sense of the length and style of headlines.
2. POV: Press releases should be written in the third person.
Write as if you were reporting on something. It may seem weird to write your own quotes this way but always write a press release as if you are being interviewed.
3. Proper Use of First Name/Last Name
When quoting someone, you start by using their full name (“blah blah blah,” said Natalie Hartford) but then use their last name the rest of the way through (“blah blah blah,” said Hartford). The only time you can break this rule is if you have two people with the same last name. And no need to use Mrs. Ms., Miss etc.
4. Pyramid Format (the most important thing to remember)
Organize information from the most important at the beginning through progressively less important information. Think about it this way. If an editor is going to cut your press release for space purposes, he/she is going to cut straight from the bottom up. They aren’t going to reread, rewrite or rework it to fit. These are hard core, cigar-smoking editors. Trust me; they get their jollies off slashing your hard earned words. So put the meat of the release at the top!
5. More on the Meat
The first paragraph should sum up the press release and answer the five Ws: who, what, where, when, and why. If the reader ONLY reads this paragraph, they’ll have the most important deets. The second paragraph can elaborate a bit more; explain why a reader should care etc. Follow that up with a quote that gives a person touch. The quotes are where you input the human interest angle.
6. AP/CP Know Your Style Guide
In Canada, journalists follow the Canadian Press style guide. Their Caps and Spelling booklet is my go-to source for all things press formatting. They cover everything from when to use a comma, whether to use “o” or “ou”, when to capitalize and when not, when to write out numbers and when to use numeral etc. In the US, journalists follow the Associated Press stylebook. But no matter where you live, understand that the press in most countries will have a style guide they follow.
Do what you want in your fiction and blog but when it comes to the writing for the press, know their style guide and follow it…to the letter.
7. Language – Keep it Simple
Your literary genius may make you a best-selling author but it won’t win you points with the press. Stick to the fact and write at a Grade 8 level. With human interest sections in most newspapers, you can get away with a little bit of flowery language but keep it to a bare minimum. Adjectives and uberlicious words are not your friends in a press release. To be frank, they are your enemy and will cause editors to turf your press release in the garbage bin.
8. Length – Keep it Short
Press releases typically run 300 to 500 words however there is no hard fast rule. Mine usually run a smidge longer, not uncommon in the non-profit sector.
Try to keep sentences to less than 25 words and paragraphs with no more than 3 sentences. I know…OUCH! Coming from writing fiction and blogs, this will likely be the hardest part. Rules can be bent and broken (as you’ll see from my sample) but these guidelines will help you learn to keep it simple and to the point.
9. Standard Parts
Press releases don’t have a byline (by Natalie Hartford). Start with the release time (either “For Immediate Release” or for release on a specific date), the headline and subheading if you have one, and then in parentheses the location (Fredericton, NB). Next goes the body of the press release. The last paragraph is usually a boilerplate (basic company information/biography/website).
To signify the end of the “on record” information, you always end a press release with and centered “–30–” or three number signs “###”. Media contact information for interviews goes afterwards.
10. Pick an Angle
Like your fiction or blog posts, you have to know your angle. What is your definition of success? Stay centered on that. For my sample press release below, I was dealing with a lot of information. Our local MADD Chapter is hosting an afternoon-long event with 3 different aspects and we have multiple goals for the day. I had to pick one angle to focus the press release on (meat first) and build down from that.
11. When to Send
Is there a best day of the week or time of the day to send a press release? I don’t think so. I suggest you contact the editor (or news desk) of the newspapers you are looking to send to and ask them for their preference. Like social media, the key to having success with your local media is going to be building great relationships.
It’s always great to include visuals with your press releases. That way if the editor decides to run your press release as a news story, they have everything they need at their fingertips. Photos should be JPG format, a resolution of 300 dpi and be at least 1200 to 1200 square pixels in size. Anything smaller runs too small on most presses.
This is a press release I wrote on the weekend for an upcoming event our local MADD Canada Chapter will be hosting, if you’d like to take a peek.
p.s. Jenny is waiting avidly over at my place – click here to go visit her!
I am at your beck and call. What burning communications-related questions do you have? Any press release details I can assist with? Any other PR-type posts you’d like to see me come back and do? Come on…share the wealth…
About Natalie Hartford
Natalie Hartford is an urban redneck; a cross-breed of city girl and redneck. She loves high heels, bling, all things pink and sparkly along with ball caps, 4X4ing, camping, and drinkin’ beer. She often mistakes tacky for fahbulous!
By day, she sports dress pants, button downs, and suits putting her bachelor degree in journalism to good use working in public relations. By night and weekend, she’s a pink goddess blogger divine spreading laughter, smiles, and zany word fun all over the blogosphere. At the same time she sets fire to the page working on her first novel.
If you want more of Natalie, don’t be shy:
There’s nothing she likes more than talking (ain’t that the truth) and connecting with readers and peeps. Give her a shout, y’all will be BFF before ya know it!