How To Write A Press Release Without Tearing Out Your Hair

by Natalie Hartford

Photo Katarighe ~ Wikimedia Commons 1

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.

12. Photos

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:

Visit her at: http://nataliehartford.com
Talk to her at: natalie@nataliehartford.com
Follow her on twitter at: @NatalieHartford

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!

About Jenny Hansen

Avid seeker of "more"...More words, more creativity, More Cowbell! An extrovert who's terribly fond of silliness. Founding blogger at Writers In The Storm (http://writersinthestormblog.com). Write on!
This entry was posted in ePublishing, Techie Parts of Writing, Techie Tuesday and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

57 Responses to How To Write A Press Release Without Tearing Out Your Hair

  1. Brinda Berry says:

    Hi Natalie. Thanks for the outline. I’m going to put one together in the next week or so for my local media. I’m also going to put a press kit on my website.

    Like

    • I am glad you enjoyed the post Brinda. I can’t wait to see how the press release and press kit comes together. GREAT idea to have this type of information located on your website. Makes easy work for journalists and that always helps. Best of luck and let me know if I can help…

      Like

  2. zkullis says:

    Morning Natalie. This is very good info, thank you so much.

    I recognize the importance of being able to write/compose an effective press release (especially for those of us that are self published).

    Would it be possible for you to write something like “3 typical press releases for an author”, and give us examples? Something like that would help my hard head see how your advice could be put into action.

    Like

  3. I’m linking this…and bookmarking this. It might not be the first guide I’ve read on the subject, but it conveys all the basics in such a smooth way!

    Like

  4. Hey, Natalie!

    If I someday stop playing around in blog comments, I will (1) finish my WIP and need this advice, (2) not expose myself to the shenanigans going on at your site [love it!], and (3) not have nearly as much fun.

    WOW! This is all I’ll need to know when The Big Day for press releases arrives. If the publishing world treats me right–indie or traditional–2013 is going to be my year. Anticipate an email from me that begins, “Hey, Nat! Remember that great post you wrote about press releases? The one you posted on the same day you let Jenny amuse herself with my More Cowbell comments? Well, I have a teeny-tiny favoUr to ask.”

    Loved your MADD Canada example. Tres professional and inviting. You nailed your message.

    Since I now know others also read comments, take Jenny’s advice.

    Hop over to Natalie’s site and subscribe. She is a hoot waiting to happen. I love to see a Natalie Hartford post in my inbox as much as I love those More Cowbell notices.

    Like

    • amyskennedy says:

      I so agree with Gloria!
      Natalie, great info — you made it seem so easy…I think I’ll just save this post to refer back to. I just learned about the pyramid thing for business (any) emails.

      And, hey, read your roof troubles — we also are re-roofing, bad shingles — class action suit etc. my husband said, “forget it.” Didn’t want to deal with all the paperwork! We bit the flipping bullet and are replacing the shingles with a new metal roof. Sounds banjo worthy, but it’s pretty cool looking.

      Like

      • Thanks Amy – glad you enjoyed the info and I hope it helps. Pyramid writing is GREAT in business and emails. Absolutely.

        NO way?!?! That sucks but sometimes just biting the bullet and getting the work done so you can put it behind you is best. That new roof is going to be music to your ears! Woot woot!

        Like

    • Thanks for the uber love Gloria and when the day for your release comes, absolutely fire me a message and I’d be honored to help you craft the perfect press release. Can’t WAIT!!! Squeeee!!!

      Like

    • Jenny Hansen says:

      Awwww, you are the BEST, Gloria! And 2013 will definitely be your year.🙂

      Really, you ever doubted that I read your comments religiously??! Y’all give me some of my best material in the comments. I love ’em. And thanks for subscribing…there would be no More Cowbell without you.

      Like

  5. Stacy Green says:

    This could not come at a better time, Natalie! I’m finishing up my press release for Into The Dark, and you just answered my questions. Thank you!

    Like

  6. K.B. Owen says:

    Fab post, Natalie! I’ve never seen book press releases in the newspaper, though I have seen notices about readings and signings. Is a press release for an upcoming book a new phenomenon?

    Heading over to your site to see what the Dominatrix…oops, I mean Jenny…is up to, LOL. You two in combination are uber-dangerous! I’d better keep my beverage out of arm’s reach.😀

    Like

    • I have to be honest Kathy, I don’t know if it’s a new phenomenon. I live in a relatively small city, about 75,000, so our daily newspaper is interested in just about anything. If I were releasing a book, I’d absolutely do a press release about it and fire it out to the local media. They may not print it as is, but it’d likely generate an interview and more in-depth article. A press release isn’t typically about getting it printed verbatim (although a lot are now), it’s use is to actually generate press interest so they come talk to you…

      Seen in that light, I think a press release for a book release is news worthy. If it doesn’t get picked up, plan a press conference with free food – sure-fire hit with the media.🙂

      It’s a goodie Kathy. You’ll want to put your beverage down for sure. LOL!!

      Like

    • Jenny Hansen says:

      It’s so funny to hear you refer to me as that, Kathy. In my software training day job, I’ve been everything from the Word Dominatrix to the Lotus Notes Dominatrix (as in, “We’re gonna MAKE it work.” LOL…

      Like

  7. Great advice in a concise form. Thank you very much, Natalie. Now I’m heading to your blog to read what Jenny has to say about Dominatrices😀

    Like

  8. Julie Glover says:

    How AWESOME is this!!! I wish I’d had your tips when I wrote the ONE press release I had to do for a job I used to have. I fumbled around and spent forever on it. Thanks so much for the tips and the sample. So helpful, Natalie!

    Like

  9. susielindau says:

    I am going to save this link! Thanks for sharing these great tips!

    Like

  10. who would have guessed you spend your days in suits, Natalie? Not I for sure. LOL well done and good informaiton here. Now i’m off to visit Jenny at your house.

    Like

  11. Thanks for the awesome information, Natalie! You’re so right about authors doing more of the PR and business work than ever… And that professional voice and format can really seal the deal. Can we don our alternate personalities and hire ourselves?😉

    Like

    • Absolutely August. I think as an upcoming author in the new digital world, being able to toss on your own professional PR hat is going to be key to success. Knowing the right tones, rules and structure means you’ll make friends with the press….which can only help!

      Like

  12. Awesome info! thank you so much! (Still laughing over the dominatrix! LOLOL)

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  13. Nice job, Natalie. You’re going to be doing a lot of these with your new volunteer position. I might add – you’ll want to start submitting editorials also.

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  14. Natalie: Great, informational post! I, too, came from the PR/Corp Comm arena…sooo different from blogging! It must be a nice contrast for you on the weekends (breath of fresh air). I thought all your tips were spot on for those unfamiliar with media relations and its related tools. The one area I would also add is targeting the RIGHT media. As you know, it’s not the old days of PR when you just blasted out a press release. It’s all about targeting media using social media and other online communication tools and relationship building. I just finished reading David Meerman Scott’s “The New Rules of Marketing and PR: How to Use News Releases, Blogs, Podcasting, Viral Marketing and Online Media to Reach Buyers Directly.” Very relevant. Now over to see Jenny at your blog!

    Like

    • GREAT point Kristal!!! Your choice of media is key. And for authors, it’s important to look beyond traditional media in your area. We have a tons of community newspapers and online magazines that love to cover local celebs and would jump all over an author’s press release. I’ll definitely have to check out that book – sounds amazing. Thanks again Kristal!🙂

      Like

  15. Keith Michelle says:

    Great post. By the way, I’ve nominated you on “Liebster Award”…Please check it out and the questions I’ve made for you!🙂 http://mylifein24hours.wordpress.com/2012/10/10/awards-sunshine-and-liebster-awardsmylifein24hours-style/

    Like

    • Jenny Hansen says:

      Keith, you sweetie pie, you! I’m really (REALLY) bad about blog awards, but I appreciate them and I can’t wait to see your questions!! Thank you. What an awesome addition to my day.🙂

      Like

  16. Wonderful information, Natalie – it brought up my Journalism 101 class that I took way too many years ago. I’ll be using it!

    Like

  17. Definitely bookmarking this for future reference. Timely for me since I plan to do a bit of local PR this year in my home town, book signings and such. Thanks so much, Natalie!

    Now you better go over to your site and wrestle it away from Jenny. She’s having way too much fun over there. She may not want to give it back.

    Like

    • So pumped that you found it useful Kassandra!!! Here’s to enjoying your upcoming palooza of PR – you’ll do GREAT!🙂

      Yes…she’s been having the time of her life over there. I just luv it!🙂

      Like

  18. Whoa! That’s a ton of great information, Natalie. Who knew there was so much to learn about press releases? I’ll have to bookmark this page because someday I’m going to need it. Thanks for being uberlicious!

    Like

  19. Emma Burcart says:

    This is awesome! I wish there was a way to save posts like this as a document for reference later. Guess I’ll just have to come back here when I need to write one.🙂

    Like

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  21. angelapeart says:

    This is a great, comprehensive list! Thank you, Natalie, for sharing your knowledge (I just NEED to insert a squeeee here). I am planning to contact the local newspapers about the release of Forged by Greed very soon, so this article couldn’t come in a better time🙂

    Like

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