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Put it in Writing

By Lynn Fenske

Earlier this year Steve Slaunwhite asked me to make a contribution to the 2nd edition of his book Start & Run a Copywriting Business (Self-Counsel Press, 2005, 217 pp. plus CD-ROM, ISBN 1-55180-633-9). He wanted professional advice on how to write press releases, something concise that would provide instruction to writers new to the format and style of PR/media writing. Some information bears repeating so here they are, as they appear in the book, my top five tips for writing press releases:

1. Be Newsworthy
While assessing a story's newsworthiness is often subjective and instinctive, there are guidelines you can use to test its news appeal. Consider whether your story is immediate. Is it close to home? Does it affect many people? Does it have lasting importance? Certainly emphasize what is "new", "better" or "different" about your subject matter by explaining how it affects the reader.

2. Be Brief, especially in the headline
You are writing to appeal to media professionals who specialize in three-worded headlines and eight second sound bites, so keep your message short and concise. Choose your words carefully. Trying to fit the whole story into a headline or writing more than one full page of body copy does not make for a compelling press release.

3. Follow the set format
Press releases are structured with a specific place and spacing for all components including the headline, release time, dateline, body copy, end marker and contact information. Always follow the format. Put everything in its proper place, on a document that uses or resembles corporate letterhead.

4. Write like a reporter
Be factual and objective. Answer the five W's and one H - who, what, where, when, why and how. Always write the release in a third person voice using simple, precise language. No ten-dollar words or excessive techno-jargon - unless you want to alienate your audience.

5. Include quotes
Support the facts in the press release with quotations from key personnel or people directly involved in the story. Their commentary helps to personalize the story and give it relevance and perspective.

Lynn Fenske is a freelance copywriter with extensive experience working both sides of the media fence as journalist and publicist.

Lynn Fenske
“putting your ideas in writing”

See also:
Successful news releases: 7 must-know tips

News releases that work -- and those that don't
The Princess and the Press
Using History to Write Powerful Leads
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