Dec 21, 2011

Writing Press Releases that Don’t Sound Like Advertisements

Today’s communications strategies hinge upon content, and the press release release is an important part of that content mix. However, to be successful, a content marketing strategy needs to serve the needs of the audience first. Traditionally, press releases have been geared toward telling an organization’s story. Can press releases be made to fit into the content marketing paradigm?

According to the members of the Public Relations Professionals on LinkedIn, the answer is a qualified “Yes,” depending upon how the press release is written. Tips sourced from the conversation include:

  • Plan for and encourage online visibility by using multimedia in press releases – a tactic that we know generates more views and wider sharing of messages.
  • Make the obligatory quote in the second paragraph really work. Instead of a canned quote in which the quoted exec notes how excited he or she is about whatever is being announced, use this space to address – and answer – key marketplace questions, or to clearly describe what is special about today’s news.
  • Instead of a press release, write the news story. Eliminate jargon and hyperbole, focus the message and substantiate the claims just as you would if you were submitting the final work to a ruthless news editor. Paying attention to the readability of the message is important and will produce a better final product.

To these tips I’d also add the imperative to write from the audience’s perspective – which (I will concede) is a little counter-intuitive when it comes to press releases. Here are some ways you to bring this important point of view into your writing:

  • Develop an ongoing understanding of what your customers and prospects are talking about online. Use frequently asked questions and unresolved marketplace issues to frame your communications, including press releases. Make the answer to a key question the focus of the announcement, not the fact that XYZ Co. is Today Announcing Something.
  • Highlight actual people – customers, production staff, design engineers – in your writing. Involving a variety of people will surface more stories and angles, and help you create content that resonates with your readers.
  • Speak in the language of your marketplace, not your marketing department. Present information and quantify data using metrics that are actually meaningful to the people you’re hoping to influence. You’ll need to do a little market research, but there’s no better way to give your content a boost than to ensure that it’s contextually relevant to your audience.

As you plan your next press release, try to incorporate a couple of these tactics. Pay attention to the results your press release generates – and look beyond simple page views as you do so. If you dig a little deeper into the results from your press releases, looking at the number of times the content was shared in social networks, and the number of people who clicked links embedded within the release, you’ll start to understand what sort of messages actually inspire your readers to action. That’s intel you can use to fine tune future press releases and improve their results.

Sarah Skerik is PR Newswire’s vice president of social media, and is the author of the free ebook Unlocking Social Media for PR, which we’ve updated for 2012.

Image courtesy of Flickr user barto.

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