There's a certain faction of digital public relations and PR 2.0 prophets who've been predicting the death of the traditional press release since the dawn of the Internet. More than 20 years later, the press release is still alive and evolving from its Prehistoric roots to what some might say is the "Golden Age of Digital." During this time, we've seen many transformations and newer versions of the traditional press release appear including the video news release (VNR), digital news release, social media release (SMR) and the search-optimized press release - to name a few. In some ways, a lot of these are just different names for what all press releases have become. With that in mind, there are certain elements of the traditional press release that are essential to the core of its purpose as public relations tool and should be present no matter what you decide to call your version. Here's a quick-and-easy guide to help keep this piece of your communications program on track.< br />
Let's face the facts: there are a lot of press releases out there that seem to have no real relevancy and couldn't hide their spin and fluff under a magician's cloak. That's not what releases are supposed to be about, which is why they're also known in both the traditional and digital circles as "news releases." The news-factor means that press releases need to provide media outlets with facts in story-form. That includes the famous "Five Ws": who, what, where, when and why. With staff at many large and small traditional news outlets being reduced and the immediate copy-and-paste nature of online publications, all press releases should be written the same style as the media outlets they are meant to target.
The opposite of a hot topic in public relations, the boilerplate is pretty much a given when it comes to writing press releases. However, that means that it often is forgotten about and never updated. Also because the boilerplate is a given, it's the first place someone who has come across your news yet is unfamiliar with your product, company or service will know to look to find out about you. This is an important reason to keep it up-to-date, and keep it creative. It's not forbidden or public relations taboo to tweak your press release a little depending on the nature of the news you are trying to spread. Think of it as your 30-minute elevator pitch in written form, and introduce yourself!
AP Style is another thing those public relations prophets rail against and already consider to be in its grave; yet when the New York Times not only uses the writing style guide but also updates immediately when changes are made to the rules (think Web site to website), it's still relevant to press release writing. True, there are other style guides out there that have been created specifically for Web writing and blogging, but for the most part their rules are in-line with what the Associated Press (AP) already outlines in their special Web style section. Yes it can be tedious, but editors with limited time and too many assignments will thank you.
The rules about abbreviations fall under the previous topic of AP Style, but they are so commonly misused, manipulated, abused and ignored that they deserve their own section. They also deserve special attention since they've come to be much more important during the Golden Age of Digital when search rules the Internet. Basically, the AP Style Guide states that a name or a term should be spelled out completely upon first reference followed by the abbreviation in parenthesis, then abbreviated throughout. For example: social media release (SMR). Every following reference can be abbreviated. Additionally, based on preference, you can also choose to never abbreviate a term to its acronym in a press release and spell it out in its entirety throughout the press release - which brings us to our next topic.
Readability - another forgotten element in the new kingdom when press releases are optimized for indexing by the search engines in charge. That means that they're flooded with keywords, and keyword phrases are often repeated to boost a press releases SEO results. If you're not careful, however, this strategy could damage the content of your news release, so walk this fine line with your best judgment. If your company, product or service is known in your industry by an acronym that is a popular acronym for a completely different industry, it'd probably be wise to avoid using the acronym in your press release and spell the name out in each reference. This will help boost your press release's SEO results and associate your company's name with industry terms in the search engine indexes. However, if this starts to make your press release read funny - sort of like if you were reading out loud you'd be tripping over your tongue - then stick to the original AP Style rule. When you're talking to people, you don't speak search engine language.
This one is simple. Know your audience and who you're writing for, then make it clear. Yes press releases are now distributed all over the place online to many outlets that, for the most part, aren't limited by geography. This is all the more reason why it should be clear to the reader if the release is even worth reading. For example wha t if the release is about an event at a grocery chain that only has stores in certain regions? The easiest way to note this information off-the-bat is with the dateline - it's not just for the date, if you know what I mean. You remember we talked about that little fact that starts with a "w" called "where?"
Contact information is the PR person's bread and butter, and it's a cardinal sin to not include it when distributing a press release. But much like the boilerplate, it is such a given that it gets overlooked and is not often at its best. It's important to remember that the contact person listed on a press release should be the most appropriate person for inquiries related to the news that particular release contains. So if you have a large company with many divisions, this contact should change so as not to make an inquiring journalist's job more difficult - that is how you lose media opportunities. Secondly, your contact information sh ould include ALL contact information for this person - name, work number, mobile number, email, Twitter handle and any other work-related way that this person can be reached. While you're at it, throw your client's social media contact information in there, too. This is the Golden Age of Digital after all, and what's the point of contact information without accessibility?
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