7 Seconds to a Better Press Release

Let’s assume that your press release landed in the right in-box, meaning the reporter is the right target for your message. For anyone in public relations, just getting to this point is a major achievement. But don’t get all cocky, because what comes next is critical. As a reporter by trade and one who still receives roughly 25 press releases per day in my in-box, I can tell you that a great press release is hard to find.

Reporters do not have a love-hate relationship with press releases. They have a “meh” relationship with them. Most of the press releases reporters receive are not going to rock their world. But they will be read and used by a reporter if they contain a news hook that is relevant to the reporter’s beat. Once hooked at least on the topic, a great press release will contain:

1. An attention-grabbing headline.
2. A “nut graph” to kill for: the first paragraph with 2 to 3 sentences must be succinct and newsworthy. Much like a reporter’s own article.
3. Multimedia: photos, video and the like – a must-have for multimedia journalists, which most reporters are, whether they like it or not.
4. Good contact information – not just contact information, but the contacts of people who will answer the phone and respond within the hour to your email query.
5. A great quote –  The art of press release quote-writing involves giving the end reader the impression that the reporter got the quote directly from the source, not from the press release.
6. Statistics and other data – reporters love numbers, which make their stories more credible and interesting, and which impresses their editors.
7. A compelling story (more on that in a second).

You’ve heard countless advice on words to avoid in press releases, such as “leading”, “ground-breaking” and “best.” A Reporter’s Bullshit Meter will ring loudly at the sight of these words, and there’s no doubt your press release will be diminished. I won’t belabor the point. But I encourage anyone who writes a press release to get real about who’s reading your prose and how credible your words are. You’d be surprised how many reporters stop reading a press release if there are too many superlatives.

At PR News’ PR Writing Workshop this week in San Francisco, there was agreement that a press release has roughly 7 seconds to grab a reporter’s attention. Seven seconds is widely touted as the time it takes to make a first impression.  So, next time you go about writing your press release, apply the 7 second principle.

Then, consider, what would come next? Does your press release have the qualities that will entice the reporter to email or call you? And are you ready to take the story that was the crux of your press release, and continue telling that story?

While it’s always great to see your press release “covered” by the media in the fullest sense of the word – the press release is essentially re-run as editorial or portions cut and pasted — it is much better to create a connection and entice the reporter to hear more of your story. If the press release is your first impression, then the follow-up call or email is your opportunity to tell your story. The press release is an under-rated story-telling vehicle and you are in the driver’s seat.

— Diane Schwartz


  • Nick – Editor

    Excellent advice on writing a press release. But assuming you have a news story and you follow the principles outlined, there is still one main failing in most press releases – the style of writing.

    Journalists and their readers want a clear, readable style. This means writing in the style the journalist uses and the newspaper editor wants.

    There is software to help non-professional writers, such as businesspeople, write in this journalistic style. A style that avoids superlatives, jargon, passive verbs, nominalizations and a wordy style – it’s called StyleWriter and you can use the free trial on the web to run your press releases through it.

    As one chief executive said of StyleWriter: “Looking back at the way I used to write press releases I now understand why editors didn’t bother to publish them. StyleWriter shows me how to write in the style newspaper and magazine editors prefer. The result is more free exposure in the media.”

    We use it for all our marketing materials and nothing would go out of the office without a StyleWriter check.

  • http://www.linkedin.com/in/ryanhorns Ryan

    I would also recommend simplicity.
    For example, I cover Union County, Ohio. I’m always amazed by the number of press releases I receive from outside sources that fail to show how their information pertains to my coverage area. If it is about a Union County man or business, put that front and center. Relevance should be the main priority. I can overlook bad writing, needless adjectives and countless exclamation points, if I can at least tell right off the bat that the person who wrote the press release did their homework.

  • http://transweb.sjsu.edu Donna Maurillo

    I worked at several PR agencies, and I was surprised by the releases that passed muster. The fact is, most people don’t know how to write. Why? Because we think that the only subjects worth studying are the STEM classes — Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. We don’t teach kids to write anymore because we don’t value English as a necessary skill. We are teaching them that as long as they have SpellCheck, their writing will be just fine. That’s the problem.

  • Phil

    Good advice but I cannot go along with #5. In over twenty years of reporting, I don’t think I’ve ever used a quote from a press release. This is partly because I assume the press release went out to 500 other reporters, but what’s really disturbing about this recommendation is the notion that a reporter should willfully mislead her readers.

  • http://turnitorange.com/ Steve


    Whole educational system is problematic as we teach kids theory – we expect them to pass the tests, get great grades and behave properly.
    Instead we should teaching them real life lessons.
    Leave a modern class of kids in the woods and they wont survive 2 days.
    Some press wonders why there is such a high unemployment in young people.
    Its not because of lack of experience, but because of no skills at finding job, no skills to survive in position and overinflated ego and expectations.

  • http://www.paimarcom.com Don Krause

    I will use this with my clients, as they often fight me on certain content. Some of them try to write their own and wonder why they fail.

  • http://www.coolklub.com Claudio

    I think that follow ups are sentenced to death. Or, in good scenario: they are OK when you have one on one communication with journalist about specific topic. Otherwise follow ups are great for rising bar on ‘Reporter’s Bullshit Meter’ as you put it. :)

  • http://design21c.com/wishes/i-wish-we-could-clean-quay-walls-putting-weir-out-brittain-quay-keep-water-levels-high-both-v Rudolph

    When someone writes an article he/she retains the plan
    of a user in his/her brain that how a user can understand it.
    Thus that’s why this post is great. Thanks!

  • http://allpointspr.com/development-publicity Jamie Izaks

    I like your tip of having a great quote. It’s important to have a good press release for someone writing from a franchise industry PR firm because the media wants to read releases they can grab SOMETHING from.

  • Lili

    Thank you!! : )