Perhaps it’s because a press release is issued by the company itself. Or perhaps it’s because a press release is often announcing a new product or service that a company offers. Whatever the reason, its a common ‘problem’ for press releases to cross over that gray line from press release to advertisement. After a lot of dissection and discussion, we’ve come up with what we feel are some universal guidelines that will help you write a solid press release without crossing into the advertisement zone:
#1 Avoid the Words “You,” “Your,” “We,” And “Our” (Except in a Quote)
A press release should be written in third person — and there are several good reasons for this. I’m going to try and make this succinct without boring you with the details learned in 4 years of studying English in college: Any piece of writing has a “voice” — someone who is speaking to the reader. In this blog post, I (Christine) am speaking to you (first person). In order for you to swallow anything I say in this blog post, you must trust me, the person, the omnipresent narrator. Because you and I have come to an unstated understanding that I’m talking to you, I can freely give my opinions without referencing a source. I’m the source, Christine. But a press release isn’t about one person’s opinion. It’s a piece issued by a company to state the facts of an announcement. This does NOT mean that it has to be “boring” — not at all. In my opinion, a press release sounds 1000% more credible when written in third person and supported by facts rather than one that speaks directly to the reader through a single omnipresent narrator.
Here’s an example:
First Person Subjective
We recently launched a great Holiday program aimed at supporting those most in need this season. Now you can get a credit of $25 when you spend $25 or more in the Outreach International online shop.
Third Person Objective:
Online PR Media recently launched a Holiday program aimed at supporting those most in need this season. The press release website is offering a credit of $25 to customers who spend $25 or more in the Outreach International online shop.
The exception is the quote. The quote, which should be attributed to a person, can definitely speak to the reader directly. For example, here’s a quote from the same press release used in the example above:
“Essentially, you pay no more for a press release than you would have. You spend $25 on a sustainable gift and we give you a $25 coupon. The difference however, is that their $25 provides a long-lasting positive impact for a family who needs a hand up,” said Christine O’Kelly, Co-Founder of Online PR Media.
#2 Give Attribution to Claims and Subjective Statements
There are many things that we may say to our friends, employees, business colleagues, and clients that we can “get away with” because they already trust us as a valuable source. For example, if you were to say “El Ranchito is the best taco shop in town,” that’s really your opinion and the fact that they already trust you makes it credible. But a press release is not an opinion piece. An opinion really holds no water unless you’ve earned the right in the reader’s mind. If the company El Ranchito put out a press release that read “El Ranchito, the best taco shop in town, announces it’s new ‘Tacos for Tots’ holiday campaign,” then that sounds like a company trying to inject their opinion on me. Who said it was the best taco shop in town? Of course they’re going to say they have the best taco shop in town. If it read El Ranchito, named the best taco shop in town by ABC local magazine, announces it’s new ‘Tacos for Tots’ holiday campaign,” that would be a fact. Otherwise, it’s just their opinion — and you know what they say about those.
Here is an example of an attribution issue and a suggestion for reworking it:
To be a truly great Texas Hold ‘Em Poker player, you need to be able to read your opponents, ascertaining when they are bluffing and when they really have a solid hand.
According to 3 out of 4 2009 poker champions, the #1 skill required to be a winner in Texas Hold ‘Em Poker, is the ability to read and analyze the opponents — to know when they are bluffing and when they really have a solid hand.
#3 Avoid Question Marks and Exclamation Points
Question marks and exclamation points reek of an ad, not a news release. If you’ve read the first two points, you should immediately be able to understand why the following don’t belong in a press release:
Need money for a vacation? Then apply for same day unsecured vacation loans. Yes, this is an ideal approach for meeting your expense of vacation.
Are you continuously looking for pest control services near your locality to keep your home bug-free? Your problems can now be solved by ABC Pest Control, a professional service provider that deals with extermination and pest control services.
#4 Announce Something New and Timely, Not Something You Always Do
Saying that you offer tooth whitening is an ad. Saying that you are offering a limited time special deal on tooth whitening is a press release. A press release website is not a place to post an ad. It’s a way to alert the media and customers about new things that are happening that they might find interesting.
Dr. Dentist Offers Zoom Tooth Whitening
Dr. Dentist Announces a $99 Zoom Tooth Whitening Special for San Diego Residents
Some Great Examples
One of my English professor’s once told me that the best way to become a great writer was to read — a lot. And I agree. For some people, reading examples of great press releases can give you a better education than a dozen articles with tips and tricks. Here are some great ones to check out: