The Art and Science of Writing Press Releases
Blending Art and Science in News Releases and Business Writing
Contemporary business writing offers an impressive array of practical examples that illustrate how the diverse worlds of art and science can be effectively combined. In particular, an effective press announcement requires both artistic and scientific skills to “make it work.”
Both readers and search engines are likely to devalue press releases and other business writing that do not include appealing and informative graphics and video content. But entertaining visual images do not replace the need for a manager or business owner to also observe basic scientific principles when producing a news statement for their organization. In today’s evolving digital marketplace, the underlying science for a press release involves a challenging combination of search engine practices, persuasive writing, strategic planning, marketing and business psychology. How many business owners and managers are prepared to juggle all of those balls capably?
If you’re looking for business writing tips about a news release, the following sections will get you started on your journey.
The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.— Peter Drucker
9 Suggested Press Release Guidelines and “Rules”
One of the recurring difficulties when business owners and managers write a press release is knowing what to do and how to do it. With this in mind, the table below includes a short list of recommended rules and guidelines.
Search engine guidelines are constantly evolving — a classic example of “A Work in Progress.” Unfortunately, some of the business writing practices observed by Google and other search engines are subject to interpretation. When writing a press release, you will need to blend common sense with published guidelines for linking practices. For example, the current prevailing wisdom is to use “nofollow” (aka no follow) links in a press release. Why? In part, because Google says so.
But this is where common sense comes into play. The primary purpose of a press release should be to inform the public about new products, services and business activities. Links are truly a small part of that strategy — and either “Follow” or “No Follow” links will accomplish the mission. By using “nofollow” links, however, search engines are likely to treat your press release with a little more respect when search engine results are calculated.
Press Release Guidelines
Remember Google: “No Follow” (aka Nofollow) Links
Insist on Original Content
Include a Relevant Image and Video
Avoid Misleading Claims
Use Third Person Viewpoint (She, He, They)
Limit Length to 500 Words or Less
Avoid Unnecessary Links
Explain the “5 Ws” in the 1st Paragraph
Avoid Monday, Friday and Weekends (Usually)
If you aren't sure about the "Five Ws" mentioned above, here they are — (W)ho, (W)hat, (W)hen, (W)here and (W)hy. The "best" time of day for a press announcement depends on several factors — and the choice can become a "jump ball" for organizations with customers in several time zones. If you want to avoid news release "rush hour" (8 am to 9:30 am), consider scheduling from 10 am to 4 pm.
Achieving success with concise press release content is an easier mission to accomplish by including visually appealing items — relevant videos and textual graphics. Keep in mind that many readers of business announcements will "scan" instead of reading everything from start to finish. A short video and graphics with textual information should convey all (or most) key points contained in the news bulletin.
Here is an example (released October 11, 2017) that complies with all of the suggestions in the "Guidelines" table: Press Release Example.
Press Releases: How Long?
Business news statements are usually most successful when restricted to a maximum of 500 words, and a shorter announcement is frequently even more effective — some sites will limit you to a shorter version anyway. A limit varying from 250 to 500 words is imposed on several sites. In a few cases, you can still publish a longer press release on some websites by paying additional fees. But I recommend that you take the hint and save a few dollars at the same time: Keep your special notice short and simple.
With any concise news bulletin, you must clearly choose your words very carefully. This can be a difficult assignment even for the most experienced writer.
The most valuable of all talents is that of never using two words when one will do.— Thomas Jefferson
Should “Free” Press Announcements Be Avoided?
“Yes” is my answer to the above question. As noted in the following section, it is difficult enough to produce an effective news release under the best possible circumstances — a free business announcement typically detracts from even the best-written content.
The historical origins of free press release sites provide a major insight about avoiding the no-cost variations. Most of the free versions were originally designed to provide SEO benefits with multiple links using strategic keywords to impress the search engines. Google and others eventually penalized such practices and designated many/most of the originating sites as spam.
Even though the search engine penalties should have been enough to eliminate the no-cost versions, you can still find a number of press announcement sites that offer “free” services. Many of these sites simply publish the free news releases on their own website and don’t actually “distribute” to anyone. Additionally, the free content includes plenty of paid promotional ads by sponsors. In most cases, the free content is hosted by the publishing website for a limited period of time before the release is unpublished. Finally, the “trust level” for a free press announcement is extremely low — for journalists, prospective customers and search engines.
To avoid the problems just noted, you don’t have to spend hundreds of dollars — although there are plenty of services that do charge that much. I suggest using cost-effective options in the range of $30 to $40.
Are Press Releases Effective?
My candid answer is “No” for most typical business news announcement examples. To improve your chances, start by following the guidelines suggested above — and distribute your press bulletin via a respected paid service.
Just as the publishing world has changed for other forms of written content, the original purpose of press releases is now fulfilled by new forms of online communication. Potential buyers of products and services are no longer dependent on a news release to get information before making a purchase.
The preferred customer-centric content can take many forms — examples include white papers, case studies and extended articles. But press announcements are increasingly shunned by customers and news media because of a reputation for being overly promotional.
Please refer to the following table for alternative suggestions.
Three Alternatives to Paid Press Releases
Publish Press Announcements Only on Your Own Website
Stop Using Conventional News Releases
Provide Customer-Centric Educational Content
Ineffective Press Releases: A Common Illustration of Recurring Business Problems
Both search engines and business clients have rapidly devalued the everyday use of short articles that are not informative.— Stephen Bush
© 2015 Stephen Bush