A press release has to start strong, and the most important element is the very first paragraph. If that first paragraph doesn’t do its job, your press release will not get even a cursory reading.
Without a strong opening, your newsworthy communiqué will be ignored, discarded, deleted and consigned to oblivion. It will be as if you never sent it in the first place.
First you have to capture attention.
Stand Out from the Competition
For a press release, oblivion is truly the fate worse than death. Your challenge is the competition – the sheer volume of press releases.
First, thousands of press releases inundate news outlets every day. We’re talking about well more than half a million releases, all crying out for attention, year after year.
Second, the situation is worsened by the continuing decline in the number of humans working in newsrooms. Those people are your first audience. You want them reading what you’ve written and deeming it worthy of news coverage. However, there are more communications to wade through and fewer and fewer journalists to do the wading.
With that kind of arithmetic working against you, you’re doing an excellent job if your press release gets more than a passing glance.
Get to the Point: The 5 W’s
The lesson should be clear: You can’t waste time making your point. Your first paragraph has to give the reader the story in a nutshell. You can elaborate further down the page, but first you have to capture attention so that the reader will actually keep reading.
This does not mean that you need to grab the reader with something zany. The format is straightforward: just the facts, but make them the right facts, and the easiest way to do that is by adhering to the journalist’s tried-and-true formula. Your first paragraph needs to cover who, what, where, when, and why, the “five Ws” of newspaper writing. Some Ws are more important than others:
Who: Identify the organization issuing the release, but keep it simple. You’ll get to add more information later.
What: This is where the action is. What are you announcing? What makes it important, interesting or, most especially, newsworthy now? You’re asking your reader to pass this news along to his or her editors and readers or viewers. There must be some reason that drives this next step.
Where: Where is all this taking place?
When: There is a dateline attached to every press release, so your “when” is built in.
Why: You may not need to delve into the background of the announcement in its first paragraph but you’ll want to answer this question in the first few paragraphs.
How: In some cases, you’ll describe the “how.”
What Type of Audience?
Technology companies, especially companies interested in reaching a broad audience, would be wise to explain why the news in question matters, and to whom.
For tech companies, it’s critical that they identify the audience they’re ultimately trying to reach. Is this release destined for a trade publication with an audience of savvy insiders? In that case, you can load up on the tech-speak. A more general audience needs help, and it’s important for the writer to realize that industry language – the jargon and the acronyms – may be incomprehensible to outsiders.
Getting the essential facts into that first paragraph doesn’t necessarily make for excitement, but excitement isn’t the goal. Put yourself in the position of the reader who’s inundated with releases. You have a few scant seconds to decide if there’s something of interest there. Capture that interest by hitting the highlights.
Here, for example, is the opening paragraph of an actual release:
“For Israeli image analysis software developer Zebra Medical Vision, size definitely matters. The start-up believes its database of 10 million curated imaging studies and extensive collaborations with researchers around the world will take image analysis algorithms to a whole new level.”
That’s actually the beginning of an interesting story, but it’s hard to see why it matters from the paragraph that starts things off.
To grab attention include compelling details and answer why it matters and what makes the news newsworthy. Consider this new opening:
“Zebra Medical Vision, a software developer specializing in medical imaging, has compiled an image database up to a thousand times the size of those currently in use, and has used that database to develop algorithms capable of detecting abnormalities with greatly decreased risk of the false-positive results that plague current methodologies. Patients at risk can be identified sooner and health care organizations will be able to implement clinical analysis and population management, two benefits that are entirely new.”
Next, add a pithy and piquant quote from an authority, and you’re off and running.
Press releases don’t have to aspire to high art. The new version gives a better idea of why attention should be paid. And attention is the name of the press release game.
WHAT NEXT? You know to start strong – read on for other great tips to write an impactful press release.
Need help crafting an attention-getting press release? Contact us at Content Marketing Place.