How To Write Press Releases For Web Reporters

    January 4, 2007
    WebProNews Staff

As an e-commerce journalist, my inbox is flooded with press releases. I choose, maybe, two percent of them to cover. That’s a generous estimate. Why so few? Sometimes it’s because of a plate already full, or an irrelevant or uninteresting topic (so-and-so promoted to VP of something or other). But most of the time, it’s because of poor writing.

If you’re a big enough fish, then reporters, writers, and bloggers come to you looking for information and the press release is just a courtesy communicative device. But if you’re trying to drum up some attention for your organization and its fantastic, fresh, innovative, and newsworthy projects, then the press release may be your only communicative device.

A Quick Guide to Press Release Composition

The most important parts of the press release are the headline, the first few sentences, the body language, and the quotes.


Just like in news articles, the headline and lead (lede) matter. They matter a lot. The first thing my first PR professor taught me, later echoed by a former director of media relations at Ashland Inc., was that a good press release grabs the reader’s attention, shakes him up, and doesn’t let him go. That’s done in the first three lines.

Unlike news article headlines, though, a good press release headline is clear, to the point, and short. Really short. Online news headlines are written to be clicked, or to be picked up better by Google. Press releases, when sitting midway down a stack of a hundred or so, need to be seen and understood quickly. Journalists ain’t got all day.

Bad Headline:

Leveraging the Best Practices Developed By Cutting-Edge Scientific Communities, Widgets Galore Makes Breakthrough In Personal Travel

Good Headline:

Widgets Galore Perfects Teleportation

When in doubt, go back to grammar school: subject, verb, object.

Lead (Lede)

Once you’ve got their attention, keep their attention with the first few sentences.

Bad Lede:

Widgets Galore (NASDAQ: WIG) (, a pioneering industry leader and developer of technology-based travel solutions, announced today the creation of the first of its kind tool named WigiGo, in partnership with Hawking, LLC, revolutionizing the way in which people will travel in the 21st Century. WigiGo allows consumers users to take advantage of the latest quantum technology, developed by Widgets Galore, making it possible to, from a web-based application, temporarily alter the space-time continuum long enough to be instantaneously transported from one location to another.

Ouch! The parentheses are clumsy. Legalese, Corporate-ese, Press Release-ese, technical jargon, multiple clauses and asides, all make that one mess of a pair of sentences. The exciting part is at the end, which no busy reporter actually read. (Yes, I’ve seen many press releases just like this.)

Save the self-aggrandizing, the trademark notifications, and URLs for the end. Leave about the verbosity altogether.

Good Lede:

Widgets Galore has made teleportation possible for the first time in human history with a new web-based application called WigiGo.

Body Language

Many press release writers bury the useful information in the middle, beneath layers of fluff. Short press releases rule the world. But the worst press release writers stuff even the all-important middle with so much corporate and technical jargon that the coolest parts of the story are lost.

Quit that! Even if a reporter made it through the headline and introduction, you’ve lost him when you talk over his head, or make the language cryptic with corporate speak. Keep it simple.

The Quotes

Contrary to popular belief, reporters hate having to chase people down. They have a deadline to make. So there’s nothing more annoying in a press release than a useless sales pitch of a quote from a corporate talking head suit. It’s useless to the reporter. It’s useless to the reader (the end-user, Mr. Jargon).

Bad Quote #1:

“When you use WigiGo, it’ll be clear that you don’t need Calgon to take you away anymore,” said Roger Talkinghead, Assistant Vice President of Teleportation Development, Web Division. “For the first time ever in human history, people will leave their homes knowing they can easily get to wherever they’re going in no time. Just point, click, and zoom.”

Alright, so teleportation isn’t a good example. It’s still kind of exciting and doesn’t need much salesmanship. But, if this were a less exciting product, a more useful quote would have to do with how the product was developed, or how successful tests have been – something more meaningful than “this product rocks.”

Bad Quote #2:

“Hawking, LLC is committed to providing innovative ways to help consumers go where they want, when they want, and as fast as they want,” said Smiley TechGuy, Assistant Vice President of Hawking Sales and Distribution. “We’re proud to work with Widgets Galore on such an exciting project.”

Gag me with a spoon, Smiley. Tell me how much it’s going to cost to dematerialize my fat butt and shoot me through a space-time continuum rip to Egypt and then get out of the way.

This has been a crash course in what busy, e-commerce journalists are looking for in a good press release: short, clear, exciting, useful.

Hope it helps and happy writing!

See also David Utter’s “How To Chat Up Writers

Currently pursuing a Master of Fine Arts in Writing, Jason has a Bachelor’s degree in Communication, and is certified in print journalism by the Kentucky Press Association.


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