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Active voice is infinitely more engaging. Use the active voice in your press releases (and in all of your communications whenever possible) instead of the passive voice. Review your release carefully to make sure that your language is as direct as possible. It is also important that you maintain the same tense throughout your release. Don't flip-flop from past to present tense.
Press releases are like resumes. They should not be too long. Your headline and opening paragraph should contain all the essential information in your press release. In fact, they should be able to stand alone if necessary. Think of them as a calendar listing or event announcement unto themselves. Editors may receive hundreds (or even thousands) of releases each week, so get to the point.
Double check your release to make sure you are using the same point of view throughout. Don't write in the first person in one paragraph and then switch to the third person later in the release. As a rule, the third person should be used throughout a press release, with the possible exception of quotations.
If you use an abbreviation in your release, even if it's common in your industry, spell out the first instance and follow it with the abbreviation in parentheses. For example, "Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software." You can then use the acronym alone on subsequent references in the same press release. You never know who will be reading the article that's generated by your release, so leave it to the journalist to determine what level of jargon his or her readers can tolerate.
Business copy needs to be clear, concise and easy to read, without being condescending or overly simplistic. Save the catchy slogans and plays on words for advertising. Executives are busy, and they want you to cut to the chase. Make your point in the first paragraph (or even the headline, if possible). Expand upon your point throughout the rest of the piece.
Press releases should be strong, affirmative statements. Describe what something is rather than what it isn't. Say, "The company is closed on weekends," rather than, "The company is not usually open on weekends." Better yet, say, "The company is open Monday through Friday."
All direct quotes must be attributed in a press release. When attributing a quote, it's usually sufficient to say simply, "he said" or "she said." The temptation is great to modify the attribution with something like, "he said happily," but this is usually unnecessary and detracts from the subject of the quote.
Avoid technical jargon, unless you are certain that your release will only be read by a very specialized audience. Generally, avoid figures of speech or expressions, even if your audience will catch your meaning. Using the simplest possible terms (without being condescending) will give your writing the greatest impact.
Overstating your case in a press release will make the reader suspicious of the entire release. Using superlatives or over-emphasizing your point usually backfires. Make sure anything and everything that you say can be backed up. Cite credible sources in the body of your press release, and include contact information of sources for journalists to ask questions of should they wish to do so.
You should avoid jargon and make your press release conversational in tone. However, you don't need to include too much conversation! Take out any words that aren't critical to the meaning of the sentence. Journalists believe that "less is more," so watch out for words that don't add anything. Some words to watch for include: very, rather, obviously, pretty, and that.
Make sure your copy is error-free. It should be clear, concise, and easy to understand. Leave the cute plays on words and pithy slogans to the billboards and magazine ads. In a press release, you need to communicate the benefits of your product or service effectively and efficiently. Use active language, and avoid past tense.
Stick to the facts, and only include facts that you can substantiate. It's all right to present the facts in the light that's most favorable to your company, but be sure that anything you say can be backed up. Using superlatives or wildly optimistic quotes are red flags to the media. Be sure not to stretch the truth. And even if it is the truth, ask yourself, "Is there some way a reader could misinterpret this?" If so, rewrite the release.
|Sheri Ann Richerson|