Arguably, a public relations professional’s most valuable skill is his or her writing. The pen-- or MacBook-- is mightier than the sword, right? Not only is it powerful, but writing is also art. Blogs, proposals, biographies and press releases are all the different art forms that a public relations professional must master.
Press releases, in particular, are the lifeblood of the industry. Because they are official statements organizations distribute to the media about past or upcoming events, issues or changes, PR professionals must do everything in their power to ensure their press releases are published and read. Greater readability comes into play here. Scrawling out the who, what, where, when and why is easy. It is harder to engage a media-saturated audience and keep them reading.
Here is a compilation on how to increase readability for your press releases:
Morry Morgan, author and marketing director of ClarkMorgan Ltd., notes in this video that a simple key to excellent reliability is utilizing the short-long-short technique. As the name suggests, switch up your writing by combining short then long then short sentences. A short sentence has one full stop at the end. Long sentences are categorized as having commas, semicolons or dashes.
Using only short sentences makes the writer seem childish and immature; using long sentences can easily confuse the audience. For example, do not write “My name is John Smith, and I am a public relations professional in Chattanooga working for an in-house communications department.” Instead, try “My name is John Smith. I am a public relations professional in Chattanooga working for an in-house communications department. Here is my story.” Change your sentence structure to sound mature and keep your readers engaged.
Everyone has that one friend or co-worker who is a “Grammar Police.” This person patrols Facebook, commenting on people’s posts of how they missed a comma or used the wrong your/you’re. Whether funny or annoying, these people just prove that using incorrect grammar and punctuation distracts others from the intended message. Ensure your audience has uninterrupted readability by using tools like Grammarly or Hemmingway. These tools not only spell check for you but also provide suggestions regarding sentence structure and passive voice. Grammarly, in particular, has a free version that checks critical grammar issues and a premium version that includes genre-specific writing style checks.
Few, if any, PR professionals have not heard of the rule of placing the most important information at the top leading to minor details at the bottom. Capture the audience's’ attention with features that outright answer the 5Ws and H: Who, What, Where, When, Why and How.
Classic, straightforward announcements are ideal for short releases. Recent research provides statistics of why the inverted pyramid form may not always be for you. The reality is that sometimes the audience wants to be courted first with a concrete but creative lead. They not only want “Why should I care?” answered but also to be reminded of “Why I do care.” When appropriate, weave anecdotes, metaphors and human interest stories into your press release’s intro. Here’s an excellent example of feature-style writing for a news article by the Chattanooga Times Free Press:
“Event organizers estimated 6,200 people gathered in Coolidge Park on Monday night to listen to — or protest — Franklin Graham's speech for his Decision America Tennessee Tour.”
Notice how some-- not all-- of the pertinent details were added, e.g. the when and how many. However, adding the simple “or protest” conveyed the idea to the audience that there is more to this story than just a report of an event.
Public speaker and communications specialist Ann Wylie of Wylie Communications makes a big push for more feature-style writing in the professional field. Not feature stories. Feature-style writing.
Nothing increases readability for your press releases more than simply good solid content. Ask yourself who your target audiences are. Use this information to ensure the subjects you are communicating to your audiences are relevant and relatable to them. Press releases must connect and foster relationships with your readers.
One the same note, not every piece of information regarding your organization is to be put into a press release. Yes, hiring a new office manager is exciting internally. But is this information vital for your external audience to know? Try not to overload your readers with unnecessary details.
If you have a good relationship with a reporter who has covered announcements in the past, it might be a good time to offer an exclusive or pitch interviews without distributing traditional press release at all.
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