How to Write a Great Press Release Credit: Newspaper image via Shutterstock

If you're a small startup taking a do-it-yourself approach to public relations, you'll probably have to write a press release or two for your business. You might have some questions if you've never had to write one before: When do I publish one? How many should I write? What do I say?

While a press release can be a very effective tool for getting your company recognized, it will fall flat if it's not done correctly. Follow these tips from four public relations professionals to make sure your release is not only well written, but well read, too.

Cover the basics

The first lesson most journalists learn about news reporting is to cover the "five W's": who, what, where, when and why. These basic pieces of information make up the core of a news story and get the facts across in a clear, concise way. While a reporter may spread the W's throughout the first few paragraphs of an article to make room for a catchy lead, your release should include them all up front.

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"Always answer the five W's in the first paragraph of your press release," said Stephanie Burke of Highwire PR. "Most people's attention spans are incredibly short. It's key to get the most important information at the top of the page; that way, the reader takes away a solid understanding of your news."

David Johnson, CEO of Strategic Vision Public Relations, said that having a solid opening is crucial to your release getting picked up by media outlets.

"The most common mistake that small businesses make in writing press releases is thinking that the entire release will be picked up," Johnson told BusinessNewsDaily. "It won't be. Usually what is picked up, if anything, is the first paragraph. That paragraph needs to pass the 'smell test' of the reporter. If it doesn’t, the press release won't receive coverage."

Johnson also noted to include a "boilerplate" description of one or two sentences describing your company, contact information in case reporters have further questions and links to your social media platforms.

Don't overdo it

Once you've figured out how to craft well-written releases, the next step is to determine when and how often you should write them.

"The purpose of a press release is to announce something newsworthy, such as the launch of a new product or the opening of a new location," said Cara Downs, director of consumer media at SSA Public Relations. "You don't want to get press release-happy and tire out the media."

Similarly, Johnson noted that putting out too many press releases will get you nowhere with news outlets.

"Too often, small businesses believe they need to keep up a rigorous schedule of 'X' number of press releases per month, and as a result, they're ignored," Johnson said. "The key is not to deluge the media."

To avoid ending up in a reporter's trash folder, save press releases for major announcements like new products or services, industry recognition or special events.

It's not a sales pitch

Remember that your press release is not an advertisement. According to Downs, small businesses often make the mistake of misrepresenting opinions as facts in releases.

"Any opinion given in a press release should be in quotes and attributed to an executive," she said.

Johnson suggests that quotes be put toward the beginning of the release so reporters will see it and include it in their articles.

Is it newsworthy?

When deciding whether to write a press release, it's important to think about the big picture.

"The content should reflect how and why your news is important, and should always link to strategic, long-term company goals," Burke told BusinessNewsDaily. "A good rule of thumb is to think the way your audience does. If it doesn't seem appealing from their point of view, it's probably a sign to rework the release or hold off until you have a stronger story."

If you do think your release will capture your audience's attention, make sure your content is interesting enough to hold it.

"For small and large companies, original and sharable content is key," said Alexa Hoffman, U.S. distribution product manager for PR Newswire. "We encourage the use of multimedia, calls to action and social media features to enhance engagement with what you're creating."

Originally published on BusinessNewsDaily.