Flight of beer or press releases?
Flight of beer or press releases?

Improving your press releases, one beer at a time

Press releases, also known as news releases, can be viewed as just another task on a to-do list, but in reality, it’s extremely beneficial to reporters, the company, as well as a public relations specialist or team, so understanding the “why” and “how-to” behind a press release is critical for someone going into the public relations field.

A press release is a short, descriptive statement describing a topic such as a new program, an event the company is hosting, a change in branding, or anything else considered newsworthy. It displays a heading with the public relations officer’s contact information and an eye-catching headline.

Josh Houston, a professor of public relations and communication studies at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, says that he likes to compare PR writing to beer commercials. “Clear, crisp: you always hear those words in beer commercials, and press releases should be the same way.”

A typical press release should include a main overview in short, easy-to-read sentences in the first section, and then answering the “5 W’s” in the next sections for extra detail, with quotes provided if necessary.

“We don’t write English-paper-type paragraphs, each paragraph is about one thing. We hit it with short sentences and short paragraphs for maximum clarity”, Houston said. “Use ‘naked quotes’. Always have your quotes stand-alone rather than buried in a paragraph.”

Houston explains how press releases have had to adapt to the differences in how people consume information in this digital age, looking for more direct information, and how most PR students may not realize that digital and traditional press releases aren’t necessarily the same.

“Digital releases are usually a lot shorter than the traditional release, usually several paragraphs at most. Press releases can even go out on Twitter now, in only 140 characters,” Houston said. “Social media used to be just for fun, to show the social side of the company for games and fun interactions, and now it’s being used for real news releases and much more important information.”

Even in the continuously changing technological age we find ourselves a part of, press releases have remained a reliable way to communicate for public relations specialists. And whether through post, tweet, pdf, or old school mail, I don’t think I’ll ever forget to keep my press releases crisp and clear, like a beer commercial. Cheers!

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