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Write a World-Class Release
Make your next media relations piece stand out from the crowd.
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 by Ann Wylie
President, Wylie Communications Inc.

Ann Wylie Most press releases are pretty easy to parody.

Just ask Benny Evangelista, a technology reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle. In a Softletter survey of media professionals about the quality of public relations, Evangelista complained of an increase in the number of “boilerplate” press releases — formulaic releases that all “sound basically the same. …

“Something like: ‘XYZ Co. Inc., a leading supplier of the world’s integrated real-time advanced software-aided microchips, announced today the availability of its latest product, the XYZ 4.2, version 3, which will revolutionize the software-aided micro-technology chip industry. “This will revolutionize the software-aided micro-technology chip industry,” said Joe Blow, XYZ Co. Chief Executive Officer and Founder.’”

Why do PR professionals flock to the fill-in-the-blanks model? Certainly not because it stands out in the crowd of all the other releases a reporter is likely to get in a day.

Instead of conforming to the conventional approach — which is dated, formulaic and, let’s face it, dull — choose a better model to follow. Study the winners of PRSA’s Silver Anvil Award, the highest honor in the public relations business. Here are some great approaches I found in the latest crop:

1. Write a feature lead.

Contrary to popular opinion, reporters don’t hate feature leads. They hate crappy feature leads.

Instead of the conventional “today announced that” lead, why not make your release stand out from the crowd with a lead like this one, from Pfizer Animal Health:

Imagine the first few hours in the recovery room following a hysterectomy or … ligament repair. Consider what post-surgical life has been like for some pets undergoing common surgical procedures; intense hours WITHOUT pain medication. …

2. Lead with the benefits.

Want to get your story into Forbes?

“Present the key element … that explains how your story can benefit Forbes readers,” suggests Bruce Upbin, Forbes senior editor.

No surprise, then, that many Silver Anvil winners lead with the reader benefits. This example is from UnumProvident:

Employers now have a better way to measure, monitor and manage employee absences, thanks to UnumProvident Corporation’s expanded online Comparative Reporting & Analysis information services.

Beats by a mile the tired traditional approach: “UnumProvident Corporation today announced the expansion of its online Comparative Reporting & Analysis information services.”

3. Try a tipsheet.

Take the benefits approach to the furthest extreme, and you wind up with a value-added, or service, piece. Explain “how to,” and watch the media pick up your release. Some Silver Anvil-winning approaches:

  • “Infuse your party with style: Tips and trends for a spectacular summer soiree,” from VOX vodka
  • “Interview opportunity: Tips on how people can get more use out of their health coverage,” from Cigna
  • “UPS offers 10 tips for worry-free packing, shipping”

4. Drag them in with your subject line.

“With print, at least they have to pick it up to throw it away,” says Pat Jones, a communicator at TDS Telecom.

Not so when you’re sending a pitch via e-mail. Online, you’re just one click of the delete key away from obscurity. Your only chance to get the message read: the subject line.

A provocative subject line, like this one from Enterpulse, can get your message opened:

New survey stats for Internet “Death Penalty”

This brisk pitch outlines Internet usage trends, including a “Silent Killer” that can keep people from returning to a company’s site.

5. Give great bio.

Do your executive or director bios read like a resume?


Wake your bios up with human-interest details and storytelling. Here’s a great example from Embassy Suites hotels:

It all started (when) Carlton Calvin (was) reading a brief item in the Los Angeles Times about the growing popularity of push scooters in Japan. With a spark of creative thinking, Carlton, president of Razor USA LLC, spawned the “Razor scooter,” one of the hottest trends to hit the United States within the last two years.

Hint: “It all started when …” leads draw the reader in. The moment of creative inspiration is a great place to start an executive or director bio — or any story, for that matter.

6. Use human interest.

What’s more compelling: an announcement about custom-fitted breast prostheses? Or a “breast cancer survivor profile”?

Let people tell your story with leads like this one, from ContourMed:

In 1989, Elizabeth McCann of Spring, Texas, felt a knot in her left breast. Her physician told her that she needed a biopsy, but was 99 percent sure it would be benign. McCann kept putting it off — until the pain in her breast woke her up at night. …

Instead of just filling in the blanks, use any or all of these approaches when you write your next release or pitch. Make your copy creative and compelling, not just one more cliché. 

Write a better press release

Want more tips about what goes into successful media-relations 
materials? Look for Ann's upcoming teleseminars at

Ann Wylie works with communicators who want to reach more readers
and with organizations that want to get the word out. To learn more
about her training, consulting or writing and editing services,
contact her at
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Copyright © 2005 Ann Wylie. All rights reserved.

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