3 Elements to Writing an Attention-Grabbing Press Release

Photo of a pyramid that has been flipped to be inverted.

© Can Stock Photo Inc./ANZAV

According to one public relations blogger, the three largest press release distribution companies issue a combined 1,759 press releases every day. But a 2014 study found that journalists spend less than a minute perusing each one.

To break through the clutter, you must write a compelling press release that grabs an editor’s attention. Press releases have been eulogized by many, but they’re not dead. On the contrary, they remain an essential tool to anyone who wishes to get the media’s attention. Even in today’s climate of blogs, online releases, Facebook, and Twitter marketing, the press release maintains its relevance.

Three elements are essential to writing a compelling press release that grabs the attention of reporters and editors: the inverted pyramid, the lead block, and the headline.

Press releases are written in the inverted pyramid style

Speeches, columns, feature stories and most other forms of writing have a beginning, a body, and a conclusion. A press release, however, is written in the inverted pyramid style. Because of that, the lead paragraph(s) and a strong headline are crucial to grabbing an editor’s attention. In the inverted pyramid style, we begin with the conclusion. There are no surprise endings in a press release. You must put as many of the Who, What, When, Where, Why, and/or How elements in the first paragraph. Remember, you only have a few seconds to grab the reporter’s or editor’s attention. If he or she needs to wade through the press release to find the pertinent information, you’ve lost them. The most important information leads your press release, followed by the next most important information, followed by the next most important information, and continues until you end with the least important information. Hence, the inverted pyramid.

The lead paragraphs must give the most pertinent information

Aside from the headline, your first paragraph or two are the most important element in a press release. In PR parlance, it’s called the lead. Remember, you must put as many of the Who, What, When, Where, Why, and/or How elements in the lead. Let’s consider this lead I wrote for a food truck rodeo sponsored by Alexandria, Virginia’s West End Business Association. It’s a two-paragraph lead:

“ALEXANDRIA, VIRGINIA – Everything from Maine lobster to fresh pizza will be offered at this year’s West End Business Association’s 2nd Annual Food Truck Rodeo as the number of food trucks increases to 10 from the seven offering grand grub last year. In addition, an expanded general store of four mobile merchandise outlets will provide the optimal shopping experience – from plus-size women’s fashions to skateboards.

“Presented by WEBA and the DMV Food Truck Association, the event will take place from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Friday, June 5, at Southern Towers Apartments, 4901 Seminary Road, Alexandria. Entry to the event is free. Up to 5,000 buckaroos and cow belles are expected this year.”

  •  Who: You have the food trucks, the merchandise trucks, WEBA, and the DMV Food Truck Association.
  • What: 2nd Annual Food Truck Rodeo
  • When: 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., Friday, June 5
  • Where: Southern Towers Apartments, 4901 Seminary Road, Alexandria
  • Why and/or How: Not specifically spelled out in the lead, but good grub is why people should attend.

Under that I have a quote from the president of the organization that adds more information to the 5 W’s, followed by information on the specific food trucks. All important information, but not critical to capturing the editor’s attention.

Write a compelling and editor-grabbing headline

The headline is your first chance to grab a reporter or editor. If you’re emailing the press release, it’s in the subject line. If you’re faxing it, it’s bolder and larger to stand out. If you’re posting a link to it from your web site, it needs to cause someone to want to click the link.

A headline should not exceed 15 words. If you need to add information, a drop head – a smaller headline under the main headline – is acceptable. Here’s the headline and drop head I wrote for the food truck rodeo.

10 Food Trucks to Rustle Up Some Great Grub at 2nd Annual Food Truck Rodeo
4 merchandise trucks includes a mobile skateboard boutique

What makes that a compelling headline – aside from the fact that I wrote it? Several ingredients make it so. One, it contains numbers. Humans are attracted to numbers. 10 food trucks, 4 merchandise trucks. Second, it uses verbiage that reflects a rodeo atmosphere. Rustle Up Some Great Grub. It has an action verb. Rustle Up. It has a bit of alliteration. Great Grub. The drop head includes a surprise entry – a mobile skateboard boutique. But mostly it contains Who, What, and Why – three of the five essential questions you need to answer in the lead. (One could argue that 2nd Annual Food Truck Rodeo is What, Where, and When as written. But it would be presumptuous of me to point that out.) (See the full press release: 052115_WEBA_Food_Trucks_Announced.)

So there you have it: The three most essential elements of an attention-grabbing press release:

  • Inverted pyramid style that has the most important information at top and continues in a hierarchy of importance until it ends with the least important.
  • A lead paragraph or block that not only provides the Who, What When, Where and Why and/or How – but makes it sing. And,
  • A strong headline that quickly and accurately summarizes your release in 15 words or fewer and contains an action verb.

Practice those three elements and you, too, can grab the attention of reporters and editors.

Want to know more? Download your FREE copy of "14 Press Release Best Practices."


Tom Pfeifer is the managing partner and chief strategist for Consistent Voice Communications. Reach him at Tom@YourConsistentVoice.com.

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