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Turn off the TV and Start Writing Your Press Release!

by Al Harberg
If you're not sending press releases about your programs to the computer magazine editors, then you're not serious about selling shareware. Here's everything you need to know to start writing your press release now.
How to Format It - Structure:

Editors expect to see your press release in a standard structure. Start with your letterhead. Type "For Immediate Release" and, on the next line, type "Contact:" followed by the name and phone number of the person whom the editors should call if they have any questions about your press release.

Next, type the headline. This is the one-liner that the magazines will print to catch their readers' attention. Put a lot of thought into this line. You'll need to get the readers' attention if you are going to get their interest.

Next comes the body of the press release. The first sentence should start with your company's name and say something like, "XYZ Corp has released v. 2.0 of Widget, a PC-based software package that - - - ." This first sentence should define the product. It should tell the reader if he or she should read on, or move to the next news item. Don't tell them in the first sentence that your software runs on a PC and requires a VGA monitor and is network-ready, and then tell them in the middle of the press release that it's a Service Station Management program. Get to the important stuff first. Give the reader a thumbnail sketch in the first sentence.

Double space your press release. One-and-a-half spacing is okay also. Keep the entire press release to a single page, two pages tops. Every press release can be shortened with no loss of quality. Look for noise words and phrases. Eliminate them.

Always end your press release with your company's contact information. You might say, "Widget costs $59 and is available from XYZ Corp, 123 Main St., - - - "

Skip a line. Then center three "# # #" characters (signifying the end of the press release text.) Under the pound signs, you can include notes to the editors such as "Evaluation Copy Available on Request" or "Slides and Photographs Available."

If you're going to use e-mail to distribute your press release, send it as plain-vanilla text. Make it easy for the editors to cut and paste your words into their word processors. If you force the editors to wrestle with typographic quotes instead of plain quotes, with emdashes instead of plain hyphens, with superscripted TM's and other special characters instead of standard characters, you're hurting your chances of being printed. The editors simply don't have time to manicure your press release.

What to Say - Content:

Your first sentence should have your product name, your company name and a short description of your shareware.

Build your press release like a pyramid, with the important information on top. If the editors have to cut material, they'll always cut from the bottom of the press release. (This is why you'll never want to include two products in a single press release.)

You can't say everything about your product. Choose the points that make it sellable. Choose the features that distinguish it from its competitors. Choose the benefits that will make people reach for their wallets.

How to Say It - Style:

Keep it simple. The way you should write it is the way you would say it to a friend, if you could choose your words carefully. Don't use $5.00 words when 50-cent words will do. Don't use computer jargon that somebody might not understand. Editors aren't impressed by cutesy phrases. Editors are impressed by clarity. Prospects aren't impressed by obscure words. Prospects are impressed by clarity. Editors don't tell their readers about things that they (the editors) don't understand. And prospects don't buy things they don't understand.

Always use active voice. Every sentence should be in the format "Subject does something to Object." No sentence should be in the format "Object has something done to it by Subject." Here are a few examples of active voice and passive voice:

  • XYZ Corp has released Widget. Widget has been released by XYZ Corp.
  • Always use active voice. Active voice should always be used.
  • I made some mistakes. Some mistakes were made.
  • Editors won't print passive voice PR's. Passive voice PR's won't be printed by editors.

And since editors won't print press releases that are written in the passive voice, they'll either rewrite your press release (unlikely) or choose another company's press release. Use active voice.

Hype Won't Fly - If you put a little puffery in your press release, the editors will take it out. If you put a lot of puffery in your press release, the editors will trash your press release and print somebody else's. Here are examples of things that just won't be printed:

  • XYZ Corp has released a revolutionary Word Processing program - - - -
  • XYZ's ground-breaking entrant into the Word Processing field - - -
  • XYZ's acclaimed Word Processor sets a new standard for - - -
  • XYZ's best-selling Word Processor eclipses its competitors with - - -

The editors know that you're going to quote them if they say something nice about your shareware. So when you say "XYZ sets a new paradigm for software," they can't possibly print that or you'll cover your web site with this hype, and attribute it to their magazine.

It's not going to happen. If you include this kind of hyperbole in your press release, the editors will strike it out. If you include a lot of hype, the editors will trash your press release and use one that doesn't require as much rewriting.

Next Steps:
Next month, hundreds of computer editors will tell millions of readers about new software. They're not going to say a word about your shareware unless you send them a press release. Do it now!
Since 1984, Al Harberg has been president of DP Directory, Inc., a marketing firm dedicated to helping software authors bring their programs to market. You can visit him at http://www.dpdirectory.com/. Al will be glad to answer any comments or questions posted on the ASP newsgroup asp.members.