I’ll admit it: I used to be firmly against outlining. I preferred the edge-of-your-seat thrill of winging a blog post, press release, or even a story I was writing. Why be restricted to an outline you’re probably going to break anyway, right?
My tune changed over the years, though. After a while I got tired of feeling like I was two words away from losing total control over the piece I was writing, and I embraced the outline. Now I spend almost as much time outlining as I do actually throwing words down on the paper.
If you don’t outline anything else, I highly suggest you use the process for writing a press release. This is because as opposed to a blog post or other more creative piece, a press release is highly dependent on form. Since breaking from that form will likely get your piece ignored, it’s important to plan ahead of time.
I suspect one reason why so many press releases fail to get placed is that their writers strive to make them something they aren’t. You want to be interesting and creative to keep readers’ interest, sure, but at the same time the press release form has been around for a long time for a reason.
The main purpose of a press release is to relay information. It’s not necessarily to entertain, or to amaze, or to expand someone’s horizon; it’s to get across that a thing is happening or has happened at a certain place, time, and who it concerns. If they don’t have this necessary info they’re not fulfilling the basic duty of a press release.
You have to keep in mind releases are for news outlets, and they primarily use the “top down” form. This is why you have to get all the necessary info ASAP – the who, what, where, etc. If you don’t, readers will have no idea why the story is important.
Keeping Eyes Moving
Your main job as a press release writer is to get eyeballs on the page and keep them moving. Once your reader gives up midway through the piece you’ve failed. Something about the story turned them off and they mentally checked out, which means nobody comes into your store and the whole company goes out of business.
Ok, while it’s not that dire (maybe), it’s still vital you figure out what went wrong. One likely source is the lack of format, which outlining can help you with. Is your title amazing? Do you have a killer one, maybe two sentence opening? Did you include the absolute most vital pieces of info up top?
Make sure to take a look at the rest of the piece. Again, you don’t want anyone to lose interest midway through – even if they get through all the important bits, you could still lose them for good if they get bored reading the rest. So is what you’ve included totally vital… or at least interesting enough to include?
If not, cut it out of the outline entirely. The more of these you do, the more ruthless you become at omitting extraneous details that don’t move the football forward. Soon enough your outlines will be razor sharp, which will make your press releases impossible to pass up.
Do you typically outline before you start writing?