Five tips for better press release ledes

October 5, 2013

The word lede is newsroom jargon for the opening line or paragraph of a news story — spelled that way to avoid confusion with the verb and the metal. But it’s more than just an opening. A good lede tells you something important and leaves you wanting more.

The lede is the swing of the bat; if it doesn’t connect, you strike out. The headline may catch the eye, but if the first few lines don’t communicate or intrigue, you’re out of luck. Most people are busy, impatient or distracted to begin with, and new media fight for their shrinking attention span every day. If the lede doesn’t grab them by the lapels and tell them why they should invest valuable time in reading further, they click the mouse or turn the page. Next batter up.

Writers agonize over ledes, sometimes needlessly, sometimes with good cause. The lede is crucial, but it doesn’t have to be a work of art. “A four-alarm fire today killed three firefighters and injured seven” is a perfectly appropriate lede. It’s workmanlike, but clear and effective. It tells you the when and the what, and leaves you eager to find out more about the why, where and how.

In media relations the lede is important in every form of writing, but it most proves troublesome in press releases. Too many press releases are undone by clunky, convoluted or rambling introductions. Here are five basic tips to write more effective press release ledes:

Start with your best stuff

The cardinal rule is: don’t bury the lede. The most urgent information, compelling fact or unexpected insight must be in your opening line, then fill in other information in order of importance. In the age of Twitter, people expect you to get to the point in 140 characters or less.

Be brief

Way too many press releases begin with an extraordinarily long, impenetrably dense sentence that attempts to incorporate every single relevant fact. Break it up. Short, clear sentences expressing discrete facts are best.

Be plain

The goal is clear communication, not a Pulitzer. Cut the jargon and business-speak.

Make sure there’s a why

Not all press releases are strictly directed to the press, but if you hope to draw media attention, every reporter or editor will ask two questions: “Why is this important to my readers, ans why is this important now?” If the answers are not close to the top, the release will be hit the dust bin, not the front page.

Remember the four C’s

Clean, clear, concise and compelling — the leaner your language, the clearer your point. Try using a stopwatch as you read your first paragraph to time how long it takes to get the key point across. If it’s more than 10 seconds, start over.