Why Press Releases Should Tell Stories

Jul 10, 2024

Hey, want to hear an announcement from my company?


Hey, want to hear a story?

Which got your attention?

If you’re human, it was probably the latter.

We are hardwired to listen to and learn from stories. From the earliest days of painting on cave walls through Aesop’s Fables and TEDx Talks, stories have proven themselves to be the best way to convey information to an audience. Even business information. Write a memo reminding people to always file their TPS reports with a cover sheet and they’ll ignore it. Tell them a story about the coworker who got fired for forgetting the cover sheet and they’ll remember.

But we largely abandon the power of narrative when it comes to press releases, which tend to be dry recitations of facts fleshed out with manufactured quotes and a corporate boilerplate.

For years the standard thinking on press releases has been to cram as much of the important information as possible up top on the theory that journalists won’t read past the headline and opening paragraph. There is merit to this approach if you’re announcing something truly significant or newsworthy, like a corporate merger or a new iPhone.

But, if we’re being honest, that’s the minority of releases. In most cases, the news isn’t a big enough deal to sell itself. So we, as PR practitioners, need to sell it. And stories are the best way to do it. A compelling story wrapped around a somewhat-less compelling piece of news can make an irresistible package.

Here’s an example: A chemical company wanted to announce a new polymer that would be used to line the surfaces of artificial joints. That could have been a straightforward product announcement, but I wanted to humanize the impact of the product, so I focused on the recipients of the artificial knees and hips, not the polymer itself.

I found Senior Olympics basketball players, each of whom had at least one artificial joint, and shot a video of them playing and talking about how grateful they were for the technology that let them hoop it up into their 80s. It was a step or two removed from the actual product, but it brought home the idea that this polymer had real benefits for people.

For the most part, Amendola clients are B2B and work in healthcare IT, which doesn’t easily lend itself to narrative. However, like with the above example, it’s often possible to bring it to the level of the patients and users of the technology. What does new perioperative scheduling software accomplish? Fewer delays and cancellations in scheduling surgeries, which is good for patients and clinicians. How about a new staffing platform for nurses? It gives them greater flexibility and allows them to earn more money.

Sometimes the narrative can be built around a single illuminating fact. I wrote a press release for a company whose seals were to be used on the Mars Rover. In and of itself, not that big a deal; scores of manufacturers had components on the Rover. What I learned from talking to company engineers is that it is impossible to build a seal that doesn’t leak, particularly in space; success is building a seal that leaks very, very slowly. How slowly? In this case, so slowly that it would take 1,000 years to empty a Coke can.

In the release, I told the story of these engineers working toward this ridiculously exacting specification. And it got picked up more than the dozens of cookie-cutter announcements that went out from other parts suppliers.

Of course, the stories must be interesting and short. They can’t meander and they can’t obscure the news. And they must be relevant. Don’t announce a brand of hard seltzer by telling a story about how a surfer took on a 50-foot wave and then enjoyed a can of seltzer back on the beach. Save that for the commercial.

Most press releases vanish with little notice or impact, like gnats flying into a bug zapper. But tell a good story, and people will remember it.

Jim Sweeney

Jim Sweeney brings more than 35 years of experience in public relations and journalism to his role as Senior Account and Content Director at Amendola. As someone who has worked in both industries, Jim understands the demands and expectations of clients, making him a dynamic and valuable team member. He spent 25 years as a reporter and editor for daily newspapers, including 17 years at the Cleveland Plain Dealer. In addition to news and features, he also reviewed books and wrote essays and columns. Notable career accomplishments include creating the first magazine designed specifically for the iPad during his time at a startup. He then made his way to Advanstar where he led a team of 14 writers for various medical magazines, then served as editor of Medical Economics. Prior to Amendola, he created content and managed PR programs at The Adcom Group for a variety of clients, including Cleveland Clinic, Lubrizol Life Sciences, Sherwin-Williams, and Kauffman Foundation. Jim earned his degree in English from Miami University. He is based in Cleveland, Ohio.