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Advice for Designers and Publishers: How to Write a Press Release

W. Eric Martin
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From gallery of W Eric Martin
The year 2014 is nearly over, and before too long I'll be on the convention circuit once again: Spielwarenmesse in Nürnberg in January, NY Toy Fair in Manhattan in February, and so on until we close with the monstrous Spiel in Essen and the post-convention aperitif of BGG.CON.

Before that happens, though, I wanted to hit pause on the game announcements in order to (1) publish all of the pending videos from Spiel 2014 and other conventions on BGG's YouTube channel (subscribe!), (2) finish a few other outstanding projects, (3) organize my work process for the coming twelve months, and (4) follow through on a series of articles that I've been meaning to write for years, starting with this one.

In my position as news editor of BoardGameGeek (and prior to that editor of Boardgame News), I receive many questions from designers and publishers, and while I have canned answers for some questions in TextExpander, I'd be better off posting articles to answer these questions in detail. After all, I've learned a lot since I started writing full-time in 1999 and full-time about games in 2006. Sharing that info will ideally help people in need, while also giving me links to use in the future when I receive such questions once again.

With that in mind, let's get started...

•••


How to Write a Press Release


Designers and publishers often ask what's the best way to get information to me for coverage on BGG News. Other than sending me their game in advance of its release with twenties stuffed around it to serve as insulation, I suggest that they email me a press release — but not everyone knows what I have in mind when I suggest a press release, so let's look at an example from one of the masters of the form: Days of Wonder.

From gallery of W Eric Martin


DoW posted this press release on its website on June 19, 2014, but I received it in my inbox on June 18, one day ahead of that time with this announcement plastered at the top of the email:

Quote:
This information is embargoed until Thursday, June 19 at 8am Eastern/5am Pacific time. Please do not post or mention online until that time.
An embargo date allows a publisher to send out information in advance of when it wants to make something public. In an ideal world, that advance warning gives a news outlet time to write something, ask questions of the publisher, download and prep images, etc. in order to have an article ready to publish at the end of that embargo period, as with this BGGN post.

Most publishers don't send out press releases, and while that's baffling on its own, even the ones who do rarely use embargo dates. As a publisher, the goal behind using a press release is to get your game covered so that as many people as possible find out about it, and an embargo date can help make that happen. Yes, if you send out a non-embargoed press release, BGG News might cover it on one day and ICv2 on another day and Dice Tower News some other day, but ideally you want everyone to cover it all at once; you want a blizzard of coverage all on the same day so that no matter which site (or sites) someone visits, that person will learn about your game. You want people to be talking and tweeting about your game, and the more that you can get people talking about it at the same time, the greater your chances of having that signal echo into fresh ears.

The other reason to use an embargo date is for what I mentioned above: Giving writers time to write something about your game. When I receive press releases without embargo dates, which is most of the time, I may or may not rush to include the mentioned game in a BGGN post depending on what else I have scheduled that day and in the near future, how big the news is, what size hole I have to fill in a pending post, and so on. If the press release has an embargo date, on the other hand, I know that I have a little breathing room in order to prep something about the game and be among the first to write about it and I appreciate having that advance warning, that combined red-green signal light that tells you it's almost time to go. (Those who have driven in Germany will know what I'm talking about!)

Enough about the embargo date. Let's see what else you should put in your press release:

From gallery of W Eric Martin


1. Identify your company. This might not seem needed since you'll be emailing your press release and will include your company identity in your sig line (right?), but since your press release might be forwarded or become detached from your email, include that information anyway.

After all, you shouldn't limit your press releases to game-only media sources. You should also contact local newspapers and television stations to report on what a company in the community is doing, on how you're contributing to the well-being and economic vitality of your region. If the designer of your game is located elsewhere, you should also contact media in his or her vicinity, possibly rewriting the press release to emphasize that local connection.

2. Include contact information. To reiterate, you want whoever is holding that press release, however that person obtained it, to be able to contact you with questions or orders or requests for more information.

3. Write a clear, informative headline, while saving your hook for the subhed. Don't assume that the person reading your press release understands gaming jargon. That release might end up in front of the editor of the entertainment section of your local newspaper, and references to "worker placement" will mean doodlysquat to that person. If that person can't decipher the headline, she might never make it to the next line. Assuming that she does, though, entice her to read further by giving her a reason to do so: "Yes, I understand that you're publishing a game, but why should I care? Oh, I'll have a chance to win a giraffe? Tell me more..." More importantly, try to give her a reason that her readers will care.

4. Include a dateline. One of the worst sins that I see when reading press releases or online news articles is the lack of a date. (Yes, it's a sin. Writers care that much about such things.) Is this article recent? Is it covering something that's already been written about elsewhere? By attaching a date to your press release, you're telling the reader that the information included is new and relevant (assuming, of course, that you're not writing about something that happened last year). By including the location of your company, you're again giving local news outlets a reason to care about the information in front of them.

5. Write your press release in reverse pyramid style in clear, declarative statements. What I mean by "reverse pyramid style" is that you should include the most important information first, followed by the secondmost important information, then the thirdmost, etc.

Newspapers and syndicated news outlets regularly use this format because the point of a news story is to relay information to readers. I can read the first paragraph of a newspaper story and understand the importance of what I'm reading, why this event is newsworthy. If I'm curious, I can read the next couple of paragraphs to learn more: the impact of the event, suggestions of what might happen next, etc. The more that I read, the more detail that I learn, but the less important that detail is.

A press release is a sales tool, not a literary form. Don't use a mysterious opening to try to entice people to read further; use informative sentences that get the information across as clearly as you can. Give the reader a reason to care about what you're saying by stating facts and not being obscure.

Include quotes from yourself or the designer or both to bring a personal touch to the information, to add life to the factual data included elsewhere.

If your press release is well-written, some news outlets will publish your release with little to no editing. If they do, the amount of your release that they'll publish will depend on the space available. By writing in reverse pyramid style, you give them the option of publishing only the first paragraph or the first two or three or four or the whole thing. Read the Days of Wonder release above; it's five paragraphs long, and the final sentence in each paragraph after the first sounds like an appropriate ending point. (You might think about writing a narrative that makes it difficult to print only the first few paragraphs; that's a narrative begging to be ignored completely.)

6. Talk about your company. If the reader already knows about your company, he'll likely ignore this section; if not, this section might provide something that convinces him that your company is one to be covered in his media outlet: "Wow, I can't believe this is the first game company run by someone with two left legs!"

•••


Okay, you have a press release. Now you need to send it out to...somebody. Possibly me since I'm kind of prodding you to do so through this article, but ideally you have more than just me in mind. Ideally you have a press list for such announcements, and you can send them the press release (either within the email or as an attachment) with an embargo date and with images that can be used in the announcement. If you don't send images directly, you should include a link to an image source or press section on your website so that people can get images themselves. (Days of Wonder, for example, has a dedicated image page for the press that includes images in all sizes and languages and formats. I'll write more about images in a future post.) You might think that people would ask for such things, and sometimes they will, but they might also just ignore your release in favor of someone else who does supply everything.

Even if you do all of the above — provide a well-written description of your brilliant publication complete with images and an embargo date — don't expect everyone to write about your game, whether on the embargo date itself or at any other time. My inbox is a firehose, and I'm sure the same is true for many other people. At convention time in particular, I'll receive 50-100 messages a day, and they pile up like compost, with new news becoming old far too quickly. I hate to admit that, but it's true. With hundreds of games released each year, I hold no hope of writing about all of them on BGG News. I write about what I think BGG users will want to read and about what I want to write about, and there's never enough time to cover everything — but if I don't see your announcement in the first place, the chance of me writing about your game is even smaller. You need to do your part, and I'll endeavor to do mine...
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