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January 14, 2015

Why the Inverted Pyramid is Still a Killer Secret Weapon

A press release has one overarching goal – to get published in the media.

Your job, as a savvy marketer or small business owner, is to smooth, massage, and finesse your news until it accomplishes that mighty goal. And with Google’s Panda 4.0 tearing around the Web, search has once again become about influencing actual human beings (in this case reporters), and less so about keyword-dropping.

This means that, in order to garner some real attention from real journalists, bloggers, and potential customers, you’ll have to go back to crafting your release with humans in mind.

Fortunately for you, you have a secret weapon as old as the Pharaohs: the inverted pyramid. (OK, so maybe the ancient pyramids of Egypt weren’t upside-down, but you get my drift.)

What is the inverted pyramid?


Think of the last news article you read. The headline caught your attention, and then the real meat of the article was in the first paragraph. Then, as the article progressed, it expounded on the headline and first paragraph, becoming more detailed. It probably included a quote or two from relevant sources, too.

Press releases should work the same way. Catch an editor or reader’s eye with the headline, keep them hooked with the first paragraph, and then finesse them through the rest of the story with more interesting and relevant details.

In a press release, the bottom of the inverted pyramid includes things that are necessary but don’t necessarily contribute to the story, like your boilerplate about your organization and your contact info.

Always keep in mind that the goal is to at least convey the substance of your news even if the reader doesn’t stick around for all the details further down your press release.

Breaking Down the Inverted Pyramid

So what goes in to an inverted pyramid?

We learned it in grade school but it’s worth saying again: whenever you’re trying to convey an idea, always turn to the five Ws:

  • Who? Who is this about, and who does it affect?
  • What?  What is happening, and what does it mean?
  • Where? Where is this taking place?
  • When? When did/is/will this take place?
  • Why? Why is this happening, and why do we care?

In a perfect press release, you will be able to cover all the Ws in your lead paragraph. Of course, you aren’t a wizard and that isn’t always possible. Just be sure you’ve covered the five Ws in your release, and you have your bases covered.

Shaving Your Inverted Pyramid

The last thing to keep in mind about inverted pyramids is that the details at the bottom of the pyramid should always service the top.

What do I mean? When editing your press release, check your details. Are they relevant to your headline and lead paragraph? If not, shave them off. Your press release should only cover one topic. If you start adding details willy-nilly, you’ll end up with more of a lumpy rectangle than a sleek inverted pyramid, and you’ll also end up seeing your press release language in the rejected pile.

The inverted pyramid format may not actually be as old as the Great Pyramid, but it has stood the test of time for a reason. Keep this secret weapon in your PR arsenal.




The author of this article is Mickie Kennedy, founder of eReleases press release services.