It doesn’t matter how good of a story you have on your hands, presenting it to journalists in a way that is equally clear and compelling is an art that can make the difference between a complete fluke and your client’s name on the front page of The Times.
Here’s what 25 years in this industry have taught us… Use these tips wisely!
Writing Top Tips
IS IT REALY NEWS? – Before you even think about writing a press release, think about whether it is actually newsworthy, would it be of interest to ‘Joe Bloggs’, have we heard it before, is it surprising and can it help solve problems? Four questions (taken from the Guardian) to ask yourself are:
Is there anything “new” in my story?
Is there anything unusual or unexpected about it?
Would this be of interest to anyone outside my business?
Will anyone actually care?
THREE KEY ELEMENTS TO A STORY – When writing a ‘news’ press release think about these three key elements: Bad News, Human Interest and Topicality. If you can get all of these in you have a winning release.
KILLER HEADLINES – Journalists get thousands of press releases a day, so make sure your headline stands out. Don’t try to be clever, journalists only have seconds to understand what your news is about, so make sure you tell the it in the headline (which also works as your email subject line). Also, make sure you’re clear in your email subject line that it is a press release, so”PRESS RELEASE: XX launches…” etc.
SQUEEZE THE NEWS IN THE FIRST PARAGRAPH – Getting a journalist to open your email is important, but if your first sentence doesn’t grab them, they may not read any further. Your ‘top line’ is the most important part of the release. Your first line should be a summary of the story (in no more than around 15-20 words) and read like the opening of a news story.
CLEAR & CONCISE – Don’t waffle, no one wants to read about how wonderful your clients are and great their products are, they want to know the news and that’s it! The ideal length of a press release is about an A4 side or about 300 to 400 words (the length of a short news item). That’s just three or four short paragraphs and a couple of quotes. If yours is longer than that, you’ve probably got unnecessary waffle that doesn’t add anything to your story.
DON’T OVER THINK – Try not to over think your press release and try to get as much information in there as possible. If I was to throw 10 balls at you, you’re only going to catch one, so try and get one clear message over in your press release.
INSIGHTFUL QUOTES – Always include quotes from your spokesperson, but make your they are insightful not regurgitating what you’ve just said or sales/marketing blurb. Quotes should provide insight and opinion and sound like a real person, they should NOT be full of jargon or technical language.
CUT OUT UNNECESSARY WORDS – Don’t use unnecessary over complicated words, if you have to think about what the word means, don’t use it. Also, don’t use unnecessary the’s and that’s. Nine times out of ten you don’t need ‘that’.
THE FIRST DRAFT IS NEVER RIGHT – With all press release drafts, the first version is never right, always get someone to proof read it and be open to changes. Don’t be precious and if you’re struggling open it up to the team for ideas.
Distribution Top Tips
PRE-PITCH – If the story is a good one, always pre-pitch the release under embargo to a handful of top tier press for any possible interviews or exclusives. This can guarantee you coverage and you also get to know if it is a winning story. Know our story inside out, even print it out so it is in front of you when pitching.
TAILORED PRESS LIST – Journalists HATE receiving press releases that are not relevant to them. This can ruin your relationship with certain journalists immediately without even speaking to them. Always look at a distribution list and take out the journalists that would not cover the story and add anyone that might be new to covering the area your release is about.
SUBJECT LINE – As mentioned previously, add in the subject line that it is a PRESS RELEASE and then the expertly constructed headline.
INCLUDE BOILERPLATE – Make sure you have the client’s boilerplate in the ‘About’ section. This goes at the bottom of the release, also include a media relations contact.
KEEP EMAIL BRIEF – Make sure you keep your accompanying email brief not to take away from the release…and NEVER use “Hope you’re well?” in the opening greeting.
HI-RES IMAGES – Good images can secure you coverage but need to be hi-res versions (over 300 dpi). Send via a Dropbox or WeTransfer link, never send as an attachment as it maybe too big for the journalists inbox.
KEEP IT IN THE BODY OF THE EMAIL – Always paste the release into the body of the email, it is easier for journalists to quickly read and see if it is of interest to their readers.