While we may be living in increasingly digital times, the humble press release still has a key role to play. Even if you reach a large proportion of your target audience through other channels, such as social media, your senior management team will almost certainly be keen to see copious cuttings from the traditional media. The release itself will likely form part of your website’s news archive and related online communications, so it’s vital to get it right.
A quick Google search will reveal pages and pages of tips on writing good press releases, so why do so many people damage their chances of picking up coverage by consigning their releases to a journalist’s trash folder unread?
I suspect it’s partly because a matter of technique, and partly because so many press releases do not contain anything approaching real news.
The following 10 tips will help with the first issue – the second is a wider challenge for the PR industry.
- Keep it short. One side of A4 is plenty for most press releases. Two is just about acceptable. Any more than that and chances are it simply won’t get read.
- Answer the key questions of who, what, where, when, why and how. Many press officers have been journalists in a former life but it’s amazing how easy it is to forget how to tell a story when faced with competing corporate pressures. Make sure the story is summed up in the first paragraph to grab the attention. If you are struggling, ask yourself what you would tell a friend first about the story. If you are still struggling, see point 3.
- Is it actually news? Speaking of corporate pressures, it’s important to manage the expectations of your internal stakeholders. The journalist is not there to promote your business or organisation. The feral beasts of the media cannot be tamed. Corporate “key messages” will likely be removed.
- Avoid clichés, puns and overwriting. Is your product or service truly unique, innovative or exciting? If these are just easy words to use, the journalist will see straight through them. Aim for concision rather than flowery prose.
- Focus on benefits. If you are promoting a new widget, for example, explain how it will improve people’s lives. Answer the question “why would anyone care about this?”.
- People like people. Include a quote from a named person. It should reiterate the main point of your release but it shouldn’t just be empty promotional blurb. It’s fine to use “said” rather than trawling a thesaurus for synonyms.
- Know your audience. Pitch your language and tone at the target audience and make sure you are familiar with the publication. A release aimed at the general lay reader will not necessarily be the same as one aimed at a specialised trade title.
- Make life easy. Paste your release into the body of the email rather than sending an attachment. Use a clear, descriptive subject line for the email. Let them know if high definition images are available. Include your contact details.
- Check and double check. Spelling errors or grammatical mistakes will instantly lose you credibility.
- Don’t pester. It’s a controversial point, but my advice would not be to phone to check if your release has been received or is going to be used. If it is good enough, it will be used. If they need more information, they will be in touch. It’s far better to get a reputation for sending high quality news so that when the journalist sees your name in their inbox, their interest is immediately piqued.
Hannah Hiles is a journalist and a Media and Communications Manager in the education sector http://hannahhiles.wordpress.com