Having worked in journalism as well as public relations, our Account Executive Sam has experienced the relationship between news outlets and PR agencies from both sides of the tracks.
This has allowed him to gain an understanding of what journalists are looking for from the press releases that are sent to them, and provide advice to our clients on how the stories from across their businesses should be communicated to media contacts.
Below are just some of Sam’s top tips for writing an effective press release and how you can improve your chances of getting your story heard.
Identify what makes your story newsworthy
Before you even touch the keyboard and begin writing your press release, you need to establish what it is that makes it worthy of covering those coveted column inches.
If there’s an element of the story that you find especially intriguing, there’s a good chance that other people will share your interest and be eager to learn more.
An invaluable method of determining a story’s newsworthiness is the use of the “So What?” test – take a moment to consider the facts behind your press release and ask yourself that simple question.
What’s new, different, unusual or unexpected about your story, and why should people care?
Would it be interesting to anyone outside of the industry that you’re writing about?
If the answer to this second question is “no”, it might be best to keep your press release on the backburner until a better story presents itself further down the line.
Always remember the “Five Ws” – the who’s, what’s, why’s, where’s and when’s of your story – as these are a cornerstone of writing any press release or news article, and a crucial way of giving the piece both focus and meaning.
Catch your reader’s eye
Journalists are incredibly busy people and receive dozens (if not hundreds) of press releases every day, each of which are in constant competition for attention.
Due to the fast-paced and high-pressured nature of the newsroom, reporters are likely to spend just a few seconds of their time scanning a story to determine whether or not it’s something that’s of interest to them – and will swiftly move onto the next item in their inbox if it fails to take their fancy.
This is why it’s hugely important to make your story leap out of the screen and onto the page, and there are a number of ways that you can do this.
For example, there really is no substitute for a punchy and eye-grabbing headline that encapsulates the tale that you want to tell, at the same time as encouraging the recipient to read on.
Therefore, you should only give enough away at this point to hook your reader – the story itself will then have the task of reeling them in.
Your headline might also benefit from a clever pun or perhaps even a rhetorical question, but it’s vital to recognise when this doesn’t match up with the tone of the piece.
A picture can paint a thousand words
Attaching high-quality photographs that help paint a picture of the story and the people involved in it is another excellent way of drawing a journalist’s eye and heightens your chance of seeing your hard work make it into print.
The value of professional, high-resolution photography shouldn’t be underestimated, and having a bank of images at your fingertips can be useful for any number of press releases that you might have in the pipeline.
When commissioning photos however, be mindful of issues such as GDPR and full written consent for anyone under the age of 18 who will be appearing in the shots.
Editors will save key spaces within their publications – perhaps even the front page – for that one photo that perfectly captures the essence of the story, so choose carefully when deciding which images you would like to send.
Quotes should offer insight and analysis
Including comments from a representative of the company that you’re writing for not only helps to give that business a voice, but can offer much-need insight and analysis of the topic being discussed.
A common misconception that people have about quotes is that they are there as a means of providing additional information to the story. This should never be the case, and comments should instead be made to sound as natural and human as possible, rather than be peppered with jargon and technical talk that’s meaningless to the majority of people.
Figures and statistics are best reserved for elsewhere in the release, whereas quotes are an invaluable opportunity to bring the story to life, and frequently get featured word-for-word in local and regional publications.
Less can often be more
When trying to get noticed among the sea of stories out there, it’s natural to think that going into lots of detail will help you to get picked up – in actual fact, saying too much often runs the risk of sending your reader to sleep.
Generally speaking, the ideal length for a press release is roughly one side of A4 paper, which should equate to around 300 or 400 words.
If your finished draft has ended up being considerably longer than this, you may have included too much unnecessary waffle that adds nothing interesting or significant to the story.
You shouldn’t be afraid to be concise – flowery language might add poetry to prose, but as you probably only have mere seconds to impress, getting straight to the point has to take precedence.
Using bullet points and sub-headings can really help to break up information, especially if the topic you’re writing about is particularly technical and involves lots of figures and statistics.
Journalists are sure to appreciate the effort you’ve made to make your story more digestible and easy to read.
Tailor your story to target different outlets
The information that you supply to reporters in a press release is intended to give them all the necessary ingredients for them to tell the story in a form that’s relevant and interesting to their readers.
To increase the likelihood of getting coverage, you may want to consider tailoring your press release for various target audiences.
For example, you may be writing a story that makes reference to a business that has offices in both Birmingham and London.
If targeting media local to both of these cities, you will have to take into account that press in Birmingham are going to take less interest in something that’s happening in London, and vice versa.
Before issuing your press release to a particular group of contacts, have a think about how you can make it as applicable to them as possible.
It’s also a good idea to tweak your story for targeting different types of media – depending on the nature of the subject, it might have appeal for both general news and trade publications, though the tone and language that you use will need to be adapted accordingly.
If at first you don’t succeed…
This last point might not appear obvious but its importance can’t be emphasised enough – don’t lose heart if your press release doesn’t receive the coverage you think it worthy of the first time around.
Given the hectic workloads and tight deadlines that journalists have, it might occasionally take a few attempts for a good story to get noticed.
Other times, a reporter may simply have forgotten, especially when you consider the sheer volume of press releases that are sent to them on a daily basis.
Have the confidence to approach journalists and find out why your story hasn’t been featured, as they may give you feedback on what’s missing and what can be added to improve its chances of being published.
When reissuing a press release, it might be a good idea to make some subtle changes to it, such as freshening up the headline or the images that you’ve included, as this could help you to get yourself noticed.
If you still don’t get pick up, it might be time to refer back to the “So What?” test. Consider why it might not have been successful, and what you need to add in to make sure it captures the attention of your intended audience.
Be sure to get in touch with us to learn more about how your business can receive a full and professional service from our PR team.