Writing press releases that get published
For many, writing is the hardest part of the PR process. Which kinds of stories do get published? Are my news stories really news? What’s the right length for a press release?
- by Peter Labrow
Our tips – to help make the process much easier.
Is it news?
Use this tough self-test on all press releases. Ask yourself, if this were a story about a competitor, what would you think? Don’t release stories that are not ‘news’. They stand little chance of getting published. Even if they do get published, they contribute little to your business, because they are not meaningfully altering others’ perceptions of your organisation. Worse, you could get a name for pumping out waffle – leading to your more important press releases getting overlooked.
New employee? Is it interesting?
Press releases about topics such as new employees are often ignored – but this is usually because the writer hasn’t focused on the relevance of the new recruit. People-moves can be highly read stories, especially on syndicated news websites – but only when the appointment has ‘news impact’. Good examples of this are a senior mover/shaker who is moving from a well-known company or someone who is going to implement radical new ideas that will impact the whole industry. Find the relevance of the appointment to the outside world and write about that.
The heading says it all.
The heading has to convey the main thrust of the story, be hype-free and yet still create impact. Many editors will skim through dozens of press releases each morning, so the core of the story has to be in the heading. Make it hard-hitting. Keep asking yourself: is it powerful enough to make me want to read the rest of the press release? Also, think about the ‘key words’ of your business and how you can include them in your headline or story. (What’s a key word? Essentially, the words or short phrases that you’d like people to find you by, when searching the Web.) Be a little wary when your key words are ‘buzz words’ because they are worn and tired – and remember that most people seldom search using buzz words.
Get to the heart of the matter quickly.
Journalists and editors are sceptical people who can spot hype a mile off. Stick to the facts. Don’t beat around the bush. A press release isn’t a brochure or an advertisement. Tell it straight; don’t dress it up.
Write for the media.
Some publications, in a rush, may publish your story with little alteration, so write your press release as if it were a news story. Even if it’s not published verbatim, journalists will be grateful for saving them some time. This is especially true of fast-moving on-line news services.
Use examples and illustrations.
Give real-life examples of how your service, product or company has solved problems – and what the benefits were. Use independent statistics and research to back up your story – or run/commission a poll of your own.
Make your press release topical.
Relate the content of your press release to what’s going on globally, locally, or in your industry. Make it relevant – make it current. (The present UK Government uses a concept called The Grid to ensure that what it communicates is almost always in step with the real world. Essentially, the Grid is the way that the Government plans its communications – mapping them onto a complex matrix that encompasses as many real-world events as possible. These events are not just political: they are cultural, sporting, musical and so on. Using this approach helps make sure that communications are timely. Avoid things that ‘steal thunder’ from your release and exploit events which have a positive awareness. It’s easy and sensible to create your own Grid and then plan around it.)
Don’t use jargon.
Use straightforward, plain language. Most jargon is specific to an industry: while you might be familiar with such jargon, others may not be. Using general language will ensure that you reach a wider audience. Avoid management-speak: words/phrases like ‘leverage’, ‘human capital’ and ‘competitive advantage’ are all turn-offs. Here’s a caveat to that: some jargon is in common parlance, has currency and is ‘Web searchable’ – so can be useful to use. Handle with care, though: keep jargon in context and minimise its use.
Fit your press release onto one side of A4.
Use wide margins and either double-spaced lines, or lines set at 1.5 spacing. This makes your press release much more readable. Some obvious stuff: include the words ‘press release’, your company name, your contact name and contact details. Also include a ‘boilerplate’ statement about your company – preferably pointing to a Web page where journalists can find more detailed information if they need it. What if a single side of A4 isn’t enough? Better to have two pages double-spaced than cram it all onto one side. But just challenge yourself: is the extra just waffle or is it essential news? Bin the waffle.
Never use all uppercase.
Don’t do this, even for headings. There is no need – it makes the press release harder to read and shows you’re not sensitive to the needs of the publication (and it stops publications copying and pasting the words; they have to retype it).
Provide a photograph.
News stories with images stand a better chance of getting published. Make sure it’s a decent, professional photograph, not something you’ve snapped yourself. Also, make sure you always have photographs on file of key personnel, ready to send with press releases. These days, the best way to handle photos is by using digital images that can be downloaded from a press section of your website or e-mailed to journalists (don’t e-mail photos unless asked, but make sure journalists know that they are available).