Writing an effective press release tips

Writing an effective press release is still one of the best ways to get your news picked up by journalists.

ImageThe key is to think about the story from their perspective.  So, ask, what will be of interest and value to the audiences they are writing for, reporting to, engaging with.  Your first step, however, needs to be to ask whether the press release is the right method to use for getting your news story across.  Once you’ve decided that then you can focus on the content.

Writing an effective press release – tips

The content of your press release needs to answer the essential questions:

  • Who? – Who are the key players in terms of the news story?  Who does your news affect/ who does it benefit?
  • What? – What is the story, subject of the news?
  • Why? – Why is this important/news – What does it provide that is different?
  • Where? – Where is this happening/is there a geographical angle/is the location of the business relevant?
  • When? – What is the timing of this? Does this add significance?
  • How? – How did this come about?  How will this news have impact?

It’s useful to jot down the answers to these questions.  Putting together sentences around this information gives you a good starting point.  That sounds simple but it can be quite challenging.  Don’t worry if you find it difficult to get your information down in black and white, just keep at it.

Press release – focus on human interest

It’s very easy to get drawn into just writing about your organisation.  A press release is not an excuse for blatant sales promotion.  Such sales puff will be an instant turn off for any journalist.

Always keep in mind the agenda the journalist is working to – they want human interest and they want to know what impact/benefit your news will have – the difference that it is going to make to people’s lives.  So, don’t focus on the launch of a new widget which is five times as fast as the last one.  Focus, instead, on a new widget and how it will save time, money, effort, reduce risk, change lives etc.  It’s human interest and the impact your news has on people that counts.

How to start your press release

Your goal is to get the attention of the journalist and that starts with crafting a striking title.  The same holds true for the subject line if you send the press release by email.  The first paragraph in a press release is key – it must give the ‘top line’ news.

A journalist will receive hundreds and thousands of press releases from charities, businesses and other organisations, all competing with you to get coverage.  So, you have to make your story stand out.  The best way to do that is to show that you understand what they are looking for in a story and how that is relevant to their audience.  So, for a story to a local newspaper then highlight the local link in the title, for example, Derby Artist Scoops National Award.

Structure the press release to make it easy for journalists

Ideally, for your first paragraph, you should be looking at no more than two sentences, each of 25 words or fewer.  Looking at the news in brief sections of national newspapers is a useful way to see how news is presented concisely.  You should aim to write copy just as tightly and stick to the facts.  Avoid giving opinion unless in a quote, don’t use ‘sales’ language and keep your language simple.

If you have written a press release well then the news will be upfront with a bit more information further down the press release – think of an inverted pyramid.  A journalist/editor works to this framework and edits from the bottom of the story up.  If they only have 25-50 words for a story then it may be that your first two paragraphs are considered, or even just the first.  It’s essential, therefore, for you to get the news in your first paragraph.  Check that if the first paragraph was used stand alone then it would capture the essence of your story.

A template structure and layout for a general press release, along with explanatory notes, can be found here.

Tailor your press release

While you may think you have only one story it’s likely you can tailor it to appeal, specifically, to different, relevant, press and media.  That can be a simple as tweaking the title and first paragraph – it’s well worth the effort to get your news story noticed.

Distributing your press release

Distributing your press release can be just as important as writing it.  I’d always favour sending it direct to identified journalists by email rather than using a press release distribution service.  Such services may issue your release to a greater number of contacts but you do not have control over the process or the opportunity to build meaningful relations with them.

In issuing your press release you need to make it as easy as possible for journalists to use your story.  So, paste the press release into the email rather than sending it as an attachment, don’t embed logos in your email and never send photography as an attachment unless you’ve been asked to do so.

In a nutshell: Focus on what will be of interest to your target journalists and the audiences they are engaging with.  Keep your press release as tightly written as possible, and relevant, to make it as easy as possible for journalists to use your story.

What tips do you have for writing an effective press release?

Debbie Leven is a PR Coach who helps UK small business service providers raise their profile and protect their reputation – online, offline and in the media..  Want more profile and better results from your PR?  Then, go to the PR Coach website and sign up now for the PR Audit.  

Image credit: Debbie Leven

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