5 tips for writing perfect press releases

Friday 16th May 2014   by Andy Comber

One of the central building blocks of any media campaign is the press release. There are now many ways and places to tell a story. But preparing a press release to send to journalists in a form that will make them go – “Hold the Front Page!” – well, at least show some interest, is a good starting point. There are many things to consider when sitting down to write a press release, so here are 5 of them.

In later posts, I’ll suggest more ideas, gleaned from many years sitting on news desks chucking press releases in the bin (real or digital), and a few more as a PR professional trying to avoid that fate.

1: Have a story to tell

Identifying the story in the first place is the first step. There is a balancing act between telling a story about something that is important to you, and something that will interest the media. The two might not always be the same.

There are a number of types of story that interest the media: something that is biggest, best or first; stories told by opinion leaders, for example industry experts or celebrities; important trends in society or commerce; something out of the ordinary, or shocking; or something quirky and humorous. Ultimately, news is people. If a journalist thinks your story will get the reader to turn to a friend, or post on Facebook, Twitter or Linkedin, and say “Have you seen this?” you are most of the way there.

Tip: Ask people you know who are within the target audience for their honest opinion about if they would be bothered to read your story. If the answer is yes, you might be on to something.

2: Choose the right angle

If you think you have a story to tell, how are you going to tell it? What’s the angle? For example, you own a factory and plan to double its size. What’s the story? The amount of money you have invested? The amount of jobs you will create? The amazing new product you will be making? The number of new customers you will attract? Different publications might want to focus on a different aspect of your story. So be prepared to tell it in different ways.

Tip: Be flexible. If there is already a media buzz about something associated with the topic of your proposed press release, it might make sense to select an angle that adds value to that topic.

3: Structure the story

Once you have your topic and your angle, you have to structure your release in such a way that it grabs attention and holds it. The most important thing, the angle, should be presented in the opening line – the ‘intro’. The context for this statement should be given in the next two or so paragraphs so the reader has a good grasp of the whole story very quickly.

Introduce supporting quotes near the top of the release, and give the person being quoted something useful and important to say, so their comments add value, not platitudes.

The press release should be structured so the detail is presented in priority order from top to bottom. That way, it is easier for the journalist to quickly edit the new story by simply cutting off a chunk. And there is less risk that you will lose key messages in the editing process.

Tip: Get other people in your organisation, and outside it preferably, to read through your press releases. If they don’t get an instant understanding of the point you want to make, it needs to be amended.

4. Use plain language

Whole shelves of books have been written about how to write plainly. Avoid jargon. If you do use technical terms that might challenge readers, explain them. Use simple words. Write short, active sentences. Present one thought per sentence.

Keep paragraphs short – one sentence long is fine. Check grammar and spelling. Your credibility could be completely undone by a spelling error. Journalists love to smirk at poor writing (even though most of them make the same mistakes).

Tip: Have a look at the writing style of the publications you are targeting. You don’t have to copy it slavishly. But presenting journalists with copy that they know they can use with few amends is a big plus.

5: Answer the question: “So what?”

This is one of the questions I kept asking myself, and kept asking people who called me, when I worked on news desks. It might be fascinating to you, but is your story really of interest to our readers and viewers? Image the news editor is in front of you. What would you say?

Tip: Make sure you really understand what kind of stories your target media publishes. If your press releases match them in substance and style, there is a greater chance they will be used.

And finally….If you want further advice on how to write press releases that really hit the mark, give me a call. I would be glad to help.