“Publicity is absolutely critical. A good PR story is infinitely more effective than a front page ad.”
— Richard Branson
Most press releases suck. I know this, because in my years spent working as a journalist, thousands found a way into my inbox, and the vast majority of those were summarily deleted.
In an effort to spare journalists of the future from wading through similar piles of utter rubbish, I’ve written the following guidelines:
Make sure your story is newsworthy
For something to be newsworthy, is has to be new information of significance, relevant to the audience and have an emotional impact (or a combination of these things).
There are all sorts of metrics for assessing the newsworthiness of a story, but a quick rule of thumb is think objectively about whether you would read this story in your personal time. If not, then why would you expect others to?
The worst press release I ever received was from the press office of a huge retail brand; their release proudly proclaimed that they were now selling a new type of coffee making machine!!! (Yes, there were multiple exclamation marks)
Not only did this irritate me enough to assign all their subsequent press releases to the newsroom junk folder, I fired off a reply to the hapless PR officer (and CC’d in the head of marketing for the brand) demanding that they never contact us again.
Get the title right
Titles should be concise and enticing, while still giving a broad overview of the story. Try to make your title draw the reader deeper into the article.
Don’t be afraid of using puns, but get an honest second opinion; you’re not as funny as you think.
If you’re struggling, take the advice of a former tutor of mine: imagine that you’ve just burst into a crowded pub and shouted “HEY!” Everyone has turned to look at you, and you have about four words to convince them to listen to you. Choose those words carefully, or the punters will go back to their drinks.
Who, What, When, Where, Why, How
Give the audience all the relevant information.
Journalists are busy people. If there’s a choice between having to chase up a release to get more information or to clarify something that’s not clear, and just deleting that release, which option would you take?
And for the love of all that is holy, please attach images or files that are mentioned or relevant. Remember; only you can prevent stress-induced heart attacks in journalists.
Remember you’re writing a press release, not an advertisement
Any promotional language is an instant turn-off. It’s the quickest way to earn a place in a journalist’s junk folder.
Even if you have the biggest and best breaking news story of the world, promotional language is always going to get cut.
Some brands are hyper protective of themselves and their image — they don’t want to risk being associated with anything potentially controversial, and they want to “own the conversation” whenever they’re being discussed in the media. Those brands are very naïve.
No matter how good your PR people are, they can’t control what everyone thinks or says about your brand. If you want to reap the benefits of being talked about, then you’re going to have to accept that there are some risks.
Spelling and punctuation
Run a copy of your drafted press release past a couple of your most literate colleagues. It really damages your credibility when a press release contains mistakes, even small, barely noticeable ones…
Bonus points to those who spot any typos in this post and comment on them below!
Send it to the right person
By now you should have a news-worthy, comprehensive, proof-read press release, with a great title. It’s time to send it out to earn some authoritative links, build some brand recognition and (hopefully) improve people’s impression of you/your client.
But sending that release to everyone journalist, editor, broadcaster and producer in your contact list is a bad idea.
Choose your targets wisely. Sending a release to one journalist who you know is going to find it relevant, is better than sending it to one hundred random journalists.
Do your research; see what those journalists have written about before, look them up on social media to see what they’re posting about, or ring up a news room and ask them.