How to write a press release – nine tips on making it effective and getting your story published
You’ve got a kick-ass story about your company that you just know should be out there. Joe Public just deserves to know about it.
But what do you do about it? You’ve already thought “I should send this out as a press release” but there’s a stumbling block. How does a press release work and how do you go about it? What do I say? How long will it take?
Well, don’t fear, help is at hand. Here’s a step-by-step guide to writing an effective press release that will help your story get published. It won’t guarantee it, because that depends on the story itself, but it’s as good a place to start as any.
Think before you write
Hold on a minute. Is it really a kick-ass story? Is anyone really going to care what you’ve got to say? Because, if it isn’t, it’s highly unlikely that news desks will be interested.
If it’s interesting and exciting to you, and to your company, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to whet the appetite of news editors, however much you tart it up. It’s got to be of appeal to anyone outside of your business.
It’s also got to be newsworthy and be more than a fact sheet. It’s got to tell a story. Many press releases fall into the “sales pitch” category which, quite frankly, are dull and boring as far as journalists are concerned, and they won’t care a hoot.
If it looks or smells like free advertising, it won’t see the light of day.
So don’t waste precious time and energy on something that will immediately be sent to the trash bin as soon as it lands in a news editor’s inbox.
Write a punchy, attention-grabbing headline
A good headline is usually an abridged version of your first paragraph – it’s short, simple and to the point. But you have to be a tad more creative to catch a news editor’s eye. Just don’t overdo it. Remember, you’re not writing this for a tabloid.
You’ve only got a quick shot at grabbing a journalist’s attention, as they will receive a ton of press releases every week, so it’s got to make them want to read your press release and not just skip past it, consigned to the bin forever.
Don’t be concerned about writing the headline that will appear in print. You are just trying to tempt the journalist to read your press release, so leave that to them. They will only change it anyway to suit their audience.
It’s also sometimes useful to include your company’s location in a headline, so the journalist knows it’s about a business on their patch. So, for example, “Wolverhampton-based tech firm…” will stand out if sent to a Midlands business magazine because they know it’s local to them and not just any old company from somewhere in the country.
What your intro should say
Your opening paragraph – your intro – should be a summary of what your story is about.
It need only be a broader explanation of your headline, containing the key facts, but without divulging too much information too soon.
Again, including the local angle will help, too.
The crux of your story
There are a few golden rules to follow that will improve the chances of your press release hitting the spot. A journalist won’t want to completely re-write it, they’re too busy for that, so if it’s handed to them on a plate, gift-wrapped, they’re more likely to use it over one that they know will need a lot of input from themselves.
So here are a few guidelines to bear in mind:
- Paragraphs should be short, succinct and to the point. Try not to exceed 25 words per paragraph – that’s the editorial style most journalists work to
- The total length of your press release should be no more than 400 words, around A4 size. Any longer than that is unnecessary and more likely to be waffle than anything properly relevant
- Make sure your spelling and grammar is absolutely, positively correct. There’s nothing worse than not knowing the difference between “your” and “you’re” or “its” and “it’s”. Use spellcheck, that’s what it’s there for
- Try to avoid industry jargon where possible. You may have to refer to the odd term, but remember that the general public – who your story is aimed at – won’t understand, or care about, the terms that are widely understood in your industry
- Avoid clichés, puns and fluffy words. They add nothing to the story and will only be deleted
But the most golden of all the rules is to remember the five Ws – who, what, where, why and when. These are the details that will put your story into context. And you want them to follow your opening paragraph as soon as possible. Again, try to keep it short and sweet, around four or five paragraphs.
- Who? Who it’s about, who does it affect?
- What? What is your news, what is it you want to tell people?
- When? When is this happening?
- Where? Where is it taking place (and be precise)?
- Why? Why is this important, and why do people need to know about it?
Quote somebody, but not just anybody
You want to add credibility to your story and back it up with relevant quotes from someone in the know. A press release with quotes will stand out much more than one that doesn’t – and again it saves the journalist from making a phone call to get them.
But don’t just quote anybody, otherwise it could come across simply as PR guff. It wants to be someone directly related to the story – and that doesn’t always mean the MD or CEO.
Too often, quotes from the “suits” just come across as staid and stuffy, and are included purely to acknowledge their presence. It isn’t always about them.
Of course, if they genuinely have something worthwhile and relevant to say, then fair enough. Just don’t quote someone for the sake of it, they’ve got to add insight, a further explanation or express an opinion.
Use supporting images
If you have pictures related to you story, be it your product, your office, a key figure, then send them, because your press release stands more chance of being used if it includes supporting images.
If you don’t have any, see if you can get some taken. Or source something relevant from elsewhere, there are plenty of royalty-free image websites out there.
Always provide a caption with your images, and if there are several people included on a photo, ensure they are named from “left to right”.
When you attach your pictures, make sure they are low-resolution otherwise it will only make your file larger and take longer to send, and it will also clog up your recipient’s inbox, which is something they won’t appreciate.
Websites mostly use low-res images anyway, but if it’s a newspaper or magazine who want to print your pictures, make sure you have told them that high-res versions are also available on request.
If there is a photo opportunity, make sure you include that, with all the details of when and where, in a note to the editors.
How and where to send it
You will have identified a targeted audience, whether it’s your local newspaper, trade magazine or website, to email your press release. Try to send it to a named journalist rather than “info@…” because it’s more likely to get there.
It’s also worth bearing in mind that the readers of your local newspaper will differ greatly to an industry magazine, so you might want to draft different versions of your press release to take that into account.
Make your subject line stand out – you should be able to use the headline at the top of your press release – and also include the words “press release” so it’s easily identifiable.
If you use an attachment for your press release, also paste it in the main body of your email because not everyone can be bothered, or has the time, to open an attachment.
If your story is embargoed, make sure that is clearly marked at the top of your release, giving the exact time and date when it is free to be used.
Don’t forget your contact details
Include a name and number of someone who can be reached should further information be required. It could make all the difference. Also include the full name and address of your company, and your website.
Follow it up
Things get missed, or forgotten about. So follow up your email with a phone call to see if it has been received, and if it is of any interest. If it’s not going to be used on this occasion, find out why as feedback will help you in any future releases you send out.
Just don’t give up. Writing and sending press releases can be time-consuming, and you want to make sure you hit the right note and give your company the best chance of maximum exposure. So if this really does sound too much hassle for you, just give us a call and we’d be happy to give you a quote.