How do you write a good press release?

In our last blog we looked at how you can begin identifying stories about your business that you can send to the media. Once you have decided what story you want to tell, it’s time to begin putting together a press release to send to journalists.

One of the best ways to get an idea of how a press release should be written is to pick up a copy of a newspaper and read a few stories. This is because a press release should do exactly the same thing as a news story; grab people’s attention and then give the most important or interesting information in a way that is easy to understand.

You want to make it immediately obvious to journalists that your story is one that’s worth covering while also making it simple for them to quickly get their heads around the facts and background. Journalists - like all of us - are busy people, so it will help to make your press release something they can digest with the least possible effort. It’s good to set yourself the challenge of writing a release that, if they work in print, the journalist will be able to pick up and use almost unchanged from its original format. If you can do this then you’ve nailed it.

It’s all about the angle

We’ve all heard about news stories having different angles. An angle is how you look at a story and decide what is important about it. Remember, as we’ve said before, news is people. Often the most effective way of beginning a press release will be to talk about the most significant effect the story has on the most people, or by focusing on a key person or people involved.

The upside down pyramid

At journalism school trainee reporters are taught to write stories like an inverted, or upside down, pyramid. Basically, this means that at the top of the story you have the most important information but with the least detail and, as the story continues, you weave in more details and add more context and background. The detail you add in further down the story may be important to help people understand what it is about, but it’s not what will make them want to read it in the first place.

Write a killer headline and intro

The headline of your press release and the first paragraph (your introduction) are your chance to suck people in. You want to make them so interesting that people have no choice but to carry on reading - they are hooked.

So, say you run a business named and one of your members of staff has set a new world record for swimming the English Channel.

Your headline will be something like: Woman sets new record for swimming English Channel

Your intro might be: A woman has become the fastest person to swim the English Channel in a new record time.

What you definitely don’t want to do is begin the press release like this: makes widgets for multiple uses in a wide variety of widget-based industries.

Decide what’s interesting and put it first. You can tell people all about what the company does later. The most important thing is to get people reading in the first place.

A press release is not an advert

The reason that PR coverage in newspapers is effective is because it is a way of telling stories about your company and raising awareness without giving people the direct ‘hard sell’. Adverts involve you telling people how great you are. Good PR is about other people telling everyone how great you are, with all the extra trust and engagement that brings.

So, it follows that you should not write your press release like it is an advert. Keep the information about your company straightforward and factual and avoid the overuse of jargon or brand names. Jargon serves just to confuse people and journalists are likely to look dimly on a story that seems like a blatant plug for a product.

Good news stories explain things in a way that most people can understand. This means you might also have to consider toning down any ‘marketing speak’ you use. Your website may describe you as ‘leading global built-environment solutions specialists’ (although it shouldn’t because no-one really knows that that means!) but in the press release just say your company undertakes major construction projects.

Include humans

As we keep saying, people are interested in people, so it’s essential to get some into your press release. In newspaper stories people’s voices are introduced in the form of quotes. Quotes are also useful because they are an opportunity to introduce opinion and feelings.

For example, a journalist may bristle if you write: is the leading manufacturer of widgets in Cumbria providing the best solution on the market.

You’re much more likely to get away with:

Chief executive Maurice McWidget said: “We believe we are one of the leading manufacturers on the market.”

This is because in the first example you are asking people to accept this as a fact, in the second it is Maurice’s opinion and everyone’s entitled to an opinion.

However, just because you can introduce opinion into your quotes doesn’t mean you should overdo it.

Quotes such as ...

“Our Widget4TM integrated operating system combined with our specially developed world leading WidgetSuper5TM control unit is a real gamechanger, putting us head and shoulders above our competitors,” said chief executive Maurice McWidget.

… don’t really tell people anything and are likely to make journalists (or anyone) want to run a mile.

Finally, make sure you send out a picture of the person/people who are quoted in your press release. You should never send out a press release without a picture, or a selection of pictures, and the best pictures to send are those of people. Evolution has taught us to be interested in looking at each other, so why not make it work for you?

Add the boilerplate info and contact details

You should include boilerplate info, or key basic info, about your business towards the bottom of the story. You can even include the web address here if you like and, if you’re lucky, it might sneak onto a few news websites.

Always make sure you include a contact telephone number and email address at the end of the release as well. There is nothing more frustrating for journalists than getting a good story sent to them and then not knowing who to ring to find out more.

Make sure you also put your mobile on there if you can so they have the best chance of getting hold of you. If you’re dealing with daily publications or rolling online news then it is imperative you respond to journalists as quickly as possible or you might miss your chance.

Different people, different story

If you are sending out a story to lots of different types of media then it is worth taking the time to tweak it slightly to fit their needs.

So, a release that’s going to the local press may make a lot of the fact that is the second biggest employer in your county, but the national press are less likely to be interested.

If you’re sending something to a trade magazine, then you may want to include more technical detail. Widget Fanciers Weekly may be really into the fine details like exact measurements and torque ratios while the local newspaper (and it’s readers) are likely to be more concerned about whether the widget factory is creating some new jobs in their area.

If you don’t think your story is relevant to a particular publication then don’t send it. If journalists are bombarded with irrelevant stories from companies over and over again there is a risk they will begin to ignore them.

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