By Jill Hawkins, director at Friday’s Media Group
It’s not difficult to find an article – or even a book – about how to write a press release. Speak to some apparently marketing-savvy types and you may even come away believing that PR is nothing more than a good press release!
So maybe it’s time to explode a few myths and flag up a few common errors.
PR is rather more than a press release. This big subject can be parked for another day or we’ll never get to the point of these notes, but think of PR as the cake – the press release is the cherry on the top. Important but not a meal in itself.
I’d go so far as to say that what NOT to do is more important that what to do when compiling a release. A less-than-perfect release summarising a good story will still appeal to a news editor. But people often sabotage their efforts.
I won’t make this exhaustive – hey, you have work to do - so let’s take a quick look at the stages:
1. The story
Is there one? Be honest – why are you planning this release? Because you haven’t done one for a while? Because you have a new website (yawn...) or a new office (zzz...). A news release should be triggered by a story - not by the date (‘I send out news every Monday’) or the md’s email asking you to ‘bang something off to the press’.
A new office may be a big deal internally but is it really news? THINK – was the move due to the lease expiring on the old building (not a story) or because you’ve taken on 50 more staff having just won the Megacorp account (which would be a REAL STORY).
2. The news notes
Yes, ‘news notes’ is what they are. So don’t get confused or hide behind the phrase ‘press release’ – it’s ‘news’ and it’s brief factual ‘notes’. I’m assuming you don’t want to be a professional PR, you just want to get the job done fast. So I’ll leave out a lot of the ‘polish’ and simply tell you how to get the thing published OK?
Journalists are busy people. They will be researching and writing features, planning special reports, conducting interviews, planning revenge on the pub where they had an inferior pint, all sorts of important stuff.
To them, a news story is like grabbing a sandwich for lunch – they want it, they want it now, and they want it simple and easily digested. So your release should be a quick and easy ‘delivery’ with plenty of facts and thought, but no waffle or puff.
It’s not brochure or website copy; and if you don’t know what the difference is then it’s best you never try writing a news release. Sorry but it’s true.
Stuff like typefaces, line spacing and so on I shall leave for now – a good story will rise above all that for you. It’s a snack not a gourmet meal right? So concentrate on what matters.
Your busy journalist is a potential customer for your news. So treat them like a valued customer. Remember that other people are competing with you to ‘sell’ to the same customer.
Get your ‘sales pitch’ right. You will probably be issuing your news notes by email so briefly identify your story in the subject line (news: acme wins megacorp account in £2m deal).
Try to avoid capitals, speech marks and hyphens here – they often get identified as spam by filters and your journalist may never see your email.
DON’T use jokes and puns as a ‘catchy headline’ – if you are writing for a red top tabloid then they have subs who will be much better at this than you.
And if you are writing for a serious publication then you will be doing the written equivalent of bursting into their office wearing a red nose and clown’s shoes.
Summarise your news in the first short paragraph. It’s the ‘trailer’ to your ‘movie’ that will persuade (or not) the journalist to read on or to delete. What are your facts? Are they unique, such as a brand new niche venture?Do they evidence a trend against the norm such as an investment into a market when others are pulling out? In essence, what’s your ‘angle’?
Think ‘Who, What, When, Where, Why’ and you’ll get the idea… and keep it snappy!
If a quote is short, relevant and helpful then use it. If your news involves a deal with someone then why they chose you is much more interesting than how pleased you are to win the business (which we could have deduced for ourselves…).
So if your quote is about how your MD is just ‘delighted to welcome Megacorp to our growing portfolio of holistic one-stop solutions enabling Acme to expand both organically and…’ then you’ve just hit cliché overload and the journalist has been violently ill.
Similarly, don’t repeat yourself as in one release I saw last week: ‘Jasper Carrott was delighted and honoured by the award. “I am both delighted and honoured” said Mr Carrot’.
If the journalist likes your story they will probably follow up for a quote (ie one bespoke for them not a ‘one size fits all’ phrase) and an image or two if you’re lucky. So remember to include your contact details – name, telephone and email - and your website address in case they want to check you out.
3. Sending it out
I’ve mentioned the subject line. Write the rest of the story in the email box. Don’t attach it as a word document. And don’t attach big images – they will get rejected by the magazine or newspaper’s server.
Journalists won’t be frightened to tell you they need images or more information and – hey – if you’re in discussion with the news writer then you’re nearly there!
And of course, thanks to email, you can issue the story to 50 or 100 journalists in seconds right? WRONG! This is one of the biggest crimes you can commit. Remember what I said about the journalist being your valued customer?
So would you call 100 potential customers all with varying needs, offering exactly the same product in exactly the same way?
Of course not – so don’t insult the journalists. Take your list and look at each journalist in turn. Arrive at a shortlist. Read what they write.
Ensure you understand the readership/listener/viewer profile of the newspaper, magazine, e-zine, radio or TV channel.
Then, and only then, should you examine the story you have, honestly assess its relevance, and pick out the key point for the writer in question.
Yes – make each one bespoke! Time consuming? Sure it is, but if you actually want to see your news published or broadcast, rather than insult the writer with a ‘round robin’ then get it right or don’t do it at all.
Get someone to check what you’ve written before you send it. After all your efforts with your brilliant news story it’s so easy to miss that you’ve spelt the name of your firm or client or md wrongly (I’ve seen it plenty of times) or your contact ‘phone number is incorrect (I saw that again yesterday!)
One more thing. Some people will tell you that it’s a good idea to follow up by telephoning the journalist to make sure they received your release.
I’ve even read that you can use this time to ask a journalist when they will publish or explain why they are not using your news and help you to write better releases in the future!
The journalist is not one to ‘bully’ or ‘beg’ and is certainly not there to teach you where you may have gone wrong. Please never insult a journalist ‘customer’ with this behaviour.
If there is a genuine follow-up to your story such as a significant development, a great quote or an image that didn’t exist when you released, make a brief call to advise and ask if the journalist can spare you 30 seconds before ‘launching in’.
Other than that, if all your efforts still don’t get you coverage then you could always give up and appoint someone who actually does the job professionally… (hint).
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