15 tips for writing the perfect press release
PR expert Jane Dexterity offers her insider advice on how to create press releases for your small business that will get the media's attention
When you launch a new product, you need to promote it or no one will know. PR, or Press Relations, is a key element in this and press releases are an important output. Here are some tips on how to produce the perfect press release.
Firstly, what is a press release?
Also called a news release or media release, a press release is an announcement written in the third person for the news media and designed to stimulate journalists to write about you and your work. Above all it has to be news-worthy and written in a ‘pyramid’ style from the top, with each element opening up the story further.
1 Short and sweet
Editors/journalists get hundreds of press releases a day so don’t have the time (or inclination) to work their way through page after page of prose. Aim for a maximum of two pages (but one is better), keep your language simple, your sentences short and avoid jargon at all costs. Also avoid adjectives like ‘leading’, ‘unique’,‘ world beating’, etc., as no journalist believes them so they just serve to irritate. Always write in the third person, not saying ‘I’ or ‘we’ except when quoting, and keep your tenses consistent, either in the past the present or future.
2 Punchy headline
You use the headline to summarise the story, but essentially it has to be punchy and excite interest; otherwise your release will get overlooked or trashed. You may want to use a sub-heading as well to expand a bit more but don’t make it longer than one line and italicise so it is clearly not part of the heading.
Any story is more attractive to an editor if you can offer high resolution (300 dpi minimum) digital images saved in a JPEG format. The file size should be between 0.5 and 2 megabytes.
Have a picture of your product and also a good head and shoulders colour portrait of yourself. But DO NOT attach or embed them in the press release because many journalists dislike it, or their servers block such mail as spam. Better to include a line under the headline and before the body text that goes something like “High resolution photos available from <email> or download from <page link>”.
4 Date and contacts
Make sure you date the release at the start so the journalist can see how old or new the story is. On embargoes: do check first with the outlet/journalist that they observe these and clearly mark up as ‘Embargoed until….’ with a specific time (hour and date).
It is also conventional to include your location/town and county alongside the date.
Also include your contact information (in case an interview or more detail is required), either at the top of the release or near the end with the boilerplate. This should consist of your full name, telephone (landline and mobile), email and maybe a postal address too.
5 First paragraph
It’s important to be objective and resist a natural inclination to be salesy. Look at your story from the journalist’s perspective and isolate what readers will find interesting and stimulating.
Use the introductory paragraph to sum up the story in 50-100 words – it could be all that gets read! Stick to the facts. Explain who you are, what you’re announcing, where it is taking place, when it’s happening, plus possibly why and how. These questions communicate the gist of your story.
6 Subsequent paragraphs
Following the ‘pyramid’ model, in the following paragraph or two add more detail to substantiate what you said in the introduction, but don’t pad with information simply for the sake of it.
It always enlivens the release and gives perspective if there’s a good quote from you and/or a user of your product, or a supporting expert. But do ensure the quote/s is not just self-promotional guff that no-one will fall for. Rather make it authentic and interesting, maybe adding more detail to the story in your own words.
At the foot of the release include a background paragraph (known as a boilerplate) with a mini-biography and the URL of your website. Don’t make it a dry catalogue of your life and achievements, but add in a few interesting snippets like your passions and inspirations to personalise your profile.
You can also include links to relevant articles (like previous published work) and associated websites.
9 Spelling and grammar
Always check the text several times for typos and grammatical mistakes as these distract the journalist’s focus from your story and make you look unprofessional. Don’t just use a spell-checker, but also print it out and read through again. And after you are happy that there are no mistakes, ask someone else to double check.
10 Who to target?
Targeting the media who cover what you write about is not just important, but means less wasted time for you and the editors, i.e. don’t use ‘spray and pray’ tactics.
And nowadays don’t just think print publications, but also websites, e-magazines and blogs. Plus there’s local as well as national media to consider, too.
Creating a press list takes time but is essential….
- Find out who your customers are and what media they value.
- Search the web for sites/blogs covering your topic.
- Use directory sites like www.mediauk.com (though it’s not 100% up-to-date).
Today most journalists expect to receive press releases by email as it is very convenient. Contact publications and ask for the email address of the person to whom you need to send the release, but don’t ring up to check it has arrived and/or will be used — busy journalists hate this.
Paste your copy into the body of the email as plain text – DO NOT send as a Word attachment, nor attach photographs. Clicking on the attachment takes effort and it’s easier to scan the contents of an email that’s already open.
12 Other distribution options
If you don’t have confidence or time to put together that mailing list then check out services like Press Dispensary (www.pressdispensary.co.uk) who will write your release, or use yours, and send to a manually selected list as well as disseminate on the web.
Or for a small fee you can use one of the news distribution sites that journalists register with to get releases on topics they cover. Do ask what sectors the service is strong in and whether it covers just online or print media distribution as well. Examples include, www.responsesource.com (for general business and consumer releases), www.sourcewire.com (for technology releases), www.news4media.com, www.realwire.com and www.neondrum.com (the last two will provide reports of where the release has been published).
There are also a host of sites where you can submit your release for free dissemination, but it does take time and you have no control over where your news ends up, if anywhere. A Google search will give you links to these free PR distribution sites.
Hopefully you will get a news item on your story and maybe a request for a review copy (if applicable). It pays to follow up key reviewers with a call offering them a sample product, which is different to asking if they received the release and when will they publish.
But another reason for sending press releases, even if you don’t get coverage first time, is to bring your name to the attention of the journalists who are important to you, and enable you to start forming a relationship.
14 What if I don’t have a strong news story?
Often you will have gaps between press releases, but you can still keep your name to the fore. Try these tactics…
- Offering punchy comment on a topical news item related to your area of expertise.
- Pitching an expert article (objectively written of course). Or see if a particular publication would like regular input to its blog (or suggest starting one if it doesn’t exist).
- Emailing your views on a story in a magazine for the Letters page. Or if it’s online, comment directly.
- Suggesting your product as a competition prize.
- Offering content to websites in the form of a short podcast or video clip with you talking about what you’re expert in.
- Using social media to make helpful comments on the postings, and pitching yourself as an expert – but don’t be too self-promotional or people switch off.
15 Catching Coverage
But that’s not the end. What is the point in sending a press release if you don’t know where it is used? Setting up Alerts on Google, Bing, Yahoo, etc. for your company name may bring up some coverage, but it is often incomplete.
It’s better to subscribe to a press clippings agency, but make sure it covers both print and online results. Check out Press Index (www.pressindex.com) or International Press Cutting Bureau (www.ipcb.co.uk).
This article has just looked at the core activity of promoting your company via a press release, but you could also look at things like conference speaking opportunities, running workshops or seminars, book tours, local TV/radio interviews, sponsoring events and other activities to raise awareness with the media.
About the author:
Jane Lee of Dexterity is an independent press/public relations consultant. She specialises in no-nonsense PR for IT companies and small businesses.