If you’re looking to get media coverage for your business, being able to write an effective press release is an essential skill. But how long should a press release be? And what kind of information should you include?
Here are a few top tips to get you started:
Make sure your story is newsworthy
Before you even attempt to write a press release, think about the things you like to read, watch and listen to in the media. Most of us are generally interested in things we haven’t heard before, find surprising or that help solve a problem. So before drafting your press release, it’s worth asking yourself these questions:
- Is there anything “new” in my story?
- Is there anything unusual or unexpected about it?
- Would this be of interest to anyone outside my business?
- Will anyone actually care?
The last one sounds harsh, but is probably the most important: you might be excited about your new marketing director or the launch of your new product, but will anyone else be interested? If the answer is “no”, hold off on that press release until you’ve got a better story.
If you’re not sure whether your story is newsworthy, read, watch or listen to the publications or programmes you’d like coverage in, to get a feel for the kind of stories they typically cover.
Write killer headlines
Most journalists get hundreds of emails every day, so it’s a good idea to label emails containing press releases with the phrase “press release” or “story idea”. A great subject line is also a must.
But don’t try to be clever: most journalists will spend just a few seconds deciding whether something looks interesting. If they don’t immediately understand what your story is about, they’ll move on to the next thing in their inbox.
So if your story is about the launch of the first financial planning consultancy for women, say exactly that. “Women cash in on financial planning” might sound like a better headline, but may mean nothing to a busy journalist scanning their inbox.
Get your top line in the first line of your press release
Getting a journalist to open your email is important, but if your first sentence doesn’t grab them, they may not read any further – which is why you need to get the ‘top line’ (the most important bit) of your story right at the beginning of your release. Your first line should be a summary of the story (in no more than around 15-20 words) and read like the opening of a news story.
Journalists are generally taught to get as many of the ‘five W’s’ (who, what, where, why and when) into the opening line of news stories, so if you want examples of great first lines for press releases, look no further than your daily newspaper.
Another trick is to imagine your story is going to be covered on a TV or radio programme. A presenter generally has around 5-6 seconds to introduce each item e.g. “And coming up next … why a local cafe owner is giving a free coffee this weekend to anyone born in July.” If your story was going to be featured on the radio today, how would the presenter introduce it? Asking yourself that question should give you the top line of your story.
Ideally a press release should be between 300 to 400 words (the length of a short news item). That’s just three or four short paragraphs and a couple of quotes. If yours is longer than that, you’ve probably got unnecessary waffle that doesn’t add anything to your story.
Don’t be tempted to include background information about your company in the opening paragraph. This – along with any other additional information – can always be included in a ‘notes to editors’ section at the end (it’s fine to run over to a second page for this).
Sub-headings and bullet points can be useful to make information easy to digest, particularly if you’re including figures or statistics.
Use quotes to provide insight, not information
Including quotes from people in your company can be helpful for journalists (in regional and trade publications they are often used, word for word). A common beginner’s mistake is to use quotes to provide information, for example, “last year, we employed 100 staff in 12 different countries and turned over £5m.”
Quotes should be used to provide insight and opinion and sound like a real person said them. They definitely shouldn’t be full of jargon or technical language.
A few more tips…
If you want to maximise your chances of getting press coverage, you will have to tweak your idea, and your release, for different publications or programmes.
When you send a press release, it’s also wise to include a short outline of your idea at the top of the email to the journalist, (no more than a paragraph) and where you think it might fit in the publication you’re pitching to. Paste your press release underneath, as a busy journalist may not bother to an open an attachment. Photos can be helpful if they add something to the story, but avoid sending big files that will clog up inboxes.
And finally … aim high, but be realistic in your expectations. Most journalists are swamped with press releases, so it may take you a few attempts and a bit of chasing to land press coverage for your business. Don’t give up though; determination and a willingness to learn can take you a very long way.
If you’d like some more PR tips and tricks email us and we’ll send you our handy tip sheet. Keep your eyes peeled for our training sessions too.
Thanks for reading!