The humble press release… often considered the ‘bread and butter’ of the PR world, but a skill that shouldn’t be taken for granted.
The press release will often be your first interaction with a journalist, so it’s a pretty important set of words, and getting it right is crucial. It’s part of ‘PR 101’ – the first thing that’s taught to every member of EAST VILLAGE. when they join the team, and something that has helped us land thousands of pieces of media coverage over the years. From national newspapers and weekend supplements, to glossy magazines, trade publications, blog posts, and TV and radio interviews, the press release is often the cornerstone of every in-house and agency campaign.
It’s not rocket science, by any stretch, but a simple set of unwritten rules that we’re going to share with you.
THE PURPOSE OF A PRESS RELEASE
Put simply, a press release is how you communicate your news with the media. Whether you’re writing about business news (eg. award wins or team appointments), brand news (eg. product launches), or profiling your people (pitching comment pieces, quotes or interviews), it’s a way to get your business and brand in front of your target consumers.
This is why it’s really key to identify who your consumers are and the media titles that they’re likely to read. Getting a story picked up is always exciting (even for us, all of these years on) but this is where quality always wins over quantity… make sure you identify your consumers and what they read, and target those titles. Getting a story covered in a local newspaper in the Highlands isn’t going to help you if you’re a Welsh-based café for example. Always focus on a targeted approach to media relations (but that’s a whole other subject for us to go into!)
A press release also has a secondary role, and a very important one, in that it can help with your SEO and driving traffic to your website. Whether you do your SEO in-house or use an agency, checking in with “key search terms” and ensuring that they’re used in your press release can boost your online ranking. Top tip, though: make sure that the phrases are used organically and not just thrown in so that sentences don’t make sense!
THE UNWRITTEN RULES
Journalists, newsrooms, producers and bloggers are busy… they won’t be trawling through reams of paper in search of a newsworthy hook to your story; you have to provide that for them. Think about what you enjoy reading or listening to… think about your competitors and how they structure their news. If you’re writing something that doesn’t interest you or sounds boring, imagine what an “outsider” will think of it.
Our press release template will show you how to structure it but try and keep your release to around 300-400 words. Write it so that it’s a ready-made story for a journalist; the demand of the job will often mean that they’ll copy-and-paste your release, so being well written and structured is key. It also means that you need to send your release in a Word document; don’t create a barrier by sending it as a PDF or a file that some computers may not recognise.
There are a few things to avoid when writing a release too:
> Don’t use a release as a sales pitch; there needs to be a newsworthy hook so launching a business that doesn’t offer anything exciting or having a new website that just shows a new logo and colourway really won’t get picked up!
> Don’t exaggerate in your release; make it factual but interesting, and avoid hyperbole.
> Avoid too much technical information; even if you’re writing about a complicated subject, try and break it down into words and phrases that can be easily understood, with as few acronyms as possible.
We often question each other – and sometimes clients (in a careful way) – by saying: “But who cares?” If you can’t find a reason for people to care, the reality is they probably won’t.
We’ve pulled together some great examples of press releases, for you to see how best to do it!
GETTING THE STRUCTURE RIGHT
Download our press release template to help you craft the perfect press release. There’s no point in re-inventing the wheel; we’ve got two decades of experience across the team of writing press releases in this way, and we know they work!
The structure of the release follows a pretty simple, but crucial, format:
> A well-presented Word document that includes your logo and a simple ‘Press Release’ header at the top, so the recipient knows exactly what it is.
> Either ‘For Immediate Release’ (if it’s ready to go out) or ‘Embargoed’ along with the date (if you’re sending the release in advance and don’t want the news issued until a specific date).
> A killer headline – grab the journalist’s attention from the start.
> The all-important intro paragraph, which should be in bold and have around 25 words. This should read like the opening of a news story and be a summary of the release. Think of the five W’s: who, what, where, why and when.
> A concisely written release consisting of three or four short paragraphs, with one or two quotes added in. Do not waffle. Paragraphs two and three of the release should include the factual pieces of information, and remember not to leave out crucial elements that a journalist might need… you’re trying to make their jobs easier by providing everything in one go!
> If you include quotes, make sure they sound like they’re written by a human, not a robot, and try to avoid vague phrases like “We’re delighted to…”. Name the spokesperson and their title, and try to use their quote to include key messages, such as when or where the product/service is available, website, price, technical information, and a call to action.
> Finish your release with the words ‘ENDS’ – this lets the journalist know that the main release is complete and the following information is for their eyes only, rather than public consumption
> Always follow ‘ENDS’ with your contact details, including a name, email address and phone number. You can add two people, if that helps, but try to add no more than this.
> Include a ‘Notes to Editor’ section, which will have additional background information that might help them with the story. This isn’t crucial information to the story, but could include broader business information, history of the company, award-wins or endorsements, extra stats that provide credibility, and links that might be of interest (eg. a news page on your website)
A FEW EXTRA THINGS TO REMEMBER
Our guide to pitching to journalists will help you, but a couple of things to note:
> Always check for spelling and grammar!
> Get two other people to read your release, ideally from outside of your business, to check that it’s both interesting and makes sense
> Don’t go over two pages… anything beyond this is probably unnecessary waffle!
> Think about the importance of your subject line; there’s no point in writing an amazing release if the journalist just skims past it in their inbox. You’re probably one of 200+ emails that day so make it interesting!
We get that not everyone is a professional copywriter, so if you’re still struggling to craft a release that will get picked up, get in touch with us to see how we could help you.