Who, what, why, when, where and how
Press releases offer a presentation of facts to journalists in the hope that they will then go on and use the stories in their broadcasts, print or online publications. People often think writing a press release is easy. It is if you know how. First and foremost, it is important to remember the vital ‘who, what, why, when, where and how’ when putting together your information.
Journalists are very busy. If they have to chase you to get all the information they need, the chances are they will opt for another story from elsewhere, even if it is not as newsworthy, because it is easier and they simply haven’t got time. So remember the all-important who, what, why, when, where and how.
Having worked as a daily newspaper journalist and now that I work in PR, I have had the benefit of sitting on both sides of the fence. Here are some more reasons why your press release might not quite make the grade (and a few handy hints on how to get your news noticed!)
Banish bad spelling and grammar
When you’ve written it, check it again. Check not just the facts, but the grammar, punctuation and spelling. Journalists haven’t time for complete re-writes. Rewriting means hours of extra work, and when you are under pressure it makes sense to take the easiest option. Don’t presume they will contact you for further information, supply it in the first place. Remember, they are on tight deadlines. Avoid sending press releases in PDF form or unusual programmes. These can prove to be a nightmare for journalists. They are likely to dump the press release rather than spend hours trying to work out how to access the information.
Big news knockout
This is not your fault – it just happens! It might even be that your news story is already planned to go in the next edition, but then if something big happens the chances are your story will be ditched. There is nothing you can do about this, short of getting out a crystal ball. There are times, however, when the news scene is generally quieter than at others. Sending in soft news at holiday times such as Christmas and Easter is a good bet, because journalists will be looking for copy to fill pages while staff are on holiday.
Include great images
Nowadays, journalists like big colourful, relevant photos to fill extra space in their papers. It sounds obvious, but the photo must be relevant to the story, clear and in focus. Often newspapers prefer just one or two people in their images, which are focused on faces, rather than large groups. Another key point is to get people posing for photos to hold any items close to their faces. It will feel strange to the person in the picture, but it looks much better in the photo. Don’t assume that publications will automatically send a photographer round if they want an image. They are more likely to simply cut your copy right back and use it as a short page-filler instead. The image on the left below may seem like an extreme case, but you would be surprised how often people send similar images to newspapers and then wonder why they are not published. It is also important to supply the name of the person featured in the image and, if there is more than one person, a clear indication of who is who.
Have a look at your target newspaper to see what sort of images they are currently publishing. There are still one or two small local papers that continue to use large groups of people holding certificates and trophies.
Subject matter is not newsworthy and it looks a bit like spam
As a PR consultant, I’m often asked by organisations to see if I can “get something in the paper” for them. My first reaction is to ask them what they have been doing that they consider newsworthy. If they think they can simply roll out their sales pitch dressed up as a press release, then it is highly unlikely to make it into the paper. Journalists are quick to spot attempts at free advertising. It has to be news. It is important to be impartial and ask: “Would I be interested in this story if I read it in the paper?” On the other hand, human-interest stories about employees and working with charities can prove to be a great way to attract attention to your business.
It is also important to think about the subject line of your email, or it might not even get opened. Never entitle it ‘press release’. This sounds obvious but you will be surprised how many do! Think up something catchy, something that entices the recipient to open that particular email among hundreds of others.
You’re annoying them
No-one likes to be hassled. If you call or email journalists every day they are far more likely to bin your press release. Remember, they work to tight deadlines, so if you call and they tell you that they can’t talk right now, it means just that.
Don’t make them angry!
To sum up: Make sure your press release contains all the facts, and is well-written without spelling or grammatical errors. Check out the publications that you intend to send it to and take a note of their style, and where possible include a direct quote from a relevant party. Make sure that you are available and contactable for further information on the number/email you have included. If you need help with writing a press release or planning a media campaign then click here. Our experts at Mitra Marketing can help you get the most out of your media campaign.