Press releases: An idiot’s guide

Press releases: An idiot’s guide

 

I’m not a huge fan of writing press releases, probably because there’s such a strict formula to adhere to and I like to let my writing all hang out.

But I’ve written lots of them and some have had huge success scoring articles on the Channel Nine news and in The Daily Telegraph. So I thought I’d share my top press release writing tips so you can have a pop yourself.

What is a press release?

A press release is a written document that provides newsworthy information about recent events, coming events, product launches and anything particularly sexy or exciting.

Why write a press release?

Well, once your press release is done and dusted, the idea is that you send it out to the media and then they hopefully run your story. This gives you lots of lovely juicy free publicity.

Are press releases bad for Search Engine Optimisation?

Yes and no.

Yes, crappy press releases about nothing much that are published on sites that are full of crappy press releases about nothing are bad for SEO. Any site where you have to pay to have your press release published is also bad.learn-copywriting-courses

But no, a genuine story in a legitimate media source (paper or online) is not bad for SEO.

[Tweet “Press releases are not (always) bad for SEO” #SEO #copywriting #pressreleases]

How do I know if my story is newsworthy?

You and your mum might think your story is interesting. But will a journalist or the reading public? Consider whether your story is:

  • Topical and timely
  • A first or a last
  • A breakthrough
  • Politically, economically or historically significant
  • Human interest (sad, funny, tragic, heart-warming)
  • Controversial or unusual

And, of course, if it includes a well-known celebrity, that’s a bonus.

How do I write a press release?

When you’re writing your story for a journalist, your aim is to make their life as easy as possible. Give them all the facts quickly and simply and ensure you cover the following:

  • Why: Cut to the chase and explain in the first paragraph why you’re writing a press release
  • Who: Is this PR about a particular person or people? Give their full name, age if relevant and job title.
  • What: Explain what’s happening, but don’t waffle on.
  • When: Give the date and time of the event.
  • Where: Give address details and a link to a Google map.
  • How much: If you’re promoting an event or selling a service, include the cost.

It’s also important to consider the tone and content of the publication you’re sending it  to. Is your article relevant to their readers?

How do I format my press release?

There’s an expected format for press releases and it’s a good idea to stick to it. Here are some pointers:

  • Short and snappy: Keep it brief and to the point – ideally just one page.
  • Brand: Don’t forget to include your company logo.
  • Contact details: Make sure you include your phone number, email address, website address and links to any other useful material.
  • Heading: Write MEDIA RELEASE or PRESS RELEASE at the top of the page.
  • Good to go: State whether the press release is for immediate release.
  • Title: Write a one-line header for your story; try to make it as engaging and quirky as possible
  • Sub head: Write a slightly longer sub header that clarifies any details in the title.
  • First paragraph: Get your message out quickly and include every important point in the first few sentences. The rest of the press release should be supporting information.
  • Bolding: Highlight key points or facts in your press release with bold but don’t overdo it.
  • Quotes: Ideally use at least one quote in the press release from the most significant person involved. Give the name and title of the person quoted. If the quote is from a publication, include the name and the date of the publication.
  • Proof read: Carefully check your press release to ensure there aren’t any spelling mistakes or grammatical errors. Double-check people and place names.
  • Consistency: Ensure you’ve used the same terms and phrasing throughout the press release.
  • Be specific: Give exact dates, times and numbers rather than vague statements like ‘at the end of June” or “around 100 tickets”.
  • Footer: Once the story is complete, add a horizontal line and then underneath this include who to contact for more information, contact details, whether photos or video are available

TOON TIP: As with any writing, the beginning is the most important element. A strong headline will lure in journalists seeking good stories. Make sure it’s accurate and engaging.

Here’s a press release I wrote a while back, and you can grab my professional template for Press Releases here.

It includes:

  • Guidelines for how to create media savvy press release
  • 10 additional tips to help take your press release to the next level
  • Distribution notes to help get the word out there

Should I send a cover letter?

No, there’s no need to include a cover letter or a lengthy email. The press release should stand alone and feature all the relevant information.

Should I send photos?

If you’re emailing your press release, there’s no harm in sending a photo as many publications will not have the time or the budget to send out a photographer. Just make sure the file size is not too large and mention that high quality, print resolution photos are available on request.

Obviously make sure it’s a great shot, and if you want to be taken seriously consider using a professional photographer. (Remember to provide the photographer’s name and confirm whether credit is required.)

Note: It’s a good idea to check which format the publication accepts (prints, slides, digital, b/w or colour) before you send anything in.

How should I distribute my press release?

There are dedicated press release distribution services available that will send out your press release for a fee. But if you plan to do it alone, first create a media list with the names and contact details of the journalists, editors and so on you’d like to approach.

If in doubt, address it to The Editor.

Check the submission deadlines of your chosen publication and consider when’s the best time to send your story in. Too early and it will probably be forgotten, too late and there may not be enough time to get the word out.

Should I chase it up?

Yes, it’s fine to call after a few days to ensure the story was received, but don’t be overly pushy about your press release. If your press release is good it will receive an immediate thumbs up, and trying to sell in your story over the phone isn’t a great idea.

Over to you

Do you have any top press release writing tips? Have you had good or bad experiences with sending out your own press releases?

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