The whole point of a press release is to get media coverage for whatever you are trying to promote. So, why not make it as easy as possible for a journalist or sub-editor to understand and use the copy you send them?
You’d be surprised by how many press releases could be more effective in helping the organisations or individuals they are created to promote. Not only in terms of readability, but also in arousing interest around the subject and enhancing its appeal.
I’ve had the opportunity to be on the receiving end of quite a few press releases. Many of them were from well-established organisations or authoritative sources. A lot of them were great, but equally as many fell down, if not at the final hurdle then quite a few fences before…
You see familiar problems like long-winded sentences, flabby writing, repetition or vagueness. But often, the press release is even missing a clear message about why the subject is interesting or urgent.
Most people in PR or marketing would love to get their exact message into a publication more or less word-for-word. If you want to keep that kind of control over how you or your client is presented to the world, there are some simple steps you can take.
You can turn this around
A useful starting point is to consider what all good copywriters aim for: the target audience. No, not in this case the people who read the magazine. We’re talking about the people who work to put it together.
A busy in-house writer or sub-editor with a deadline is trying to find quick stories to fill slots. Often, they will be happy to simply use the copy you or a PR firm have supplied, if it fits.
So if you send them a press release that requires very little or (amazingly) no editing, then you are more likely to get your story included in the exact way that you wanted it told.
However, not everyone wants to do it like this. They make the mistake of creating a long, exhaustive press release, rather than making it as easy as possible to get their story into the paper. Maybe it’s ego, an urge to show their knowledge, or a drive to protect only their client’s interests, or maybe it’s simply misunderstanding how creating a publication works. Either way, the effect is the same – it’s a turn-off for the publication staff. Far better to feed them what they need and want.
From the perspective of working on a publication, I had three key takeaways:
Most people are over the moon that you are writing about them.
They’re getting attention from the media, and therefore possibly attention from the media’s readers. It’s something they can mention to clients and goes some way to validate what they are doing and the hard work they put in behind it. So why are their press releases so bad, or non-existent?
Some people become really upset if you don’t write about them.
They really do, despite the fact they didn’t actually send out any press releases or images. They should remember that writers and editors are not psychic. If they aren’t told about an issue or item of interest, then they won’t know to write about it. If you’re up against a deadline to fill a publication with interesting pieces, you’re definitely going to prioritise the stories handed to you on a plate.
Some people with great stories don’t even have a press release.
This is the real tragedy. There are individuals or organisations out there with an innovation that will help a lot of people, or a cause that will make many lives better, or simply a new business to open, but for some reason it hasn’t occurred to them to get a press release together about it. By spreading the word, they could be bringing a lot more attention (and buyers, supporters or investors) to their passion.
So, what quick, easy steps can you take to improve your press release?
It’s worth writing it as if it was for direct publication. Most of these tips are common sense:
- Don’t make your press release too long. The average quick news piece is around 200-300 words, so if your finely-crafted release is 650 words then an in-house writer or sub-editor will be forced to cut it down. The final article might be the edited highlights of your message, or miss out something you really wanted to be included.
- You can always include notes. Remember, to compensate for a shorter press release, add a quick biog and website references after the main body of your text. This way, extra information can be available if needed.
- Make it really easy to read. Please don’t issue a press release in 7-point type, with large blocks of text. And keep the writing clear and concise.
- Make it focused. You might be tempted to include extra information about the subject, or something else that is going on. Don’t – it simply dilutes and confuses the main thrust of the press release. Stick to one important event or issue.
- Include a link to one or two downloadable photos, or attach a picture to the release email. You might not want to include an image, but what if the sub-editor feels like adding one to your story? You’ll be at the mercy of them taking whatever they can find from your website or social media, or even screen-shotting a video still from YouTube.
- Make sure quotes are like sound-bites. Most publications like to include a quote or two in articles for authenticity and to show a personal touch, but a long-winded comment, however well-phrased, will get edited down.
Everyone knows you need to include the 5 Ws in a press release: Who, What, When, Where and Why. Of all these, I would say ‘Why’ is the most important. Here’s why…
The publisher is not a charity. They are in the business of trying to either sell papers or sell advertising space. In either case, they need to maintain audience numbers and keep them interested. They will be asking: “Why is this interesting to my readers?”
Similarly, the readers will also be asking: “Why is this of interest to me? So what?” Give your story a decent ‘Why’, and it’ll greatly increase the value of your press release.
Are you or your client raising money to change a cancer patient’s life? Or telling people how to protect themselves and others in a terrorist situation? Expanding facilities that will have a positive knock-on effect on the regional economy, or simply bringing something new to the town?
Whatever it is, tell them about it. Even the smallest event can be given some kind of spin on how it’s helping the local community, or a wider sector of the population, or simply the single reader.
A little extra thought goes a long way
Getting a press release right sounds tricky, but really it’s a case of taking a bit of extra time over it. Isolate the most important aspects of your story and present them in as digestible a way as possible.
Remember: press coverage is free advertising. It might cost you time to perfect a press release, but it’ll cost you the same and more to create an advert and pay for the space.
The less work you make the writer and sub-editor do, the more likely they are to like you. And therefore to include you in the magazine, paper or website.
Do you want any help with your press releases?
Drop me a line via my Contact page, or direct on the email address listed there, to let me know more about your project and what you want to achieve.