The press release is a tried and tested PR tool that can help you secure valuable media coverage to enhance your organisation’s reputation. But how do you go about writing a great press release that will be featured online and offline?
Writing effective press releases is quite a skill and there are a few common mistakes that people make. We don’t want to give away too many trade secrets, but we thought it would be nice to give you a few pointers to help you get started.
1: Finding the right news story
Firstly, you need to identify what the story is about and whether a press release is really the best way of getting your message across. This is often one of the things that people find most difficult. That may be because they are too close to what is happening in the business to think objectively about what their target audience might find interesting. Fortunately, most companies can find something to write about. Examples include:
- New contracts or customers
- New staff
- New premises
- New equipment
- Expansion of staff or premises
- Launching a new product or service
- Increased turnover
- Anniversaries or celebrations
- Award wins
- Expert comment on a topical event
- Community/charity initiatives
2: What makes the news?
There are certain factors to consider when identifying stories for a press release. A journalist will want to know what’s changed? What’s new? If nothing is, you might want to rethink whether your topic is really press release material. It might be more suitable to pitch as an article idea or an opinion piece for example. Timeliness is also important. If you are writing about something exciting that happened a month ago, you are seriously diluting the power of that story. Topical and timely is best. People also like to read about people, so stories with a human interest element are always likely to be of more interest to a journalist.
3: Who is your audience?
You need to be clear what audience you are targeting so you can make sure that you are contacting the right media. For example, some stories will only really be of interest to the local press, or to the trade press if it’s something more specialist. Think about which publications your target audience is likely to read and draw up a list of contacts.
4: How do you make headlines?
It’s only once you are clear about the first three points that you are ready to write your press release. So, what comes first? The headline? Well, location-wise yes, but experienced copywriters and journalists often leave the headline until last. The headline is crucial – it will often determine whether your press release is read or deleted without even being opened, so it’s important to get it right. The headline should encapsulate what the whole story is about in a succinct way – not as easy as it sounds. So, it’s often easier to write the headline once the whole story has been written. It’s also a good idea to trial several different headlines before selecting the one that you think works best.
5: Writing a press release in the right style
A press release should be based on fact. It’s tempting to use it as an excuse to tell the world how wonderful the company and its products/services are but refrain from turning a press release into an advert. Use factual, non-emotive language that tells the story without embellishment. Avoid adjectives. Anything that has a whiff of advertorial will immediately be deleted. The only place where you can get away with waxing lyrical about your amazing company/product/service is in the quotes. This is your chance to be more creative in what you say.
6: Using quotes
On the subject of quotes – always include them. The more authoritative and respected the source, the better. But don’t overdo it. Remember there needs to be some actual news, ideally backed up with facts or evidence. It is usually best to quote one or two people maximum, although there may be exceptions.
7: Using pictures to accompany press releases
This insight may be about writing press releases, but images are an important accompaniment. People like to look at pictures; not only does it make your story more appealing (and therefore more likely to be published) but it creates more impact. Choose images carefully to enhance your story and the target publications. Local press and lifestyle publications generally prefer photos of people, whereas the trade press might be more interested in photos of your shiny new piece of equipment.
8: Include contacts
It’s good practice to include at least one contact at the bottom of the press release. Journalists don’t often phone up, but if they need more information, you want to make it as easy as possible for them to contact you. Remember to check phone numbers carefully!
9: The inverted pyramid
The general rule of thumb for writing a press release is to include the most important information in order. So, your first paragraph should summarise the whole story in one or two sentences. The following paragraphs then expand on the story in order of significance. This means that the last paragraph should contain the least important information unless you have a call to action such as clicking on a link or signing up to a seminar which often goes at the end.
10: Get sign-off for your press release
Finally, it’s important to ensure that you have sign off from the right people. At Ideal Marketing we never issue a press release without the approval of everyone involved. It’s common courtesy and helps to ensure that there are no mistakes or inaccuracies.
Writing regular, interesting, topical press releases is a get way to raise an organisation’s profile as well as sharing good news and creating credibility – which is why we write and issue so many press releases for our clients.
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Helen is co-founder of The Ideal Marketing Company. She has worked at the company since 2004, having graduated to marketing following a career in educational management in London. As co-founder of the company, Helen believes it is crucial to put the client’s needs first and to deliver a bespoke marketing solution for each organisation. Helen’s great love is copywriting. Her work with clients involves generating great ideas for PR including writing features, press releases and article pitches to build and enhance a client’s reputation in the local, trade and national media.