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The basics of writing a press release

The basics of writing a press release

Writing and releasing a press release can help your business gain valuable PR; think of a press release as your ticket to publicity, something that can create opportunities for coverage in publications or even on radio or TV stations. If you've never written a press release before, have a read of this post for advice on where to start.

Before you even start writing, ask yourself; ‘is there any value in this story’? Too often businesses feel obliged to write press releases, and end up wasting time writing about subjects that aren't particularly newsworthy. Doing this won’t raise awareness of your brand, because your target audience won’t feel inspired to read it, and journalists won’t be interested enough to publish it. For that reason you must consider whether your story is of human interest – if you can show your story has a significant impact on people, it is more likely to be published and read. 

If you find yourself subject to writer's block, start by answering the following questions:

Who: who are the key players in this story? Your company? Or is there anybody else involved? Who does your news affect/benefit? 
What: what is new or unique about your story?
Why: why is it important? What does it provide that is different?
Where: where is it happening? Is the business location relevant to the story?
When: what is the timing of your story and does this add significance?
How: how did this come about?

Once you have your answers written down, it’s just a matter of piecing them together in short, punchy sentences. Though that might sound simple, it can sometimes be quite challenging. Don’t worry if you can’t get the words straight away though, just keep trying - most press releases go through several drafts before they are right. 

What should I focus on?

The most important thing to consider when writing a press release is your audience; where will your news be published? Points that would be of interest to the readers of a local newspaper will vary hugely to those of a specialist magazine, so if you intend to use your story in a variety of different publications, it’s worth writing a different version for each and tweaking your writing style accordingly. You will also need to consider the knowledge your audience has of your company and the type of language they will identify with.

Structure 

Give the release a title

The purpose of the title is to grab the journalist’s attention. Don’t spend hours agonising over how the title will look once printed; the content is more important in encouraging the journalist to read on, and it may well get changed if the release is to be used anyway. 

No. of paragraphs

Avoid waffle and lengthy explanation and try to get your information across in as few paragraphs as possible (try to also keep each sentence to around 25 words or less). Your first paragraph should contain all of the essential information – the true test of a good release is whether it could be understood in its entirety if only the first paragraph were printed. 

Use the second paragraph to expand on the information in more detail, and leave any quotes for the third. Wrap up the release in the fourth and final paragraph, where you should outline any concluding information such as referencing websites. 

How to end 

After your conclusion, you should signal the end of your press release with the word ‘Ends’ in bold. Any further information such as contact details can be listed beneath. Make sure you give a mobile number so that the journalist can make contact out of hours – the more accessible you are, the better. 

Photos

If there is scope to use photography with your story, it’s an opportunity worth taking. We’ve mentioned before that pictures are digested 50x faster than words are, and if you look through the newspaper during the week, you’ll come across a number of stories that appear just as a photograph and caption. Don’t just stick to boring head-and-shoulder shots though, and consider whether your photo will be printed in black-and-white or colour as you’ll need to get the tones right. Remember, you won’t be able to just borrow an image off Google, so it might be an idea to enlist the help of a professional photographer. 

How to get to a journalist 

Usually the best way to get your release to a journalist is by email. Use the title of your piece as the email subject line to grab the journalist’s attention, and paste the rest of the release directly into the email body. Journalists are inundated with emails each day and will want to sort through them quickly, so you’ll want to have your release in front of them as soon as they click on your email, rather than hidden behind an attachment. Make sure you then follow up your emailed press release with a telephone call to check it was received and to sell your idea further. 

Press Release Checklist

  • Assess if the story has news value and if a release is appropriate
  • Identify the key facts – who, what, why, where, when and how?
  • Draft a template structure for your story
  • Decide whether a photo can support the release and explore your ideas with a photographer 

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Copywriting, Content marketing, Press release, PR

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