- When you send a press release to a journalist or news publication, you need to bear in mind that they have a whole pile to sift through.
- You have just a few seconds to grab their attention before they move on. How will you capture their attention and demonstrate your story is newsworthy?
- To write a great press release that journos will actually read, there are four best practices to follow. Keep reading to learn more.
Imagine this – you have a job that you love. It’s high pressure – but then your boss says you need to take on the work of five others with no extra pay.
You need to read every email you get, even though you’re bombarded with triviality, irrelevance and nonsense. But when times are lean, you need to read these emails to create some output for your company.
Welcome to the world of a journalist in 2021.
Journalists have little, if any, time to read press releases that don’t add to their bottom line and their publication’s audience.
Yes, journalism is about informing the public. It’s more so about attracting eyes and clicks.
So how can you write a press release that a journalist will read and hopefully run?
Press Release Best Practices
In order to write a great press release that journalists will actually read, it's important to follow these best practices:
- Is your press release a real “Man Bites Dog” story?
- Does your press release sum up the main points in the first few sentences?
- Are you sending it to the right people?
- Could a journalist theoretically “rip and read” the release?
1. Is your press release a real “Man Bites Dog” story?
This is a crucial factor. Is your press release even newsworthy? The news is preoccupied with unusual or novel events. The media does not report on the spike in influenza cases every year around winter – but they did cover (and still cover) a novel coronavirus. Emphasis is on the novel aspect.
For example, I sent out a press release for a business telling local newspapers about their launch. Nothing interesting there. The business itself were making biscuits and cakes for dogs – now that’s new. It was a big human-interest piece and made the front page of that week’s edition.
So, ask yourself – is there a story in this?
You can test it by talking to non-industry contacts and telling them the story yourself. You can also test if there is a story – something with a defined beginning, middle and end.
If you get a reaction, you’re on to a winner. If not, stick to PPC or social media ads.
2. Does your press release sum up the main points in the first few sentences?
When writing your press release, you need to sum up the main points in the first few sentences – or even provide dot points underneath your headline. Just like the test above, it needs to hook them to read the finer details. Using the dog biscuit example:
Dogs Can Finally Have Their Cake and Eat It Too – Local Business Launches Birthday Cakes for Dogs
- Dogs (and their owners) can now special order birthday cakes - with candles!
- Biscuits, donuts, and other treats on display
- Made from doggy-friendly and organic ingredients
- Baked on location in Main Street of Town
NOTE: Since this is a human-interest story, the tone is lighter and more colloquial. Your press release may need to be more professional or simple, depending on where you’re pitching it.
3. Are you sending it to the right people?
One common mistake is sending a press release out to anyone and everyone and wondering why it’s never picked up. You need to research the publication you’re sending the release to; a press release about a new type of rope will not be picked up by a general metro newspaper (you can certainly try, but it would have to be some exciting rope.)
Understand the journalist’s beat or subject area and craft a release around those strengths. If you use a press release distribution service such as Medianet or Newsmaker, you need to target your release carefully. Sending repeat irrelevant releases to journalists will have you blocked and marked as spam.
The last thing you want to have is a bunch of journos at lunch giggling and remarking, “did you get a load of that dumb release about the stupid rope?”
4. Could a journalist theoretically “rip and read” the release?
Journalists are time poor and love it when copy literally falls across their lap. A “rip and read” release is an old radio journalism term. It’s when newsreaders would tear off copy or scripts from a direct wire service and read it unaltered, on air.
The aim is to write your release so much like a news article it only takes minor tweaking for the journalist to claim it as their own story. They may not even ask follow-up questions or clarify some iffy points. This is ideal; they don’t want to spend more time on something than they have to (even if you have given them a massive scoop.)
We’re all business owners – we know that time is money!
When writing your press release, remember:
- Is it “man bites dog?”
- Does it have a beginning, middle, and end?
- Have you summarised the main points?
- Are you sending it to the right people?
- Could it be turned into an article with little or changes?
Do you have any additional tips for writing great press releases? Share your thoughts below!
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