How to write a press release

GOOD media coverage almost always demands effective press releases.

It is surprising how few businesses understand or acknowledge this, even though positive media exposure is an essential part of any business model.

This widespread failing partly explains why so many press releases never hit their targets. Bad press releases can even have a negative effect on a company’s hard-won reputation.

To master the art of the press release, here are some essential insider tips:

*The first rule is straightforward and non-negotiable: make sure the information in the release is newsworthy, simply written and relevant to the targeted reader.

*Make sure you know your target audience. It is no use sending a press release about the launch of a new dog food to a list of hairdressers, for example.

*Then decide how long the release should be and what kind of information must be included. Press releases should be no more than 500 words. If there is more information that a journalist may wish to explore, then offer the opportunity for a follow-up, such as a one-to-one interview.

*Above all, make sure your story is newsworthy … and don’t write about the bleedin’ obvious. Be aware that good journalists will quickly discount anything that contains waffle or appears to be a blatant attempt at free advertising.

*Before you write the press release, think about the things you (or your industry) like and expect to encounter in the media. Most people are interested or attracted to events, situations or fresh developments that they haven’t heard of before. These items may be surprising or offer help in overcoming personal or professional problems.

*It is worth asking these six basic questions:

1. Is there anything new in this story?

2. Is there anything unusual about it?

3. Is it of interest to people both inside and outside of my business?

4. Why should anyone read it?

5. You will be excited about your new product, but will anyone else?

6. Is it written in simple, jargon-free, attractive terms?

It helps if you first make a study of what others are doing. If you’re not sure if your story is newsworthy, examine the publications or media programmes in which you’d like coverage – and get a feel for the kind of stories they typically cover.

Write killer headlines . .

. . but don’t try to be clever. Editors and writers will spend only a few seconds deciding whether a press release looks interesting – and if they don’t immediately understand what the story is, or its relevance to their pages, they will move on to the next. Good headlines drag the reader into the story. Bad headlines turn them away.

A killer headline might also kill the story though. Here’s a classic example of a bad headline, taught to all journalists: Small war in Asia, not many dead.

Getting journalists to open your email is critical, but if your first words do not grab them, they may not read any further.

Your first paragraph should be a succinct summary of the story (in no more than 15-20 words), or it may be a sharp starting pistol sending you on a journey to the next paragraphs. The intro should read like the opening of a news story (read it back to yourself and ask: do I want to read on?). Journalists are taught to apply as many of the five ‘Ws’ (who, what, where, why and when) in the opening lines of their news stories. For the best examples of great intros for press releases, look no further than the news stories presented by national, daily newspapers. Ask yourself the question: what message am I hoping to convey here? Answer this to yourself – and there you have it.

For TV or radio coverage, a presenter usually has less than 10 seconds to introduce each item. How would the presenter introduce your story in less than 10 seconds? Asking that question should provide your intro.

In the text, use quoted comments only when they add useful detail. Bland remarks such as: ‘We’re delighted to welcome our new commercial director … “ state the obvious. (It would be more newsworthy if a company declared: ‘We are horrified to announce our new commercial director is … ‘)

Re-read your finished press release and be prepared to obliterate all waffle and flim-flam. This is information that adds nothing to your story and virtually guarantees lost readers. Remove all jargon and technical gibberish. Remove repetition. Remove wasted words. Obliterate sickeningly glowing praise for the product etc.

Sub-headings and bullet points can make more complex information easier to digest, particularly if the text includes figures or statistics.

Don’t clog up a journalist’s inbox with big files. Send low-res pictures (with an easy and speedy option for hi-res downloadable versions).

Finally, in the pursuit of relevance, you may need to customise your press release for each individual media outlet.

For further help, contact the experienced journalists at aircargoeye.com (see our Media Services button in the menu bar).

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