As a journalist I receive hundreds of press releases a day on just about anything you can think of. Most get put straight into the trash. A few will be little nibs (news in brief), which are about 100 words long and tend to be fillers on the page. Very rarely does a press release get put as a page lead, and onto a website unless it’s:
- Breaking news
- Highly relevant
- A good story
So how can you stand out? Well here are five tips on writing a media friendly press release.
Start with the story
A story picked up by the media can be boiled down to two categories: human and factual. It is possible that a story may feature both. If it can fall into either category you need to decide what is the strongest. You may decide to vary it and have two press releases depending on the audiences you are trying to engage with.
So what do I mean by human and factual stories? A human story focuses on a person or group of people. They connect with people in an emotional way. For example:-
- Raising money for charity
- Features about campaigns or businesses that contribute positively to society
- Random act of kindness
- Victim’s stories
A factual story will inform the reader of new information. They provide the audience with brand new information. Examples include:
- Breaking news
- Statistics release
Powerful headline and introduction
Now you’ve got your story. You know what the press release is going to focus on, it’s time to write it. The single most important part of a press release is the headline and introduction.
Given that media outlets receive hundreds, if not thousands, of press releases a day, they will not be reading them all the way through. If they can’t see the relevance in the headline and introduction then it’s going straight in the trash.
It’s important to make sure that your story is in the headline. If you’re writing about mental health statistics, then include the key one in the introduction. If you’re writing about a charitable effort make sure you’re saying either how much was raised or the reason for fundraising in the introduction and headline. You may need to be prepared to adapt the headline and introduction to tailor towards each audience, but we will talk about that a little later.
Know your audience
You know what you’re writing, but how you write it will depend on your audience. There are so many different mediums you need to be prepared to adapt.
Who, ultimately, is it that you want to receive the message? Who are you trying to engage with? It could be holiday makers, people from a local area or businesses, for example.
If you don’t know who you’re trying to reach, have a look at your website demographics. Either Google Analytics or Jetpack are great ways to see who it is that clicks through to your content. But knowing who your audience is, is only half of it. You need to be able to communicate with them and speak their language.
You need to know the relevant buzz words that will make your press release stand out. Think of it like a story. People need to know what you’re trying to say, who it is aimed at, why it is important, where and when it may be relevant. All of these elements are vital to connect with your audience. Don’t worry too much about the style of writing, although do check for any spelling and grammar errors. Any organisation you send it on to, will adapt it to their own style.
Targeting media organisations
Once you have your story think about who can help you get the message out. It could be anything including trader magazines, online bloggers, online media organisations, local newspapers, nationals, TV, podcasts or radio. The list is endless.
This is where you have to go back to your audience and think about where they are most likely to obtain such information. For example, if you’re doing a half-marathon for a charity, then contacting the charity’s press office would be a good start, but it may also be worth contacting a local newspaper.
Remember back in the day when people used to ask ASL (Age, sex and location)? Well this cannot be more relevant now. When contacting these media outlets you need to demonstrate relevance. They receive so many press releases a day they’re not going to wade through each one seeing if it’s worth it.. If you’re contacting regional or local outlets you need a place name in there. I don’t just mean your county or state, you need to be more specific than that, a village or a town. I cannot stress enough how important a location can be.
But it’s important that the other details are known too. The worst thing for journalists is receiving a great press release and it be lacking information. Background information that may seem irrelevant can make a story.
A news organisation does not want to have to ring you to confirm details, if that’s happening you’ve missed out information.
Tailor to each media organisation
Unless it’s a national news story, you need to demonstrate the relevance to each organisation you’re sending the release to. It may be an arduous task but you’re wasting time sending a bog standard press release to every single outlet because it won’t stand out.
There are always exceptions to the rule, but small changes to reach the organisations target audience can make all the difference. By this, I mean changing the key words in the introduction and title. It’s so important to do this research, I’ve had so much more success in PR when I’ve really thought about my audience and the media outlets audience. After all, you are trying to sell it to them.
It’s also important to make it as easy as possible for the press release to be used. You have no control, once sent, of whether it will be used and how. It could be a tiny little nib (news in brief) of about 100 words, or it can be a page lead in print and also make it onto the website.
The big trick to boost its chances of use is a picture. Pictures are always useful. Nowadays, stories aren’t posted online without pictures, the visual element is important to a reader. But also, newspapers may be short of picture stories and could use your press release as a filler. If a picture isn’t included then it can lower your chances of a successful press release.
But, you can’t just send any old photo. It needs to be relevant and contain at least one person. Newspapers love people. The online world loves people. People attract attention to a page and articles with a picture are statistically more likely to be read as a result.
Boiling it down
- Decide whether it’s factual or human story
- Write a powerful headline and introduction using key words
- Make sure the rest of the story has all the information
- Include a picture
- Edit it for each media organisation you send it to.
I am a freelance PR, content writer and journalist. For more informaton on my services or if you have any questions please drop me an email on firstname.lastname@example.org.