Press Release Writing – The Golden Rules

By Kelly Spencer

Effective press releasing writing is the bread and butter of Public Relations. Every PR professional has, at some point in their career, put together what they thought was the perfect press release only to feel thwarted and find journalists dismissive of their work.

Having studied journalism and spent the first half of my career at local papers and the Press Association I have been on the receiving end of those releases -hundreds, yes literally hundreds, landing in the inboxes of journalists every day.

So, I feel I am well placed to make some pointers about what it takes in order to capture the imagination of a reporter rather than end up as trash…

Below are a few simple golden rules that the MK team live and die by….

5 Ws + 1 H
A seasoned journalist, or PR for that matter, will be fully aware of the above equation which is a tried and tested formula for writing press releases. The 5 Ws are; WHO, WHAT, WHEN, WHERE and WHY and the H, that stands for HOW. If you cover all of these things in your release you have the basics well and truly covered. So before you put pen to paper, spend the time and work things out in your mind.

Perfecting the Pyramid Process

A tip I was taught by a very experienced university lecturer was the Pyramid Process and it couldn’t be simpler! One thing to bear in mind is that journalists don’t know where their story will feature and how much space will be attributed to it so they use this system to make life easier. They make sure all vital info and messages (5Ws =1H) are communicated in the opening two lines, followed by secondary information and so on and so forth – so they, or their editor, can literary chop from the bottom to make the copy fit.  Make sure all your key information is covered at the top of your pyramid and journos will be forever grateful.

 Setting the Tone

Write your release in a journalistic tone – it’s the reporter’s role to connect with their audience, it’s the PR’s role to connect with the reporter. Adopt a writing style with sentences that are a maximum 25 words – long sentences look terrible in the narrow columns of a newspaper. The release should take a factual tone; if anything needs further explanation place this information in ‘Notes to Editors’.

Respect your Reader

Journalists are trained writers; they will spot any inconsistency in an article and have an eagle eye for attention to detail. News writing is all about the details; if you get the facts wrong, your story is useless and your credibility is flawed. Likewise, if you send out a press release that’s filled with typos, no one is going to take you seriously. The best writers focus on the details, ensuring their press releases are accurate and mistake-free. Cover all bases, check and check again if you’re unsure and always get a fresh pair of eyes to take peek.

Don’t Write an Essay

Short and sweet and ‘less is more’ are well versed terms and they are certainly true in this instance. The sheer number of releases reaching reporters each day is frightening; therefore they simply don’t have the time to trawl through two or three pages of text. Stick to the facts and get to the point…quickly!

Make the Most of the Subject Line

First impressions are everything so an intriguing subject line is crucial! Be interesting and informative but never misleading. If a journalist takes the time to open an email only to discover the content is nothing like what they were expecting, they will be annoyed. Believe me, a journo never forgets!

Track Down Targets

It’s vital to research the press and media you will be targeting and tailor your story to suit. One huge bugbear in newsrooms up and down the country is the mass push-out of press releases; when a sports reporter at a local paper receives a release on fashion, he will not forward that to his colleague on the other side of the office. As far as he’s concerned it’s not his remit and the email with be resigned to the recycle bin.

Achieving success is simple – keep it simple! Making a great first impression will attract attention and ensuring concise, clean copy at all times will keep them interested. Follow these simple steps and the coverage should come rolling in!

Alternatively don’t hesitate to give me or a member of the MK team a call to talk about how we can help!