To a journalist, the route a story idea takes to arrive at their keyboard doesn’t matter – it might be an email from a contact, it might have come from a press release, or from social media, or after mining tonnes of data to find a kernel of interest.
But if you’re running a small business and you have some news that you want to get into the media, presenting it to journalists in a professional format will make it a lot more likely that the press will pick it up and want to shout about it.
Some argue that press releases are an outdated approach to getting your business noticed, but in fact they’ve just adapted. Sending a scatty email or a 19-page PowerPoint document about how your business is the most brilliant won’t work – but a pithy press release with a good news peg and/or statistics, sent to the right person, is still relevant.
In fact, press releases can be very succinct – even just a few paragraphs of an email rather than the chunky attachments they used to be.
Follow these rules to penning a great press release and your firm should start grabbing the attention of those you want to see it:
1. Think about its purpose
Do you want your press release to lead to coverage of a specific event, or increase the profile of someone involved in it? Or do you want to flag up a special deal, or launch? Think what you want to be covered – and make that message the subject of your email (or phone approach if you know the journalist involved prefers it – but in general email is best) as well as the title of your press release.
2. Focus on making your writing style clear, concise and non-jargony
Forget the industry technical terms and esoteric acronyms – instead, stick to the ‘mate at the pub’ approach to writing: using a style that you’d use to explain your business to your, well, mate at the pub.
As Sian Gaskell, managing director of PR firm CubanEight, explains: “As an SME you have developed a unique product or service that your customers need. To translate this into PR, you need to tell your particular story in a way that is appealing to media, and their audiences.
Beware of internal jargon and overusing buzzwords that don’t mean anything outside your business. Use simple, straightforward language that gets across what you do and the benefits it brings to your customers.”
3. Find your news hook
This might be a new trend or event, a local issue for local papers, a famous person or a human interest story.
“Anything that sounds like you’re trying to plug your company is an instant turn off,” warns former senior journalist Jemma Page, who is now an account executive at PR agency Cartwright Communications. “If you want to advertise, you’ll need to pay for it – journalists are generally interested in things that are new, unexpected or will resonate with their readers. It’s important to never bury your top line. There were so many times I’d read through a boring release and find the best angle hidden away right at the bottom.”
4. If you’re struggling with a news hook…
Don’t rush into contacting broadcast or print journalists with a half-hearted idea. “Effective media relations is all about building long-term, mutually beneficial relationships, so if you don’t have a story yet, don’t waste your time or more importantly, the journalist’s,” explains Hannah Jones, PR at Cheshire agency No Brainer.
5. Spend just as long working out where to send your press release as writing it
Getting your story to the right person is crucial. “A good way to make a lot of noise with minimal effort (especially as a new or small brand) is knowing exactly who you need to talk to,” Jones adds. “Rather than throwing your story far and wide and hope it sticks somewhere, time is better spent honing the message and the audience.
Find out who’s writing about your sector, who’s blogging about it and who can share your message and your story to as many people as possible.”
6. Keep it simple
As well as tight language, everything you’re sending a journalist should be concise. So don’t send ten photos – apart from anything else, doing so makes your mail more likely to be blocked by a spam checker. If you’ve a really fantastic picture, you could include one snap, but otherwise just make it clear that photos (or infographics, video for online, etc) are available.
7. Make sure everything in your press release is factually correct
Ensure that any of the people quoted are willing to be quoted and available for follow-up interviews, and be certain that the contact details that you should provide at the bottom are up-to-date and you’ll be able to respond speedily.
Hopefully journalists will have read your brilliant press release and want to follow up – so make it easy for those on a tight deadline to get through to you and have any extra details to hand.
Lucy Tobin is a senior writer at the Evening Standard, author and blogger.