Press Release Writing: 12 Tips To Attract the Attention of Journalists

052115Writing a press release may seem like a chore, but it’s really a great tool to use to share information about your organization, association or company. But it’s important to be succinct and clear – journalists spend on average, less than one minute reviewing your press release before hitting the delete button or deciding to get more information or use it.

Tip #1: Use a clear, eye-catching headline. A well-written attention-grabbing headline that shares the most important and newsworthy nugget of information in your press release is key. It’s important though not to be too clever. Being obtuse, silly or anything that renders your news unclear, will get your press release deleted.

Tip #2: Sub-headlines can be helpful. I’ve always been a fan of using a sub-headline, usually in italics below the main headline, to offer additional insight or include source information.

Tip #3: Think carefully about your subject line for your email. In a study last year on journalists and press releases, 79 percent of journalists said subject lines greatly influence whether they open an email with a press release or not.

Tip #4: Get to the point right away. Your first sentence should really summarize in a nutshell the main news you are sharing. This is no time for you to set a stage and build up to your announcement at the end of the paragraph (or even worse, a few paragraphs down). Just spill the beans, please.

Tip: 5: Use Associated Press style. At least give a deferential nod to AP style. Journalists know it and use it. Easy things to fix – state abbreviations in your dateline. There are plenty of AP style tips online.

Tip #6: Use numbers. Statistics, data and numbers bolster your cause and provide context and amplitude. Even if your press release is discussing an interesting situation or observation that is anecdotal but that you think may be a bigger problem, you can sometimes find data in other sources that you can cite in a press release. The point is to give a sense of scope and to verify what you are sharing.

Tip #7: Offer infographics, photos or video if you can. These additional assets can help time-stressed reporters and bloggers access your information and are especially useful if you are reaching out to smaller markets. It’s usually best to have these materials up on your website and link to them in the press release. Do not send them as attachments.

Tip #8: Avoid using a lot of acronyms and internal language. This is where I often see nonprofits struggle, especially if the press release must be “approved” by a committee of people who don’t all work with the media on a daily basis. Internal jargon does not belong in a press release. If you are making statements like, “we had to include this sentence to keep so and so happy,” and not “we had to include this sentence to make the press release more interesting to reporters” – then your release may be set up to struggle at getting attention.

Tip #9: Include a relevant quote written in an informed, conversational tone. While some journalists have remarked that they find canned quotes on press releases to be a pain and never use them, I’ve also seen a lot of journalists use them for sake of expediency. It’s fine to include a quote in your press release. Frame it about the topic, say something interesting, and do not be purely self-promotional.

Tip #10: Don’t regurgitate your boilerplate again at the bottom of the release if you don’t have to – you are just adding to length. If you have a standard news release boilerplate containing information about your organization, association or small business, and you include some of that information in your release copy, then don’t feel the need to regurgitate all of that information again in the boilerplate. You are just adding to length.

Tip #11: Keep it brief. One page is great. Two pages maximum.

Tip #12: Include contact information. Make sure that you include clearly labeled media contact information with a name, phone number and email address for someone who can (and will) respond promptly to any media inquiries or needs.

Bonus tip: Deliver your release pasted into the body copy of an email. This may not be a writing tip, but it is very important. Do not send your release as an attachment. And don’t send only a hyperlink to your press release in an email with a headline and no body copy – this forces a journalist to click and go see the press release on your website. Over the years, I have had clients tell me that releases should be sent as attachments, or only sent as hyperlinks so journalists can “see their branding.” You need for journalists to see your news in your press release and decide to do a story or to keep you on their list of people with interesting story ideas who can make my life as a harried journalist easier. They won’t see your news at all if you send your press release as an attachment or a lonely hyperlink. After they read your news, you can worry about your branding (which should be more about authenticity and less about stunning people with logos).

 

Photo credit: Image courtesy of Kristen Nador and licensed under a Creative Commons license.

 

Ami Neiberger-Miller is a public relations strategist and writer. She is the founder of Steppingstone LLC, a virtual and independent public relations practice near Washington, D.C. that provides public relations counsel, social media engagement, writing services, and creative design for publications and websites. Ami is also a member of IPRA and serves on its marketing committee. Follow her on Twitter @AmazingPRMaven.

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Study: The Press Release Is Not Dead

Despite the glut of information available to almost anyone, many journalists still rely on the press release and PR professionals for story leads. One communications pro shares some tips on crafting an effective release and the art of media pitching.

No news is not always good news, especially when you’re trying to generate some much-needed publicity for your association. But getting reporters to cover your event, study, or new CEO may not be easy, especially as newsroom staff and other resources dwindle.

A new survey of journalists by Business Wire sheds some light on how reporters, editors, columnists, and bloggers prefer to be pitched or informed of news in order to effectively cover a story.

For example, the wire service’s “2014 Media Survey” found a heavy reliance on press releases. Almost 90 percent of respondents had referenced a release in the previous week, and 62 percent had used one in the last 24 hours.

When evaluating a press release, the most important information journalists look for is:

  • breaking news (77 percent)
  • supporting facts (70 percent)
  • interesting story angles (66 percent)
  • quotable sources (52 percent)
  • company background (50 percent)
  • trending industry topics (49 percent)
  • supporting multimedia (29 percent).

“The first question you need to ask is why would reporters care about this,” Sheri Singer, president and CEO of Singer Communications, said of writing press releases. “Is it newsworthy?”

While journalists at major consumer publications may not always care about your news, smaller trade publications may pick it up. This is an important consideration when directly pitching media regarding news about your organization, Singer added.

“Should it go to all reporters? Or is it inside news that you’ve got a new CEO, which, unless you’re a big trade association, that’s probably most important to trade press and press in the CEO’s hometown,” she said.

When contacting journalists directly, you may want to forgo a standard press release in favor of an email alert, which is preferred by 69 percent of survey respondents, as opposed to 22 percent who prefer a standard press release.

Given the fact that journalists receive hundreds of emails in any given day, one way to cut through that clutter is to personalize your outreach and include contact information, Singer said.

“Don’t make the reporter work. Don’t make them go back to your website to find out how to get in touch with you,” she said. “You need someone’s name and phone number in the email, and that phone number needs to be a cell number because reporters work 24/7 now. You can’t rely on the fact that you’re going to be in the office when they call.”

– Katie Bascuas is associate editor of Associations Now

The Press Release is Dead

Over two recent days, I received 50 press releases in my inbox — only one wasn’t deleted.

As a journalist, I can tell you that most press releases just don’t work. This is partially because the medium is a relic of another age. There was a time, not long ago, when press releases would arrive at one central newsroom fax machine and would be sorted and distributed by an editor. It was an industrial process and had a certain amount of efficiency. Now, the same press release can go to every reporter in a news organization, taking a little time from each of us. We skim through the first paragraph and make a quick decision before we move on to the dozens of other e-mails that demand our attention.

It’s not that the communication form itself doesn’t work. The press release is a helpful tool when it gives reporters and editors the basic information they need, filled with concrete facts and figures and a clear story that’s relevant to what they cover. Those types of press releases aren’t the norm.

Here are three suggestions for making your press releases more effective and moving beyond them to better ways to work with reporters:

1. Don’t bury the lede and keep your audience in mind. Most journalists don’t want a walk-in story with a clever lede, they want you to get to the point. Remember that reporters and editors have to deal with dozens of press releases a day and skim the content. You get bonus points if you put key, newsworthy numbers and concrete nouns in your subject line.

3. Understand the reporter. Targeting a pitch now may be easier than it ever was before. Many publications are trying to build a brand for each reporter, giving them profiles on-site profiles and easy links to archives of their stories. Even a quick Google or Twitter search will help you better understand what a journalist cares about. A personal note, even three lines above a press release in an e-mail, shows that you understand what the reporter is looking for and will probably get you at least a response e-mail and a chance to open a relationship.

4. Become a resource. Reporters aren’t looking for press releases, they are looking for stories and sources. We are all pressed for time and many of us don’t get out of the office as much as we would like to, so we need you to help us know what’s going on. We want to hear from you even when you don’t have something you’d like us to cover. Let us know if you are seeing any trends in your field or in the geographic area, even if it isn’t related to your organization. Ask a key local reporter or editor out for coffee to see what they are working on and how you can help.

I know what I’m suggesting isn’t easy, of course. This is something that takes time, but you’ll find your time — and the time of the reporters you work with — will be better spent.

Cody Switzer is web editor at The Chronicle of Philanthropy covering nonprofit tech and marketing. Follow him on twitter @clswitzer.