Press releases: the good, the bad and the ugly
While some might question whether press releases are even necessary in this day and age (I sense another blog brewing before I’ve even started this one!), most would agree that they are still a useful tool of the trade in any self-respecting PR’s armoury. They remain one of the simplest ways of getting an announcement out to the media quickly and accurately, and well-written content can easily be adapted for web stories, newsletters and stakeholder communications.
For something seemingly so basic, however, it’s surprising how fiendishly difficult it can be to get a press release right. As someone who has worked in both journalism and media relations, I’ve seen my fair share of expertly crafted, relevant and attention-grabbing press releases. Unfortunately, these are often drowned out by slightly less exemplary specimens: releases which are the length of a novella but never make a relevant point; copy which teems with acronyms, jargon and terminology never used in normal working life; or worst of all the ‘stories’ which are an exercise in breathless back-patting of little or no interest outside the office walls.
Here are my ten tried and tested tips for getting releases right:
1. The TREAT test – before you even put finger to keyboard, ask yourself if your story is Timely, Relevant, Engaging, Accessible and Targeted. If it scores a ‘yes’ for each, you’re good to go.
2. The Headline Act – A headline can be the deciding factor on whether a journalist reads on or sends your story to the spike, so make sure it’s punchy, relevant and interesting. For example, instead of headlining that you’re launching a report, pick out the most attention-grabbing statistics or the strongest call to action and lead on that, succinctly and snappily. Here’s one we made earlier.
3. Take it from the top – Your first paragraph should sum up your story, ideally in one sentence. Your following paragraphs are for expanding and adding in secondary detail, findings and a quote. Make sure you cover who, what, when, where, how and why. And don’t underestimate the value of the Notes to Editors section for important background info such as contact details, links and directions.
4. Keep it short and simple – I once worked with someone who refused to sign off a press release unless it fitted on one page. I wouldn’t go that far (large research launches or responses to the Budget demand more space than an event notice, for example) but there’s certainly virtue in short sentences and trimming waffle. If in doubt, leave it out!
5. Mind your language – Leave out jargon, spell out acronyms and avoid over-egging your copy with terms like ‘groundbreaking’, ‘unique’, ‘fantastic’ and ‘prestigious’ – if your story’s good enough, it shouldn’t need superlatives or spin to get it noticed.
6. Can I quote you on that? – Quotes are all too often written by committee, rehashed from existing copy and/or cobbled together in a last-minute panic, but they’re the best opportunity to inject some soundbites and personality. Make sure that they add value and sound like someone speaking rather than a verbose android!
7. Make it human – Take a step back from your story and think about why people need to know about it – how will it affect, influence or benefit them? When appropriate, a case study is a surefire way to add human interest and relevance.
8. Make it make sense - If a term isn’t understood outside of your team, explain it clearly or use a different one.
9. Check, check and check again – a journalist will take a dim view if you spell your main spokesperson’s name wrong or miss out a decimal point in your key research findings.
10. Sign off and send out – Once your release is ready to go, copy and paste it in the body of an email (don’t add big attachments – that’s a one way route to the email trashcan). ALWAYS bcc recipients – you don’t want to share your media list with all and sundry!