Monday, March 24, 2008

The art of writing a Press Release

Red William
6" x 4", coloured pencils on Arches HP
copyright Katherine Tyrrell
This Guide explains what you need to know if
  1. you’ve ever written a Press Release but lacked guidance on how to go about it; or
  2. if you’ve issued a Press Release but it failed to achieve the impact you had hoped for; or
  3. one day soon, you think you might want to write a Press Release......
I’ve never ever had any problem remembering how to write and distribute a Press Release since the day I received a very ‘to the point’ briefing from the City Editor of a prominent newspaper who has since gone on to work for international newspapers and win a prize for business journalism.

Each day, this man was sent a small mountain of Press releases. He explained precisely what he looked for in a Press Release and how best to survive his morning ritual of culling the weak ones – which he conducted standing over his rubbish bin.

The first lesson he taught was that if you haven't got a great title ‐ which tells him what it's all about – plus a punchy concise hook for the first two to three lines then he simply didn't waste his valuable time reading any further ‐ and the Press Release would drift down towards the bin.

He worked purely on the basis that if you can't be bothered to introduce your material properly then he can't be bothered to read it. He’s not alone in adopting this view.

The really important and really difficult bit - being creative


Before you even start to write a Press Release, the first thing you must do is work out WHO it's going to and WHY you have a story that might interest them. It doesn't matter what field you work in, the reality is that you and lots of other people like yourself are all competing for the attention of the relevant people – and the people who bring them their news.

Your reader's time is valuable ‐ so show some respect and don't waste it. It all boils down to finding something which makes them want to read on. You're creative – so be creative and find an answer to these questions!
  • What's new or unique or different about you and your news?
  • Why is your news worthy of their attention in the virtual equivalent of a cattle market for news?
  • How can you find a way of avoiding being boring with more of the 'same old, same old'?
Your pitch can be helped by how you design, present or write your news.

The essential but technically difficult bit

You don’t need to be a marketing professional to write an effective press release but you do need to adopt a professional approach and technique. The technically difficult bit is about sticking to the ‘rules’.

How can you make an Editor's life simple? This is it ‐ the technique and some basic tips in a nutshell.
  • Audience: know who your audience is and pitch the PR to them ‐ use concepts and language which are appropriate to them.
  • Grab their attention with a good title: The title makes a difference. Do NOT be boring ‐ you have one line to produce a hook to catch their attention
  • Now keep their attention: Most people will skim read a PR. (Think about how you deal with your junk mail). You therefore have about 10 seconds maximum to make them want to read more. That equates to the title and a short first paragraph which spells out why your news is new / unique / different AND newsworthy.
  • Keep all text brief and to the point:
    • Top of the page (above the title) state PRESS RELEASE (bold caps) and the date/time of issue
    • ALWAYS write in the third person
    • ALWAYS double space text
    • ALWAYS write concise points in a simple sentence structure using as few words as possible
    • The first paragraph states what the PR is about AND contains the ‘hook’
    • (If required) The second paragraph states the essential facts – these are the five 'W's: who / what / where / when / why and how
    • Use a quote if it adds value
    • Eliminate flowery language, bias and hype
    • Check that facts, grammar and spelling are all correct
    • Remember that your text might be used verbatim
  • Short means short: A press release should ideally be no more than one side of A4 and NEVER EVER more than two sides of A4 (It has to be incredibly important to warrant this). Use sub‐heads as signposts if more than one side. Keep editing until you’ve removed all unnecessary words.
  • Further details: Include at the end:
    • Details of a contact for further information. Make sure these are precise, accurate and that it includes a telephone number which has a person and not an answerphone at the other end. Journalists always appreciate people who respond to their queries promptly.
    • An 'About You' section: spell out the factual details of who you are / who your company is / what your product is.
Remember – providing an Editor with good copy that’s accurate, newsworthy and easy to use will increase your chances of a favourable reception for your next press release.

The boring but very necessary bit

Don’t waste your time by producing a press release which sits unread in the wrong place.

Getting to the desk of the right person greatly enhances the chance that your missive will be read. You MUST find out the names of the people that the press release needs to go to. It takes a bit of research and a phone call to check names and titles and the correct address and/or e‐mail address.

That's it. Reach the right people, don't waste their time and make their life easier by providing good copy - simple!

Here are some links to websites which also have advice about how to write a Press Release.
©Katherine Tyrrell March 2008

Making A Mark Publications

If you think you might like to keep a copy of this post to hand for the next time you write a Press Release for you or your art society/community, I've included a PDF copy on the 'Making A Mark Publications' page on my website.

This also contains links to the following publications:
[Note: "Red William" was drawn from life while watching Anthony Minghella's last film - the admirable #1 Ladies Detective Agency]

8 comments:

Jeanette said...

Good points Katherine. As someone who creates a lot of press releases and does a lot of media interviews, I will add another couple of points.

1. If you fax your PR, don't use a cover sheet. Newsrooms get irritated by cover sheets, they want the facts, so send just the cover sheet.

2. If emailing the release, put the text right into the body of your email, don't use an attachment. There is much more chance it will be read if it is in front of the reader instantly than if they have to download a document.

3. Be available to do an interview right away and know your facts! The game of media is first off the blocks. If your piece is interesting they'll call you within minutes of receiving it and they want answers to questions.

Don't send out a media release then go off for the day. Or if you do, prepare to be called at home at 11pm to do the interview. :)

Katherine Tyrrell said...

Excellent points Jeanette - I couldn't agree more! I set myself a limit of two pages to get the guts down but could be persuaded to revise this if there are enough good points! ;) I rather liked having this subject on the blog (the instant access point) and also available as a file (for future reference).

But do newsrooms use faxes still? I know when I was generating PRs that we faxed but I'd assume that people will always e-mail now. I know that I rarely open documents sent as PR material to me.

I had one brilliant tip for media interviews which I always used to keep in the top drawer of my desk!

Jeanette said...

I just noticed my error in point 1 - send just the media release not just a cover sheet...

Faxes over emails is a debated question. A survey found that 60% of newsrooms preferred releases as faxes rather than email. The theory being they had to print them anyway, so the fax was ready made and saved time.

A final point is that you can use a newswire to submit your message. You may have to subscribe in some instances before issuing a release, but it gives a wider spread for your words.

José said...

Hi Katherine and dear readers,

Being someone who has never written a press release, I cannot offer valuable advise.
However I would like to add what I believe is an important fact, not only in this case but in most part of our life.
And that is : a smile.
If you hand your press release, hand it with a smile, for it can open a thousand doors.

Kind regards,

José

Marsha Robinett said...

Katherine,
Great information. I've not had the need to write a press release but certainly hope to someday. Consequently I printed and filed this...yeh, I'm still a little old fashioned.

By the way Red William is quite handsome!

Darla said...

Several years ago, before I knew the "right" way to do things, I wrote up a press release without any advice or guidelines. I received a call and an interview/photo in the newspaper! So while I think guidelines and advice are important, I think any artist who is thinking about sending a press release shouldn't let perfectionism and fear get in their way. Just write it, be direct in your points about what is important, make sure your contact information is on it, and send away.

Chuck Law said...

Hi Katherine
What a coincidence..I just had to write my first press release two weeks ago. I could have used the advise. As it was I looked over some other artist's releases and took my cue from them. It's only three paragraphs and a statement. Would love to have written a page or two! The gallery curator took care of all the technical bits (thank god).
Good informative reading as always!
...Chuck

"JeanneG" said...

Red William--beautiful colors.

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