Not easy to write a press release but here is a guide to help…

Before you write and issue a press release, ask

“Is there news value in this story? And, “Does it warrant a release?”

Too often organisations feel obliged to write press releases using material that is not newsworthy.

There are key elements that a journalist looks for in a story — and the human interest angle is key. Do you have a human interest angle, and can you show that your news has an impact on people?

Once you have decided that you have a story to tell, you need to draft your release abiding by very clear rules. These rules are designed to make it as easy as possible for journalists to use your material.

Answer the following questions about your news:

  • Who? Who are the key players — your company, anyone else involved with the product? Who does your news affect/who does it benefit?
  • What? What is new?
  • Why? Why is this important news — what does it provide that is different?
  • Where? Where is this happening/is there a geographical angle/is the location of business relevant?
  • When? What is the timing of this? Does this add significance?
  • How? How did this come about?

As a starting point, writing down the answers to these questions can be helpful. It’s then a matter of putting them together in short punchy sentences. That sounds simple, but can be quite challenging.

If you can capture the essence of your story in 50 words or fewer, as they do in newspapers, you are on the right track. Ideally, for your first paragraph, you should be looking at no more than two sentences, each of 25 words or fewer.

The most important thing to think about when writing a press release is the target audience. The angle that will interest the readers of a specialist magazine will be very different to those that read the local newspaper. In fact, you should write different versions of your release for the different audiences you are targeting.

Avoid waffle and lengthy explanation. Keep the copy as tight as possible. So, you need to get all the information into the first paragraph. The test of success is whether the story can be understood in its entirety if only the first paragraph was reproduced in print. The second paragraph expands on information in the first, giving a bit more detail.  Often, the third paragraph provides a quote. The fourth paragraph outlines final information, such as referencing websites and ordering, or mentions other products in development.

It’s essential to research the press and media you will be targeting.  If a company launches a product, there might be mileage in targeting any, or all, of the following:

  • local press (the area in which the company is based)
  • specialist press (the company’s sector)
  • specialist press (read by people who will benefit from the news in the release)
  • national press (if there is significant impact or change)

If there is scope to use photography with your story, it’s an opportunity worth taking. If you look through the newspapers during the week, you’ll find that many stories appear as just a photograph and caption. It’s a great way to get your message across, and can be quite striking. Avoid head-and-shoulders shots, however — think more creatively.

So here is your press release checklist

  • Assess if the story has news value and if a release is appropriate.
  • Research the target press and media. Review publications to get a feel for the tone and style. Identify deadlines.
  • Identify the key facts – ask who, what, why, where, when, how?
  • Draft a template structure for your story.
  • Decide who should be quoted from your organisation and if third-party quotes would be useful.
  • Check whether a photo can support the release.

Good luck and remember always follow up with the journalists who you send the release to.

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