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Seven ways to screw up a press release

By on Feb 7, 2014 in Business skills, Copywriting and marketing | 2 comments

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Your business has some great news or an event you want to publicise. Whether or not you agree that the newspaper industry is dying, the public need for news is bigger than ever. With streaming sites and constant updates, websites need more news content than your local newspaper could ever contain in their daily or weekly edition. So, how best to get your company’s news into websites, newspapers and magazines? The press release (aka the media release or the news release if it’s feeling fancy (fair warning, I’m about to use all three terms as I like to keep you on your toes!)) still reigns no matter where the news will eventually be displayed.photo of newspaper stand

Some PR agencies will have you thinking that creating a press release is some kind of dark art that takes them thousands of hours to toil over so they can happily charge you a fortune. When I first started freelancing, I asked around for some agency figures for press releases and my jaw dropped at the amount some were charging for an A4 piece of paper, no media distribution included.

Here’s the nekkid truth: a press release doesn’t take very long to write but it does take skill to write a good one. Freelance writers will charge you a decent price for one but we’re not talking thousands, more likely between £200-£450. (Of course, if you need a press release and that price range sounds good to you, give me a call and we can chat about it.)

Alternatively, if you’ve got very good writing skills, you can write the release yourself. I’ll get to media distribution in a minute. But first, let’s look at how to write a press release. Sometimes, it’s easier to look at what you shouldn’t do and we’ve all been guilty of these at some point in our careers.

Spending hours over creating the perfect headline

Creating a great headline is fine for your own business’s blog posts. In fact, Jon Morrow has given us all pretty much the perfect list of headline starters we can use, for free. But, if your press release is going to a newspaper or magazine, the sub-editor there will inevitably write a far catchier (and sometimes cheesier!) headline than you can manage. So don’t sweat the headline too much. Keep it simple but engaging enough that it grabs attention. That way, you don’t spend too long worrying over it and web editors can still use it.

Loooooooonnnnngggggg

Keep the main body of your press release to three paragraphs: an exciting first paragraph that sums up your news; a second paragraph that goes in to more detail; a third and final paragraph that includes a quote from someone noteworthy in your company – the higher, the better. That’s it, three paragraphs that capture the reader.
Keeping to one side of A4 should hopefully take the pressure off you as well. I’ve seen media releases that are four A4 pages long – ridiculous! Don’t do a journalist’s job for them – the newspaper, magazine or website will decide if they want more information above and beyond your short news release and will assign a journalist or photographer accordingly.

Dull, dull, dull

Your event or news item may not exactly light your ass on fire – how exciting can a new line of sprockets be? Yes, newspapers and magazines have a lot of space to fill. But a really dull press release will see your news item tucked away on page 13, at the bottom, in the right hand corner. Online? It may well end up on sites with relatively small viewer numbers and no engagement from those viewers or it just won’t get picked up anywhere. You want to get people excited about your news and hopefully they will then engage with you about it. So, think about what your new line of sprockets can mean for your customers  (what’s in it for them?) and get that benefit and value into your first paragraph.

Who, Where, When, How, Why?

If you don’t get enough detail into your second paragraph, no one is going to really understand your news. Go into more depth, for example, a key statistic and how this news will help your customers. Percentages are always good and are more engaging than a list of prices or numbers:

“97% of the sprocket testers confirmed the new sprockets gave them a better return on their investment”

If you use numbers, round up or down to whole numbers – no one gets excited by “43,276 sprockets were sold” but “customers have benefited from more than 43,000 innovative sprockets” just sounds more interesting (as interesting as sprockets can get. See, now there’s going to be a bunch of angry sprocket makers after me!).

No one wants to speak up

Don’t include a nice juicy quote from your CEO or someone high up in the business and your release may well get ignored. Equally, make sure the quote is relevant to the news and short. If your CEO or senior manager gives you a long quote, feel free to cut it down. If no one is willing to speak up, depending on your position in the company, you can give a quote (and you can then make sure it’s short, snappy and relevant to the news item).

No Notes for Editors or contact details at the bottom of the release

Adding a big bunch of info about your company to the main part of the release is the easiest way for it to be ignored. Boring! Factual info should be in the Notes for Editors at the bottom, for example

Notes for Editors:

Sprockets and Co. has been in business for over a century, supplying technically advanced sprockets to the London area. For more information about Sprockets and Co., see our website: www.sprocketsblahblah.com

A lack of contact details as well? If your item has peaked the interest of an editor, no contact details means exactly that – how the heck are they going to contact you for more information or to set up an interview or photo session? Don’t assume they’ll get your details from your original email; all the information needs to be on that one page release.

Who cares?

You need to be very honest with yourself. Is your news actually news? Before you send the release anywhere, read it through and think about whether you’d actually want to read about it on a news website, magazine or newspaper. If the item doesn’t interest you at all, it’s pretty much guaranteed no one else will be interested either. Harsh reality – not every bit of company news is newsworthy to anyone outside of your company. You can always add the news to your company website and to any staff internal communications. Editors already read through tons of dross, don’t add to it!

And one way to not screw it up:

Distribution

You’ve finished your press release, you’ve checked it for spelling, grammar and common sense and you’re ready to release it out into the big wide world. Online, you can send it for free to online wire services. These vary in distribution numbers so research them first.

If you just want to send it to local newspapers and magazines, don’t be afraid of finding their editorial contact details online and calling them up. Do this well in advance of any particular news release and simply tell them who you are and ask them if they’re happy to receive future press releases from you if you’ve got some news that you think they’ll find interesting. There’s no harm in asking!

Now, obviously, I’m not about to call out individual examples of truly horrific news releases I’ve seen but have you slaved over a press release headline, only to see it replaced by something truly cheesy? Forgotten your contact details on a release or got your CEO’s name horrendously wrong? Share the pain by commenting below or tweet me.

Next time: How to write apology letters to sprocket manufacturers. Kidding!

Paris news stand by Sirsnapsalot with Creative Commons

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