Copywriting tips – how to write a journalist-friendly press release

If you have news you’d like to share about your business you’d be right to think about putting it into a press release and sending it off to to news editors in the regional press. Why? Because, sad to say, my former colleagues are now more hard-pressed than ever when it comes to finding the time to uncover stories. Very often a well-written press release will make it into print unchanged if it’s timely and relevant to the publication.

This represents an opportunity for you – so here are my two tips on how to write a successful press release:

  1. Make sure your news is actually news
  2. Make sure you write in a style suitable for the publication you’re targeting (and don’t make silly spelling mistakes)

So, what is news?

** Newsworthy tips: Milestones, statistics, surveys, events, before and after information, photos of an event **

Think about whether what you want to say contains any newsworthy information – will it be of interest to readers of the publication you’re targeting (it’s not all about you, it’s about them!). The kinds of things that make good hooks for news stories include milestones – maybe you’ve been in business 10 years or you’ve just served your 1,000th customer since setting up in business?

Think anniversaries, events, statistics and surveys. I recently worked on a survey to ascertain the success of a Totally Locally (shop locally) campaign in Crickhowell, Powys (2013’s ‘Fiver Fest’ initiative) which revealed takings were up in nearly all the shops who participated during the Fiver Fest fortnight. From this we gleaned interesting tidbits of information – like how many bottles of wine were sold during the fortnight and how many 200g portions of pick and mix sweets. These bits of colour are great for a press release.

Write your press release in newspaper style

Think about your email title as your newspaper headline and your first paragraph of the press release as your news story intro. Ask yourself what the story is? What would make people want to read on? If you had only two sentences to explain what the story is what would you say?

Proceed to give some background in paragraph two or three (save the real nitty gritty detail for notes for editors) then add some colour in the next paragraph or more with a quote or two. Quote people’s full names, say where they are from or where they work and their job title – this explains to readers why you’re quoting them. Don’t quote more than three people – generally it gets boring for the reader if you have a whole raft of talking heads who’ve been included in the press release for ‘political’ reasons.

Finish up with a web link or number to call for more information – but don’t be surprised if this information at the bottom of your press release gets cut (traditionally subs cut from the bottom of the story up if space is tight, that’s why your intro is all important).

Check your spelling, say what photos you’re supplying (list the photos by name and say how many are attached) and give details of who to contact for further information. Put any necessary but boring (sorry, official) information you need to relay into the ‘notes for editors‘ section at the bottom of the press release.

The final hurdle – re-read your writing!

Last but not least re-read your press release before sending and ‘de-jargon’ it – speak in plain English and avoid terms that others outside your industry will not understand or be interested in. Email it off and follow up with phonecalls – to check it hasn’t been ‘spiked’ – but don’t expect to get a clear answer about when it will be published. For that you’ll just have to keep reading your local paper!

That’s it! Good luck – happy copywriting. And if you need a hand, you know who to call!

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