I marked a career milestone when I presented my first seminar. The topic was gaining coverage in the media. And I drew on my experience in journalism, press release creation, and media relations to pass on my tips. I would like to thank The Business Network South Humberside and Abbys Upstairs in Grimsby for the opportunity. Now this post will share the tips I gave that day.
Writing a press release
The press release is the most effective way to capture the attention of a journalist. Remember your press release will be competing against hundreds a reporter receives every day. This means it’s important to create a good first impression. You should make sure your press release is:
- free of grammatical and other errors
- easy to read
- tells a story
Why is grammar important?
A press release littered with spelling and grammatical mistakes will not look professional. And it will be less likely to grab the attention of a journalist.
How to make it readable
We are by nature scan readers. Its likely a journalist will spend less than a minute reading your press release. If your press release is too difficult for the journalist to understand then they will give up. A press release written in plain English will be far more engaging.
Think Harry Potter, not Ulysses.
The most well-known tests of readability are the Flesch Reading Ease Score and the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level. These test how easy your copy is to read based on the length of the words and sentences.
You can find out your score and reading grade on Word. Go to File Menu>Options>Proofing tab. Under the ‘When correcting spelling and grammar in Word tick the box for ‘Show readability statistics’. For plain English you should aim for a score of 60 and above and a grade level of 8-9.
There are other readability tests online. Check out the Hemingway App website where you can both test and edit your writing.
It should be a story not an advert
Reporters are looking for news stories. If your press release reads like an advert it’s not going to make the news. By asking the right questions and finding the best angle you will have a news story.
The five Ws
A well-written news story will answer the five Ws. And so, should your press release.
- Who are the individuals or organisations involved?
- What is happening, or has happened?
- Where is it happening?
- When is the date and time of the event?
- Why is this happening?
Sometimes your press release needs to answer the question how it happened.
The inverted V
Imagine walking into the office after spotting a fire at a nearby historic church. How would you explain what you had seen to your colleagues? Would you utter ‘there’s loads of fire engines outside St. Mark’s?’ No, I would imagine you would exclaim ‘St Mark’s is on fire.’ Then you might would describe the size of the flames, and your fears for the future of the building. And then add how many fire engines were there. This is how you structure the story you are telling in your press release.
This is the inverted V structure. The first three paragraphs cover the attention-grabbing aspects of the story. The following paragraphs cover crucial points, leading on to the least important facts.
A press release should always include at least one quotation from a key player in the story. The quote should add value to the story by giving new information.
Your press release should have a headline. The headline is those few words which sum up what your press release is about in an eye-catching way. It should be different from your first paragraph.
At the end of your press release is where you should include your boilerplate. This is a paragraph, or two, or about your organisation. And you should include your boilerplate information on every press release you send out.
A few words about the length
There is an argument a press release should be one A4 side. The length of the press releases I produce depend on how long it takes to tell the story. It could work in your favour to supply a full story that isn’t overwritten.
Make it shareable
Always send an image with your press release. Photographs, videos, and infographics will make your story shareable.
Pitching your press release
Once you have written your press release and identified where you want to send it, it’s time to pitch it.
You are most likely going to email your press release. I attach my press release as a Word file and write a covering email. It’s in this covering email that you will sell your story. You should answer why the journalist should open your press release and cover your story.
Another tip is to try and personalise your email. If you can, send it to named reporter. Also, consider who you are sending it to, and the type of coverage you want. It might be tempting to do a blanket distribution, but consider who you are sending it and the coverage you want. A radio reporter will be looking for an interview, and a television producer will want a filming opportunity.
When you send the press release you will need to fill in the subject box. When I write this, I treat it like a second headline. It is the first thing a reporter will see when they scan through their emails. It needs to catch their attention and it should be short.
Get on the phone
Try telephoning the reporter, or newsdesk you have sent your press release to. Telephone beforehand to tell them to look out for it, and ring after you’ve issued it to check they’ve received it. This gives you the opportunity to discuss your story with a reporter.
Build a relationship with a journalist
The guests at the seminar were very interested in this suggestion. Why not get to know a reporter? Find out how you can help them, and how they can help you. It pays to build a relationship. And it could help to banish those interview nerves.
Use your expertise
You also have a life outside of work. Why not draw upon this experience to feature in the media?
You could do this by:
- Offering your expert opinion on current affairs.
- Following the Twitter hashtag #journorequest. Journalists use this hashtag when they are looking for someone to feature in their story.
Keep a content diary
Throughout the year there are key dates, such as awareness weeks, that can help you plan your content. This includes ideas for blogs and social media, as well as identifying angles for a press release.
Don’t be shy
You need to be brave enough to put yourself forward and ask questions of journalists. If you don’t ask you won’t get.
Journalists work unsociable hours. After sending a press release you could receive a call from a reporter at any time. I have taken calls on Bank Holidays, when I have been on the school run, and on a Friday evening.
These are some of the ways I help my clients achieve media coverage. Get in touch to find out how I can help you make the headlines. Contact me at Joanna@joannawoodhouse.co.uk or telephone 07773301225.