Five things to consider before sending a press release

Journalists both hate and rely upon press releases, but they delete more than they ever use. Here are five questions communications teams should ask before hitting the send button.

Why are you writing this?

I often wonder why people send press releases. Were they written to please a client? Did their boss tell them to do it without explaining why? If this is the case, you’re wasting your time. The only good reason to write a press release is because you want a journalist to write a story. Fix your attentions on the job the journalist is doing.

Is there a story there?

In one sentence, say what the story is and ask yourself this question: will anyone care? Would you tell your partner about it? Or your friends in the pub? If not, then why would a journalist care or, more to the point, their readers?

Can it be read very quickly?

Journalists received countless emails every day, mainly from people working in the PR and communications industry. You should assume that whatever you send them will be read very quickly. Therefore, a press release needs to make impact right from the top; the headline and first few paragraphs are of crucial importance.

Does the headline make sense?

You don't need a Sun-style pun headline, just a short, sharp sentence that describes what the story is about. You need to be sure that the majority of people actually understand all of the words in that headline. It is common for journalists to receive press releases filled with industry jargon and acronyms – journalists might not understand these and, if they don’t, their audiences won’t, either. A good headline encapsulates what the story is actually about and contains some excitement and interest.

Are the quotes human?

Salesy quotes are a press release killer and lead to many deletions. Convince your chief executive to say something interesting. Give a point of view. Make an observation. But don’t try to sell your product, or it won’t get published.

Jon Card is a freelance business journalist who writes regularly for The Guardian, The Times and Telegraph. He will be appearing at the next Coverage Class: How to Write a Press Release

Eventbrite - Coverage Class: How to write a press release

How to tailor a press release for different audiences

If you have a news story to share on behalf of your company, you’ll want as many relevant audiences as possible to see that story. Here’s how you can work out who those audiences are and tailor your press release to appeal to each of them.

Work out your audiences

If you’re sharing a story about your company, think about which audiences might be interested in that story. To do this, consider the ‘angles’ your story could take, based on the key elements of what you’re sharing. For example, if your company has developed a new app for cyclists, the story may well, of course, be interesting to the cyclists who could use it.

But there are a range of other groups you can target to extend the reach of your story.

Technology enthusiasts might be interested in how your app was developed. Those interested more generally in fitness and well-being might like to know how the app can help improve their training and exercise regimes. Perhaps there’s a way the app can help parents teach their children or teenagers more about their cycling.

Consider all the possible benefits and uses of the information and then, which audiences could be interested in those.

List the publications you want to target

Once you have a list of potential audiences, you’ll need to build lists of which publications cater to those audiences. The longer the lists, the better.

Don’t stick with the biggest publications, either – if you can find smaller, more niche publications, you may be more likely to get your story published by them as they’ll be receiving fewer press releases each day. Create themed lists based on audiences with similar interests.

Tailor your press release for each audience

Having listed out your themed publications, you’ll be able to more clearly who your main audiences are. With each of those audiences in mind, amend your original press release to appeal to them specifically. This will involve making tweaks to the headline as well as the information you share.

If you’re targeting parents, include a quote which relates to them, and include any relevant data you can find, showing how your news could affect parents.

It’s worth spending time and energy at this stage as, the more relevant the story becomes to each of your target audiences, the better.

Write bespoke emails

When reaching out to journalists and site owners, make your email as tailored and unique as possible. Ensure the subject line gives a clear indication of the relevance to their readers.

Include the name or names of the people you’re emailing. Unless you've invested in distribution software, this will mean sending out emails one at a time, rather than en masse. Also include a short intro outlining how they might be able to use the story, based on the particular publication they run.

Also bear in mind the tone and structure of a typical article from each publication, and aim to mimic this when you send them your release.

The more clear it is that you’ve sent as story for their readership, which is written for a particular purpose, such as a news feed item or blog post, the more likely they are to use it.