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

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