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Ten top tips for writing press releases that get noticed

Journalists are swamped with press releases and too often, the only action they take when they get them is to bin them! To make sure they read rather than delete yours, here are ten top ways to grab journos’ attention.

Do plenty of research

Bethany Watson, digital PR lead at integrated marketing agency Evolved: “Personalise your press releases for the destination you want them to be covered on. Journalists are often short on time, so tailoring your press release to your audience maximises the chances of inclusion in an article and helps reduce their busy workload.

“Consider the way a journalist or publication structures their articles, and ask yourself:

What headlines would this publication typically pull from my press release? Is my press release adopting the same tone of voice as the publication? What key subjects does this journalist cover, and are these in my press release?

“Once you have these details, restructure your messaging to include those headlines, colloquialisms, and highlight the subjects that the journalist cares about. This approach shows the journalist that you’ve done your research, increases the chances of positive results, and builds meaningful relationships in the process.”

Start with a bang not a whimper

David Wilson, director at agency Junction Communications: “Don’t over-complicate things and keep it simple and direct to the point. Imaging telling the story to a friend and you’ll do it in the most impactful way. You’ll give them the most interesting part of the story, the headline fact. So, following your ‘guess what…’ the next words that would naturally follow this should likely form the first sentence of your press release. Just as you want to convey the most interesting and attention-grabbing facts to your friend, that’s exactly what you need to give a journalist and their readers. Without impact from your opening line, no one will read or listen to the remainder. Only with that initial impact do they want to know more.”

Write in the same style

Evie Porter senior news consultant at agency Ginger Comms: “My number one tip for a perfect press release is to write it in the style of the outlet you are pitching to. Seems obvious, but so many press releases are NOT tailored in this way, and time-pressed journalists have to pick through them to find something interesting - and then write the story. Much better (and more helpful) is to send a release which is written as copy that they can use without much editing. This means going in on an angle that they would be interested in covering, keeping it as editorially sound as possible, and using the inverted triangle structure, with essential facts at the start. If you're pitching to a broadsheet, your release should look very different to one that you're sending to lifestyle onlines. This is a fundamental rule of press releases, yet is often overlooked in PR.”

Make their life easy

Kerry Ganly, account manager at agency Penguin PR: “Include as much information as possible in your press release, and make sure that facts, dates, etc are double-checked. Always include a high-res image and, if children are in the picture, make sure that they have consent to be included in any media to avoid possible crisis comms afterwards…

“Make life as easy as possible for the person who you’re sending the release to, so that they can - providing it’s well-written - simply copy and paste any text. It’s always useful, too, to have a contact number in there for any queries post publication.”

Tell a good story

Hayley Knight, co-founder and communications director at PR agency BE YELLOW: "For coverage success, a strong press release should include a story angle in it, alongside the information that you’re providing. Providing a narrative, or hooking your release to a news story, or awareness day/month will add social relevance and connection. Include the ‘why’ as much as the what, where and when will make it more appealing. Why is your product, service or campaign relevant now, and what is the proposed impact? Address the problem that you, or your product or service has identified, and is solving, with clear evidence. Make sure that you provide all of the information needed, so the journalist can take from the release what is needed, increasing the likelihood of strong coverage. This information should include recently published data and research, as well as relevant cultural fun facts, and case studies and expert comment if relevant to what you're promoting."

Use AI…

Sue Cade, PR specialist and writer: “My tip is pretty simple! In these days of constant clickbait, I’m often left stumped when writing a compelling headline for a press release. It goes against the grain, even though I know I need to put my personal ethos aside to get the attention. So I use AI to help, and it’s been a brilliant resource. I rarely use the suggestions it offers per se, but it does give me inspiration and angles that point me in the right direction.”

… But use it well!

Sophie Fox, head of PR at agency Samphire Communications: “We have been using ChatGPT for a little while now for press releases. It definitely doesn’t make the ‘perfect press release’ but it does save a lot of time. Press releases still need that human finishing touch in my opinion, and more importantly checked so that it is in line with the brands tone of voice.

“Top tip for using AI is to give it as much information possible - that way you’ll get the best results. Also using the latest iteration, like GPT-4 so you know it’s pulling data from current events. The free version of ChatGPT only uses information leading up to 2021.”

Rewrite, rewrite, rewrite

Eddie Hammerman, managing director at marketing communications agency The 10 Group: “In her book Bird by Bird, author Anne Lamott introduces the concept of sh*tty first drafts. ‘All good writers write them. This is how they end up with good second drafts and terrific third drafts’. It's the same with press releases. Inevitably, there will be several drafts of the release before you land on something wonderful. A great press release is an art form and AI can speed up the research phase long before a SFD. You still need to do some serious fact checking, and whatever you do, don't copy and paste what is generated. It will read like AI generated and more often than not, you can spot AI language constructs from a mile off. A good release is skilfully crafted, well-researched and easily read, so use AI for the perspiration tasks leaving you to focus on the inspiration as that’s what’s going to cut through.”

Keep it short

Kyle Grizzell, senior account manager at agency BlueSky Education: “Make sure the press release isn’t too long, otherwise you risk putting readers off reading the whole thing. Therefore, try to include only the most important and interesting information that would entice target contacts to want to find out more. Although AI is useful for many tasks - checking grammar and spelling if unsure, for example - I would not use it to write the main body of a press release. A press release relies on the content being relevant and interesting, and I don’t believe AI always knows what information from the source material will be the most relevant or interesting to your target audience. That requires the human touch.”

Choose another route

Lottie West, global head of PR, at integrated agency Fox Agency: "When planning a press release, the first question I always ask is ‘do we really need a press release?’. We’ve all heard the common misconception that PR stands for press release, and we sometimes see this play out when a business has news to communicate. Writing a press release can seem like the default reaction, but this does not mean it is always the best or most suitable approach. Sometimes a story is much more suitable for a client’s social channels, or would make an interesting piece of lead gen content. We should feel empowered to say no when we don’t feel a story will land in the media. Far better to counsel the client on a different approach than take the spray-and-pray route. The ultimate litmus test is the ‘so what?’ question. If we can’t answer this, then chances are a press release is not the answer."

So whether you follow the last tip and decide NOT to write one, or all the other nine tips to help you craft a killer one, we hope that all your future press releases get the attention they deserve.

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