A press release is fantastic way to tell your story and get your brand out there. However, it can be tricky to know where to start and how to structure the release effectively. What should come first? What needs to be included? Your release needs to be informative and well written. Journalists are busy and newsrooms are increasingly understaffed, so your release needs to contain all the relevant information the journalist may need as well as being grammatically correct.
Is it news?
The first question to ask is ‘Is it actually news?’ News is news if it is something that is not known before. If it isn’t then there is little point in going any further. But it’s not quite as easy as that: what is news to one medium, might not be so for another. A piece about the latest high tech industrial printer is hardly going to be of interest to a national daily, but for a trade paper covering that market, yes, it might be. Again, an item announcing the newly-elected leader of your local council might be right for a regional radio station but will never make the six o’clock news.
Target the release to ensure that it goes only to the media who need it and is written in the right style for the particular medium chosen.
Apply the ‘TRUTH’ test
One way to determine whether something is newsworthy, is to use the ‘TRUTH’ test. The TRUTH acronym covers the five common elements of news. It’s broken down into:
- topicality / timeliness (has it happened or will it happen recently?);
- relevance to the target media and to their audience (is this something they typically cover?);
- how unusual or unique this is;
- trouble (for someone) – or is there tragedy or triumph over tragedy (all of which create tension); and
- human interest (are the audience involved or affected by this story?). If there’s a human interest angle, that’s a plus point ¬ particularly for the tabloids. Stories with a hint of rags-to-riches, a big financial win, anything to do with children or animals will always stand a good chance of publication. Most readers and listeners prefer stories about people to things
Ideally, your press release should always be topical, relevant and include one of the other three elements of news – or, in an ideal world, all of them!
The importance of layout
It’s vital to structure a press release correctly, with the beginning section being absolutely key. The headline and introduction will either attract the journalist’s attention and result in media coverage, or not. There’s no point saving the most interesting line until the last paragraph. Most journalists are incredibly busy so if the first few lines don’t grab their interest, the chances are that your release will be heading for the spike.
Give the story a snappy heading with a present-tense verb, saying what the release is about, preferably in a single line. If secondary headings or sub-headings are needed, these can go in upper and lower-case, either in plain or bold type. The heading will help to ‘sell ‘the story and it is worth spending time to get it right.
Present the information in order of importance, with the most crucial facts in the first couple of paragraphs. Say who, why, where, when. Write subsequent points in descending order of importance. Put yourself in the journalist’s shoes; decide why they would be interested in this story and include that early on to hook them in.
Once you have successfully captured the journalist’s attention, you can add in more details and background information, telling the story in more depth. This is a good place to include some quotes from key people, or some supporting statistics. For instance, put in a significant statement by the chairman or managing director on forward plans or profit figures. For new appointments, insert a quote from the CEO saying what he or she will be doing. Use double quote marks and keep it short ¬ a single sentence of about 20 words will usually be enough.
Consider tone and style
Use the active not passive voice. Write in a factual style and avoid flowery adjectives and superlatives like exciting, lovely, superb. If it is something new don’t hesitate to say so. Don’t write puffery containing blatant advertising messages. Avoid clichés and hype – be careful – there is no point in hyping things up unless they really are that good! Avoid jargon, foreign phrases or scientific words.
Don’t put ‘recently’ if you can’t be precise: say last week/month with the date in brackets. If there is a lot of technical data, include it as an attachment. Keep sentences short, no more than 25-30 words and not more than two or three to a paragraph. Brevity is key. If it can be cut down, cut it.
Layout and presentation are important
The release should be identifiable as a communication for publication or broadcast. It should carry a printed heading like ‘News Release’, ‘Press Notice’. The story should carry a date of issue at the top. Write the date like this: Monday 11 July not Monday 11th July.
Don’t underline anything in the release itself, and don’t put anything in italics or bold (or you’ll just make the sub-editors’ job harder having to change it all back into plain type). Restrict capitals to proper nouns and don’t capitalise job titles. If you’re ever unsure of journalistic style, pick up a quality newspaper like The Yorkshire Post to see how they present this kind of information.
Additions and extras
Once you’ve finished your press release, you can include further information about your company and how to contact you in the boilerplate or editor’s notes. This is a section that lies underneath the body of a press release. It includes anything that is interesting but may not be relevant for this release in particular – for example, how and when the business was founded. Add in links to your website and social media channels in case the journalist wants to find out more.
Don’t forget to also send any relevant images, videos or a note that these are available. Sometimes, increasingly so in a digitally-led world, having strong supporting imagery can make or break a story.