Writing an Effective Press Release
Writing a press release can be a scary prospect, but once you know the basics it’s a simple and very effective way of promoting your business. Newspaper and magazine editors are busy people and so, on the rare occasions an interesting, concise and well written release hits their desk, they are much more inclined to use it. They’re also less likely to cut it too drastically so your full message gets across to your audience. The two great advantages of getting press coverage are that it’s free, reaches thousands of people, and readers tend to view editorial as having more integrity than an advertisement. What’s more, if you can build a rapport with the editor or reporters at your local newspaper or trade magazine, and they know you will provide good copy on time, they will welcome more articles from you in the future.
In no more than seven words – and preferably fewer - you need to grab the attention of an editor who sees dozens, if not hundreds, of press releases every day. The headline should summarize the information in the press release, but in a way that is exciting and dynamic; think of it as an advertising catchphrase, a song title or a newspaper headline - you have just a few words to make your release attractive and memorable.
Your first paragraph is critical. This paragraph must explain "the five Ws and one H" of the story -- the who, what, when, where, why, and how (see below). This paragraph must summarise the press release, with the following paragraphs providing the detail.
The opening paragraph must also contain the hook: the one thing that gets your audience interested in reading more. A hook is not a hard sell or devious promotion - it's just a factual statement.
Using a strategy called the inverted pyramid, the body of the press release should be written with the most important information and quotes first. This inverted pyramid technique is used so that if editors need to cut the story to fit space constraints, they can cut from the end without losing critical information.
The Closing Paragraph
Repeat the critical contact information, including the name of the person, his or her phone number and/or email address. But remember sub-editors will cut a story from the bottom up, so make sure this critical info has already been mentioned earlier, or in a footer at the bottom of the page.
The Five Ws
Who organised/took part?
Where are they from?
How old are they?
What are they studying?
What took/ is taking place? What did /does it involve?
Where did it happen/ is it happening?
What was/is the reason for it? What will be the result/next step?
When did/does it take place?
FURTHER HINTS AND TIPS
Keep it short and sweet. If the story lends itself to something catchy and stylish, go for it, but generally keep it simple. Newspaper subs/editors will rarely use the title you suggest, so just make yours brief and informative.
Important Things First.
Think about the subject you are writing the press release on. If you were telling a friend about this story what would you say to them in one or two sentences? Probably something like this:
“Did you know there’s a Women in Rural Enterprise conference at Harper Adams this Saturday?
In one sentence you have encapsulated the main message you are trying to get over. This is the important part and so should form your introduction. Ideally it should be no more than two sentences. The first sentence should be no more than 25 words – preferably less. You should ask yourself “If the reader read no further than the introduction would they have the bulk of the information they need?”
The rest of the press release develops the story in descending order of interest/importance, so you can expand on the introduction. Imagine what clarifying questions your friend might ask you in order to come along to the Open Day:
- What time on Saturday? Clarify the date
- What is Women in Rural Enterprise?
- What is Harper Adams? Where is it? What town/county? Which room?
- What happens at the conference?
- What’s the most exciting/interesting thing about the conference?
- Will it cost me anything?
- Do I have to book?
- Can I bring someone along?
- Do I have to be a WiRE member?
- Who else will be there?
- Has there been a conference before? What happened?
Remember, a press release isn’t an essay or a report. It’s tempting to sum up at the end, or leave a really juicy bit to finish on a high note, but don’t! If you’ve saved the best till last, it’s likely the recipient won’t have been excited enough by the rest of the press release to get to the end so it will be wasted.
Keep it So Simple
Or KISS! A good rule of thumb, especially for local papers, is to imagine you’re explaining this to an elderly person or a child. It’s more than likely they won’t know what certain abbreviations stand for (e.g. WiRE), or what technical jargon means, so explain it simply and in plain English. Don’t use 10 words when three will do! Don’t assume people know what WiRE is, what you do, or who you are – in fact, don’t assume anything!
Don’t drown your press release in lots of jargon and useless information, but do include some important details. If you are writing about a person, include their name, where they’re from, and their age if you have it. Depending on the publication you are sending the release to, you may also need to include other relevant details.
Check everything you write is correct – never assume anything. There’s nothing worse than getting someone’s name wrong, or misspelling a place name. The reader who knows that person or place will think: “If the person who wrote this can’t even get the name right, what else have they got wrong?”
Try to include a ‘live’ quote – it makes it seem more personal and lively. This is the format preferred by most publications:
Izzy Warren-Smith, founder of Women in Rural Enterprise, said: “We already have more than 400 people booked to attend the conference.
“This is 100 more than last year, so we are confident the event will be an even greater success.”
She added: “I am particularly looking forward to the opening speech by the Prime Minister.”
If there is some additional information that isn’t integral to the main story, but has a link and may be of use to the editor, include it in Note to Editor at the end of the release. This might include:
Who to contact for further details
If photographs are available, they can be obtained from a website that gives further information
Sample Press Release
March 30, 2006 Open Day (1/1)
Harper Adams’ Open Day
HarperAdams University College is staging its Public Open Day on May 14. Prospective students will get the opportunity to find out more about the Shropshire-based university college, which specialises in rural and land-based higher education.
Admission to the event, which runs from 2pm to 5pm, is free and there will be plenty of parking available. During the Open Day there will be tours of the campus and opportunities to talk to staff and students. Visitors can also see the expanding range of teaching facilities, as well as the working farm and Companion Animal House. All ages are bound to enjoy a visit to the Engineering Department to watch the big machinery being operated and take part in off-road vehicle test drives.
There is no need to book in advance, just turn up on the day. If you can’t make it on May 14, but would like to find out about similar events in the future, call 01952 815000 for details.
Professor Wynne Jones, Principal, said: “We invite everyone to come along and see what we are doing at Harper Adams. We offer a wide range of degrees and foundation degrees in Agriculture, Business Management and Marketing, Engineering and Design, Animal-related subjects, Countryside and Environment, Leisure and Tourism, and Land and Estate Management. We have also recently added a new range of exciting food-based courses.
“It has been a very successful year for Harper Adams. Having received several plaudits for our teaching and graduate employment success, we have recently become the only land-based university college to be named a Centre for Excellence in Teaching and Learning. This will mean even more learning facilities for students, in addition to the extended accommodation and sports facilities being built this summer. We have also become home to the National Rural Knowledge Exchange, to promote the development of the rural economy, helping rural businesses through advice, access to technology and innovative ideas, and leading collaborative business support projects.”
Professor Jones added: “Whatever your area of interest, you are very welcome to come along and see what is happening at Harper Adams.”
Note to Editor
If you require a photograph please contact A N Other, Press Officer (+ details)
Further details of the Open Day itinerary, and photographs of last year’s event, can be found on the Harper Adams website, www.harper-adams.ac.uk.
Insert footer here (View, header and footer) with your name, contact number, postal address and e-mail address.
This article was submitted by WiRE member Claire Robertson-Bennett, press officer, editor and former news and magazine journalist. Claire organises non-religious baby naming ceremonies with her business partner, Vivien Broomhall. For further information on civil namings e-mail email@example.com