How to Write an Effective Press Release? Journalists Answer

Who’s a PR pro in the eyes of a journalist? It is a person that facilitates contact with the company, provides information about new products or changes within the organization, and reaches out to spread the company message.

Unfortunately, often it is also a person who stands in the way of getting the company’s comments or statements and who doesn’t understand the specifics of a given medium. The things that irritate journalists the most is spamming their inboxes with meaningless info and hounding them with phone calls.

In order NOT to be that person, learn how to write press releases[1] from journalists who are likely to receive them.

Writing a media release – tips from journalists

Danielle Capriato about ideal press releaseDanielle Capriato about ideal press release

Danielle Capriato (@DCapriato[2]), PRNewswire[3]use natural language that will resonate with your audience

#1 Most common mistakes in writing press releases: The number one mistake to avoid is forgetting to include key details. Names, dates, anything that answers the who/what/when/where. You’d be surprised, but those things can be easy to forget, and journalists or other influencers don’t want to have to dig to fill the holes.

#2 How to write an effective press release? This question is quite involving because press release writing is pretty involving itself, but I’d say that my biggest tip is to make sure you use natural language that will resonate with your audience. Write for people, not for search engines (search engines try to think like people, so they like natural language too!) and avoid keyword stuffing.

Seth Arenstain about ideal press releaseSeth Arenstain about ideal press release

Seth Arenstain (@skarenstein[4]), PR News[5]: when I receive a press release from someone who has no idea what is covered in the publication I work for, it often ends up in the trash bin

#1 Most common mistakes in writing press releases: Writing a press release about your PR agency is similar to writing a press release[6] about any subject. As with all press releases, do your homework before you write and send the press release. In this case, know something about the target you are pitching, presumably a publication or a media outlet. For example, do you know if this media outlet writes stories about PR agencies? More specifically, does this media outlet write about what’s covered in the press release? Does it write about personnel moves? Agency of Record announcements? Agency mergers and acquisitions? When I receive a press release from someone who has no idea what is covered in the publication I work for, it often ends up in the trash bin.

#2 How to write a press release that gets attention? Do your homework. Be brief and to the point. Tell the writer WHY the news in the release is important[7] to his/her readers and do so as soon as you can. Don’t make the journalist search through your whole press release to find the answer to this vital question. Make things as simple as possible for the journalist by providing useful links and graphics and easy ways to contact the press release writer.

Sara Ghazaii about ideal press releaseSara Ghazaii about ideal press release

Sara Ghazaii (@saraelizabethg), Vice President, Director of Communications, PR Council[9]: send news worth “bragging about”[8]

#1 Most common mistakes in writing press releases: Don’t assume everyone will read every word, stick to the facts, and don’t exaggerate with false claims. Always credit your source, and don’t ever trash your competitors.

#2 How to write a press release that gets attention? Stick to the core of who, what, when, where, and why” — it seems simple, but you typically have a good 30 seconds to capture your reader’s attention. Keep it short, sweet and to the point — as I like to say, send news worth “bragging about.”

press release examplespress release examples

Marta Bellon about press releaseMarta Bellon about press release

#1 Most common mistakes in writing press releases: The mistakes are unfortunately silly. I have a feeling that 80% of the PR people who contact us don’t do any research beforehand[10]. They don’t ready anything by the given journalist, and what’s still hard to believe, they often have no clue what publication they’re calling. A lot of PR pros also demand creativity out of the journalist – often on the spot. Example? I get a phone call saying “A Very Important Person is coming to Poland. It’s a one of a kind opportunity for an interview. Are you interested? If so, please provide a list of questions.” I know nothing about this person – the name doesn’t ring any bells. When I ask about the potential topics this person can talk about, I again get a very vague answer, but with an assurance that this is a VIP, and it’s a “one of a kind opportunity.”

#2 How to write a media release that gets attention? A PR pro should know the subjects covered by the journalist and contact him or her when an opportunity arises to interview an expert in those areas. It is also the PR pro that should know the most interesting things about the expert for the journalist. Yes, it requires more time and effort, but this is a job of the PR person, not the journalist. Otherwise, we’re just wasting each other’s time.
We understand that PR is not easy, and the clients of PR agencies are still convinced that as long as you send out a press release to 100 outlets everything will be fine because surely some will simply copy it. Of course you can do that, but it has very little in common with professional PR and promoting the brand in the media.

At all my media relations workshops, I always repeat that the most important thing is to know whom you’re talking to and understand what journalism is really about and that journalists have a well-developed BS detector.

A winning press release answers the basic questions of who/what, why, what for and why is it important. If the press release contains news about a new project of some company, then it’s necessary to provide some background information on the company like what they do, how long they’ve been around and so on. It’s also important to set the news in some context instead of just writing that it’s unique, innovative and “once in a lifetime” if it’s not true. Some interesting quotes of the people involved are also welcome, but not if they are of the “We’re extremely excited about this super project and couldn’t have done it without our partners/investors” variety. This is what Facebook posts are for. Journalists want solid facts and very much dislike hyperboles. Press releases too often resemble ads.

It’s important for a press release to always include the contact info of the person who can provide a detailed explanation of the project. It is quite key to be able to reach that person on the other end of that number or email address. When the company wants to go public[11] with a piece of news, it has to be available to be contacted by the press and therefore should schedule such events accordingly. Times like right before a key person’s vacations or childbirth may not be the best to start a media campaign.

Pawel Zielewski about ideal press releasePawel Zielewski about ideal press release

 Paweł Zielewski (@PawelZielewski[12]), Forbes[13]in a situation where you’re unable to provide all the additional details, don’t make it difficult to get to the person who has them

#3 An effective press release – so what does it actually look like? There is no such thing as useless information, but it can only be used when it gets to the right person. The problem is elsewhere. It is too often that I come across some good piece of info, but that’s it, nothing else. It’s scary, but a great lot of your new PR pros, upon being contacted for more details can provide nothing because they know very little about the brands they work for. What’s even worse is that very often these “pros” stand in the way of getting this information from others within the company. And believe me, these are not isolated incidents. Oh no.

The issue of visuals – it often turns out that the pictures sent are legally unpublishable because they lack the legal rights to be put out for example in print and online. That automatically disqualifies the agency.

#4 How to contact the media nowadays? It’s obvious that there isn’t just one right model for communicating with the media. Of course, the basic approach is “information-follow-up”, which works if the sender knows to whom and why they’re sending the release and can justify it a bit better than “because my client really wanted to be seen in a prestigious magazine.” The particular form of contact is not as significant, and even private messages on Twitter or Facebook come into play. Getting to the journalist is important, but the substance of the press release should be of utmost priority.

1 2