Ever wondered what a reporter is thinking when you send them a press release? Ever paused, just for a second, and thought about how your headline has been or might be received? Well never fear. We’re about to lift the lid on all things scathing, cynical and – very occasionally – enthusiastic, and take a look at what journalists want to see in press releases.
Because, at the end of the day, those poor beleaguered hacks are coming under more and more pressure. Jobs are dropping in numbers, placing remaining journalists under increasing strain. It can be no coincidence that newspaper reporter is regularly rated as one of the worst jobs in existence.
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The Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) has published extensive information about the importance of ethical PR when contacting the press. This includes, chiefly, supporting the free flow of information at all times.
Keep that information flowing freely and journalists will come to appreciate and respect you, eventually calling on you when they want a reliable comment or quote in the future. Press releases are the foundations, building blocks and roofs of successful media relations. This is what you need to include in them:
What is it that reporters actually report? Ten points to anyone who said news. Now, this should provide a fairly obvious clue as to what your story must be: new. Preferably new and interesting. If your story is new and boring, you can bet your bottom dollar that something new and interesting will snatch that journalist’s attention instead.
The fact is, journalists are dropping like flies. According to a study by the NiemanLab, 2014 saw a 10.4% decrease to journalist positions – equivalent to 3,800 jobs – across American daily newspapers. What this means is fewer eyes and less time to give your press release the attention it needs to generate interest.
Your story must be exciting, and as previously stated, new. Do not, under any circumstances, include a story that is old, uninteresting or otherwise irrelevant. New company hires are not stories unless the name is big enough. Product relaunches merely suggest your previous launch or product (or both) were poor.
Stick to the obviously new and interesting and your success rate for gaining valuable press coverage will undoubtedly be higher.
This means how and why you fit into a wider story. If you are a new launch, that could mean how you plan to disrupt a sector, or how you came to build your company. If you are a more established business, this could talk about industry trends you have helped shape and/or your team’s development.
Essentially, in this section, reporters want to know why you and your company matter. That may seem obvious to you but it is always best to assume that your audience knows nothing. Making your audience – i.e. a reporter – work for extra information is a surefire way to lose their interest.
The best thing to do is to find some stat or article that supports how your business is having an impact on the industry you are working in. Even in this piece, you can clearly see where and how links have been added in a paragraph to back up a point or claim.
Use explainer paragraphs like these to underline your overall importance. Remember not to waffle, though. An excessively wordy press release, that contains little useful information, is going in one direction only: straight to the inbox trashcan.
It is important that your press release contains information that implies and demonstrates why you are better than your competitors. You must clearly highlight the points that make you stand out from the crowd of businesses that you compete with on a daily basis. Once again, this boils down to why you and your company are relevant.
HOWEVER – and this is indeed a ‘however’ that requires capitals – this is no place for mudslinging. Do not insult, libel, or defame your competitors. Firstly, the story becomes the mudslinging (the bread and butter of any journalistic production). Not only does it reflect poorly on your business as a whole, it also provides a purpose for your competitors to throw some mud right back.
Secondly, if your negative points can be construed as libelous or defamatory, your press release isn’t going anywhere. Defamation court cases – even the ones that are dismissed – are incredibly expensive. This means that if there is even a hint or chance that something could result in a court case against a publication, it won’t be published. There will be hundreds of press releases that the journalist in question has access to and, frankly, unnecessarily controversial press releases will be given short shrift.
At the end of a press release there should be some contact details, preferably including both an email address and a phone number. It should be clearly labeled whether or not those contact details are for your business, or, if you have one, your press team.
There is nothing more irksome for a journalist than thinking they have a direct line to the person they want to talk to, only to be greeted by the voice of their ‘on-brand’ media team. It is always best to talk to journalists directly in an interview situation and they will appreciate talking to you without having a PR team present.
Also remember: on the day you send out the press release, make sure you are free to talk to journalists, especially if you have included contact details. After all, there isn’t much point in providing a contact if you aren’t going to have any time to speak to interested journalists.
Always remember WHY you are writing a press release. Your end goal is to provide enough information to show a journalist why your story is important and where it fits into the bigger picture, while offering enough ‘meat’ to write a story about your company. This doesn’t mean writing the article for them, or including every possible data point possible which they could bring in to the article. So, before you send off your next pitch and press release, put yourself in the shoes of an overworked journalist at a leading publication, and make sure that you tick all the boxes.
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