Journalists are bombarded with press releases every hour of the day so it’s important to ensure your story stands out. Former daily newspaper reporter Jemma Page shares what you should avoid – and include – in your releases
Picture the scene – you’ve spent hours crafting what you believe to be a perfectly-formed press release, only to receive no pick-up in the media.
But wordy press releases filled with jargon, constant nagging and low-res images are not ways to get a journalist on your side.
Here, we look at six common mistakes and the proven actions you can take to avoid them.
The release features a non-story
Remember a press release is not a free advert and anything that sounds like you’re trying to plug a company is an instant turn off.
It’s important to ensure there is a proper news hook in your press release – journalists are generally interested in things that are new, unexpected or will resonate with their readers.
Don’t make the mistake of burying the most interesting part as the majority of journalists don’t have time to open all the press releases they receive, never mind read them through until the end.
Being able to spot a hook is a skill, so once you’ve found it, make sure it’s in the very first line of the release.
Also, don’t be vague with stories – pack your press release with details, as well as financial and staff information that journalists want so it can prove the credibility of a business.
You’re stuck in the past and not thinking digitally
The world of news is changing and you need to be mindful that stories need to generate clicks, not just look good in print.
When speaking to your client, is there a line in there that you know would make a good headline?
For example, in February, when the Beast from the East was out in full force, we issued a pre-prepared press release on behalf of Nelsons Solicitors stating what the law says on employee rights during ice and snow.
The release was picked up by dozens of regional and national publications as it’s news their readers can use.
It was also written in question and answer format, making it easy to read, with a strong headline and sub headings throughout – great for SEO.
Your release is difficult to understand
Here at Cartwright, we write our releases journalistically so they appeal directly to the reporters they’re being sent to.
There is no use writing 400 words that wouldn’t be out of place in an academic dissertation.
Remember to keep your language clean, use plain English and, unless you’re writing for a trade publication, avoid jargon that a journalist would have to Google to understand.
Avoid big words, hyperbolic language and anything that sounds like it should be in an essay.
Think about the content you read online and in a newspaper – it’s simple and direct. Try to imagine you’re talking to your friend, or even a child.
The audience you’re targeting is completely wrong
A journalist’s job is to write content that appeals to a certain type of audience.
If the stories aren’t relevant, readership figures will begin to fall, causing advertisers to pull their funds and ultimately meaning the publication will fold.
Keeping this in mind – it is so important to do your research and get to know the media you’re targeting.
There is no point sending a press release to women’s lifestyle magazine Cosmopolitan about mechanical and electrical engineering or sea freight.
You’re being a pain
Which brings me nicely onto nagging.
Constantly hassling a journalist to use a press release or chasing them weekly to find out when a story is going to be published will not stand you in good stead.
Journalists tend to be balancing multiple stories at once, with breaking news always being a priority, so a non-urgent piece will not be at the forefront of their mind.
Respect their workload and understand you can’t secure coverage for everything – the end decision really is down to the reporter.
A journalist is having to chase you for extra content
Like headlines, pictures can grab a reader’s attention. But many journalists spend a lot of time replying to emails requesting an image.
So, you can make their lives easier by sending a couple of pictures attached to the email – along with a link to download more high-quality ones.
Don’t just send a headshot or a low-res image showing the backs of people’s heads.
And it doesn’t just stop at images – video content is becoming increasingly important to online journalists as it’s engaging and easily monetised.
Audiences generally prefer shorter content, at least 30 seconds and no longer than five minutes, with captions so they can tune in while on public transport and in the office.
With its roots in journalism, Cartwright Communications creates compelling content for any communication channel. Find out more about our media relations service here.
Jemma spent more than three years as an NCTJ-qualified journalist before moving into the world of PR. She has extensive training in media law, public affairs and court reporting. Jemma’s journalistic approach to PR means she fully understands what makes a newsroom tick, allowing her to secure strong regional and national coverage for clients. Send Jemma an email or contact her on 0115 853 2110.