How to write a good press release

The process of dealing with press releases is a bit like eating out at a restaurant.

The headline (or email subject line) is the menu item. Say, Fish of the Day.

The intro is the description – what is actually in this dish? Today’s fish is Flathead and it will be served with house made tartare, hand cut chips and a mesclun side salad.

The body copy is the meal itself. This is where you make your point and expand on it as convincingly and accurately as possible.

Dessert can come in the form of image download links, video and audio content, and links to additional resources.

The bill and a business card is the closer. It’s the contact details. Who to speak to for more information. The hard facts about what you’ve just had.

You need all of these elements to make a press release work and, like a menu, you don’t want to confuse people, over-promise, list things that are unavailable or use overly complicated language that alienates the customer.

Journalists receive hundreds, if not thousands, of press releases a week and they develop a very swift response to dealing with them.

So will your press release get filed or deleted?

Here are the five golden rules to help you secure coverage:

1. Timeliness
Send only new information. It’s called ‘news’ for a reason.

Find out what the publishing (or broadcasting) deadlines are for your media targets and make sure you send your press release out well before the deadline closes. You can send information under embargo if it’s time sensitive.

2. Use quotes
Using quotes from reputable and appropriate spokespeople allows journalists to quote directly from the press release, meaning you get your message across in the intended manner, and busy journalists don’t have to chase interviews for something that is relatively straight forward. Furthermore, your spokesperson doesn’t have to repeat themselves or hover over their phone waiting for calls.

One caveat: interviews need to be available to those who want them but, by including quotes, you may not need to arrange as many, thereby reducing the risk of missed appointments, misquoting or untrained spokespeople going off the reservation.

3. Avoid flowery language
Say what you need to say as clearly and concisely as possible. It doesn’t matter if you work for a beauty brand or a luxury hotel group and the marketing copy is laden with adjectives. Too bad. Journalists hate them and they will judge you for using them because you are wasting their time. You are writing for journalists; not your client.

4. Email etiquette
If you are emailing out a press release to a distribution list, make sure you a) BCC the list so you are not sharing everyone’s contact details; b) copy and paste the text into the email just in case the file corrupts or is incompatible with the recipient’s operating system; and c) attach the press release in Word (or something similarly universal). Do not send pdfs; d) include download links to images but DO NOT attach them.

Journalists receive hundreds of these pitches and if everyone sends a 2MB file, it doesn’t take long before IT starts having conniptions about the size of everyone’s inbox.

5. Include all pertinent details
It continues to surprise me that people fail to include the address of the new venue or hotel they are pitching. Send me the address, the website, the social sites, the phone number and email address of the business, as well as your phone number/s and email address. Include opening hours, special considerations (i.e. wheelchair access, bilingual staff) and anything that could be relevant or help me make it a better story (i.e. the building was originally designed by Frank Gehry, the menu is FODMAP-friendly).

BONUS RULE #1: Keep the main press release to one page. If the journo prints it, they’re less likely to lose pages in the office print queue. Put less important information on subsequent pages.

BONUS RULE #2: Under no circumstances use the following words or phrases unless you would stake your life on their literal accuracy: unique, iconic, state-of-the-art, world first, one-of-a-kind, the best, award-winning, leading or ultimate. The Sydney Harbour Bridge is iconic. David Bowie was one-of-a-kind. Your new *insert thing here*? You’ll need to convince me.


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