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Crowdsourcing the perfect press release – help us out

July 21st, 2009Posted by in About us, Journalism, Media releases

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Love them or loathe them, press releases provide the initial spark for a story for many journalists

Whether it’s the launch of a new product, a statement from a campaign group on a hot issue or details of new research, most journalists will be inundated with releases during their career (some more relevant than others, though that’s material for a wholly different blog post…).

For PR professionals and press officers they are one vital tool for publicising events and brands or creating buzz for a client.

Journalism.co.uk has its own service, PressGo, for matching press releases with journalists interested in 37 subject areas, from consumer goods and affairs to fashion, IT or the environment.

But to make this service more efficient for its users (that’s you hopefully), we want feedback on how to write the perfect press release. For example:

  • What details MUST it include and what’s superfluous?
  • What are common mistakes that press release writers make that rankle you?
  • What length/tone/format do you prefer?

We hope to create a guide – focusing on the writing, NOT distribution of releases – featuring comments from individual journalists as a point of reference for the PR community and we’d love your feedback, including your name and publication if possible.

Please leave a comment below, email laura [at] journalism.co.uk or send a tweet to @journalismnews.

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  • Ask yourself these three questions:

    Q1) Is your press release really necessary?

    Q2) If you were running a story based on this release, what would be the headline be and does the first sentence fit into less than 15 words? If no or the first sentence is “Mrs Miggins plc announces…”, go back to Q1.

    Q3) If you got Q2 right, why are you changing the wording for a press release?

    I reckon that would weed out 90% of the crap if answered honestly.

  • Hack

    The biggest bugbear with press releases I find is the vague, nonsensical terms – leading, highly scaleable, holistic, end to end solution, etc. Please, tell us in as plain a language as you can what your client and their product does.

    If you’re emailing the press release, you’ve only got a handful of words in the subject line to grab journalists’ attention and if the first four are Press release: Market leading… chances are you’re not going to get many hacks to actually read the rest of the subject line, let alone open the email/release itself.

    Also, please don’t quote people who aren’t available for interview – nothing more annoying than getting a release and then finding the subject isn’t available to talk.

  • Rosalyn Palmer

    Hi, as someone whose career has spanned both PR and journalism I think the crux is to ask: “Will anyone care”? and (to the person writing the release ask yourself: “Do you care”?. Yes? Then work out if the public of your chosen outlet will care or not and include elements in your release that will engage with them. Plus of course all the other good stuff about writing well, having a news hook, targeting well etc. etc.

  • Petrov Dempski

    Hi,

    When will you realise that a press release that you pick up and run is just a free advertisement for the guy releasing it? Pick it apart and studying it is what journalists are supposed to do!

    Revolt against the press release!

    Viva la revolucion!

    Cheers,

    Petrov

  • Mark

    Don’t send the release as attachment only.
    The phrase “Press release, see attached” and no other details, is likely to be deleted with extreme prejudice and the company added to a spam list!

  • Seasoned freelancers Alex Blyth and Nick Booth have provided the following excellent advice to PRs.

    Alex Blyth advises: read your release aloud, then try saying it as you would if you were telling you mate in a pub. Suddenly all the jargon drops away and you’re left with the essence of your story.That’s your first paragraph.

    Nick Booth advises: If you have to distribute a release that has already been approved by a US client, try rewriting the first paragraph as a “news in brief” item and put that in the email before the press release. If you can condense your story into a NIB and save journalists some time, then it’s more likely to be used.

  • Kate

    Get to the point in the very first sentence of the release.

    Always include two or three pix in the actual release rather than fob people off to a website where they then have to spend ages finding images that you should have found for them.

    Agree with Mark. Never send the release as an attachment prefaced “please find enclosed the following blah blah blah”. Just paste the release straight into the email.

    Don’t send out a release and then go on holiday for two weeks the next day. It’s amazing how often this happens. V annoying if you need to speak to the author urgently.

    Always put your phone number somewhere instead of hiding behind an email address. There isn’t always time for email queries.

  • Ditto to Kate’s “Get to the point”.
    And don’t bury any “actually, the study doesn’t really show what the title of this press release says it does” content down toward the bottom. Read and obey the Reuters guidelines, here –
    http://handbook.reuters.com/index.php/Reporting_and_Writing_Basics

  • Thanks so much for your responses – really useful. We’re going to compile the crowdsourced guide based on this kind of feedback.

    Any additional thoughts on length/’headline’?

  • Pingback: Crowdsourcing the perfect press release: some follow-up thoughts | Journalism.co.uk Editors' Blog()

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  • Dean Samways

    I would argue that the perfect press release no longer has to conform to the traditional constraints of a press release.

    Today a spark of interest is more genuinely created in a Tweet or a video, a blog post or comment.

    And certainly if a press release is meant for ‘immediate release’ there is nothing more immediate than seeing an image of a plane in the Hudson River taken as the first rescue boat arrives, minutes before the first media hear of the incident: http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/technology/2009/01/twitter_and_a_classic_picture.html

    The media needs to evolve to absorb information from all kinds of different sources.

    Some events do not even issue press releases. A quick Google search for ‘District 9 press release’ resulted in zero relevant finds but it can’t be denied that this is could be big news to some outlets: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WZnpzfcMheA (H.G. Wells style).

    These are just a few of my thoughts. At work so not much more time to expand but I like to think I’m onto something.

    Dean.

  • Tony Trainor

    Once you’ve written your press release, go away and make a coffee. Come back and notice that the whole point of the release is in the last paragraph. This is because you were thinking to A4 scale and after writing seven paras of waffle you had a space of one-para left in which to squeeze your essential. Now make the last para your intro, and go and have a second well-deserved coffee!

    It’s a cliche, but the sting is often in the tail!

  • Ditto to all above. Plus…

    1. Purge superlatives.

    2. Send a pretty PDF of the release to your client if you must, but send copy to journos as plain text. PDFs and other formats often add weird character breaks and slows down the editing process.

    3. Purge superlatives.

  • Pingback: Crowdsourcing the perfect press release – an update | Journalism.co.uk Editors' Blog()

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