A staple tool in any PR Exec’s toolkit; the traditional press release is something we are – or will soon become – all too familiar with. There are lots of dos and don’ts that new entrants need to master however to avoid triggering journalists’ pet peeves and get the maximum amount of coverage possible. After spending a day or two considering what would irritate me as a journalist (are therefore the main areas I feel I need to keep in mind as a PR grad), I thought I’d share my top ten tips with you guys on the off-chance I include something you’d not considered. Don’t say I never gave you anything.
When it comes to pitching and selling in press releases, don’t just leave your email, leave your phone number. Journalists work to tight deadlines and losing out on coverage because you didn’t refresh your inbox in time isn’t going to sit well with your superiors or your clients.
Titles: Keep it catchy
Disclaimer in advance: the title PR’s suggest is very rarely going to ever be used in the final published piece.
Keeping this in mind, the purpose of the title from a PR perspective is to basically grab journalists’ attention and spur them to read on. So, stick the title in the subject box (of the email), cut out the company name and any unnecessary words and you’re pretty good to go. This strategy makes it easier for journalists to establish from the get-go whether they want to keep reading, and (because of this) forces you to get really good at coming up with simple snappy headlines really fast.
The general rule of thumb is to try and keep it under 25 words. When starting a job or internship straight out of uni, this might a tricky task; after all, you’ve most likely spent a solid three years learning how to bulk up your writing to meet word counts. Now you’re being paid to be concise, its a challenge. If your story is newsworthy though, it’s a doable one, so practice, practice, practice and you’ll soon have the technique down.
Who’s your audience?
Consider who would really care about this? Pitching to industry-specific websites/publications who are already going to be interested in your client’s work is going to be far more effective at securing you coverage that blanket pitching to every Tom, Dick and Harry publication regardless of your relevance to them.
Let’s be honest here, if you’re client is a fashion boutique, you’re going to have a MUCH harder time getting them coverage in an engineering magazine unless you come up with a really strong, interesting and relevant angle.
Focus on facts
Facts are important to make your press release interesting, relevant and useable. Make sure to only present information that is true, correct and doesn’t mislead the reader. Forgoe this point at your peril. You will be found out and it’ll not only damage the reputation of your client (which they will not be best pleased about), it’ll also damage your reputation with the media.
It’s an industry faux pas to quote people who aren’t available to interview, but aim to include at least one quote in every press release. It gives your client more credence and your story more personality.Without doubt, the more interesting the quote, or the more unique/memorable its source, the more likely you are to get coverage. But!!! Keep in mind the relevance and credibility of the source being quoted. People are going to pay a lot more attention to Alan Titchmarch’s opinion on a gardening product or landscaping company than they are Joey Essex.
A picture tells a thousand words
Supplying journalists and editors with a range of high quality photos that are relevant to your story/client is going to earn you a lot of goodwill. After all, everyone wants your piece to look good in print/online, and a couple of great visuals are going to do just that. Also consider that saving journalists/editors effort by taking the time to collate these images yourself is going to go down brilliantly and is going to go a long way to spurring them to use your piece.
Enough said really, but to spell it out bluntly, not everyone is going to understand the techno-babble of your client. Using plain language without the frills is going to open your piece to a wider audience as it means your story is more likely to be understood – both by the reader and the journalist you are pitching to.
Proofread to perfection
Typos and grammatical mistakes are unprofessional, irritating to correct and off-putting to read. Be sure to proof before pitching and clean up any accidental mistakes. Do not rush this stage.
Keep it simple. Keep it snappy. Keep it short.
The whole point I’m trying to make here is that to get coverage, you need to make publishing your piece as relevant as possible to the journalist you’re pitching to, and convenient as possible for them to actually use. So my final tip in this top 10 is going to have to be that you aim to keep it under a page in length.
From my journo training, time constraints and deadlines mean we have to quickly scan press releases to establish whether they are worth pursuing/using, so I know that when working in PR, keeping a press release short and to the point is going to be much better received than something that reads like a bad memoir.