How to craft a press release that busts through the media’s gates

A former reporter tells the secrets of getting published

This had better be good. (Insert eye roll and sigh here.) Every reporter who sees your press release is thinking it, trust me.

Reporters and editors find themselves buried in a barrage of daily emails or letters from businesses extolling the wonders of their products. As a former section editor for a daily newspaper, I’ve seen the pile. I’ve created the pile. And I’ve ignored the pile.

So, how do you break out of the pile and get into the pages of the newspaper (and avoid the eye roll)? I’ll give you my best suggestions, gained from my own experience, on getting the attention your business is searching for.

Why use a press release?

A press release is a news story sent to a media outlet (usually a newspaper) providing information about the activities of a business or group. The sender hopes to entice the newspaper to print their press release or get the newspaper to write their own story about some aspect of it.

Businesses use press releases to get publicity through media outlets because publicity carries more credibility than advertising does. The public is far less skeptical of news stories than ads, often not even realizing the story they’re reading was created by the very company it’s about. And this publicity is less costly than advertising. Seems like a win-win, doesn’t it?

A well-written press release may be printed exactly as it is sent, or the section editor may assign a reporter to contact the business to write their own story. Worst case scenario, it is ignored, left to languish in a pile or email inbox. Let’s not let that happen, shall we?

It must be news

This should be self-evident, but, judging by the size of the pile on the reporter’s desk/inbox, it may not be. If your business is the only one affected by this “news” you want the paper to print, then it probably isn’t news.

It must impact your customers, community or region in some way—the greater the impact, the better your chances of getting it published.

Here’s a short list of events an editor might consider news.

  • A new product or product improvement
  • A new application of an old product
  • A speech or presentation given by an executive
  • Awards given to your organization
  • Opening new branches or stores
  • Charitable acts
  • Special events
  • Case studies of successful projects or product uses
  • New inventions

There are other items that would be considered newsworthy not listed here, but you get the picture. As you write the press release, gear your news toward how it benefits the reader or the community they live in. If you can’t figure out how it benefits them or the community, it’s not really news.

Send it to the right person

If you send your press release to the wrong person at the publication you’re targeting, you might as well mark it “dead on arrival.”

It’s critical you do your homework to find out which section or department your press release should be sent to.

Go to the publication’s website to find section editors’ names and email addresses. If you cannot find the name of the editor you’re looking for, call the publication to get it.

Use that person’s name in the email, right in the subject line if possible. Make it personal by appealing to the audience the editor serves. They’re job is to provide information their audience finds useful and important. Show them your news is valuable to that audience.

Should you tease or tell the whole story?

You might be tempted to send just a teaser about what’s happening at your business in hopes of enticing the editor into writing their own story. If you choose to do that, your news better be big. Really big.

The smarter approach is to give them all the information they need, leaving as little work for the editor as possible. They’re busy and usually a bit frazzled. Send them a complete, relevant story with facts ready to fill a spot in the paper. Or at least get it as close as possible.

How do you do that? Read on to find out.

Hook them with the headline

The headline is the most important part of the press release. Let me repeat that.

The headline is the most important part of the press release.

Your press release headline should convey the news in a way that creates enough interest to convince an editor to read the entire release. The headline may be the only thing they read if it doesn’t hook them.

Write as many versions of your headline as it takes to come up with a good one. Writing one version and calling it done is probably not going to cut it. This is too important to spend 10 seconds on. Come up with an interesting headline that sells the reader on the importance of reading your news. Keep writing until you have it.

Write a great lead

The lead is the first paragraph of a news story. It answers the who, what, when and where of the story being written. Your press release should also start with this type of lead paragraph.

Answer those four questions (who, what, when and where) as concisely possible. Try to find an interesting angle or use the most important aspect of your news. The idea is to hook the reader to keep reading, so find the benefit to them.

Be careful not to write your press release as a descriptive story. The lead will set the tone. Just stick to the facts.

Write like a reporter: Inverted Pyramid

Writing your press release like a reporter would write it gives you an advantage over other press releases fighting for the editor’s attention. You will be handing them a print-ready story about a newsworthy event. What more can they ask for?

Reporters use a writing style called the inverted pyramid. It’s a simple method of building a news story that uses a reader’s rather short attention span to its advantage. The most important information is in the lead paragraph. Each succeeding paragraph contains information that answers the how and why of the story but is less and less important as the reader continues reading.

The idea behind this style of writing is the reader will get the most important information regardless of when they stop reading the story. Most readers don’t read an entire news story, so this method works with that tendancy rather than against it.

It also makes it easier for a newspaper to fit your copy into a given space on the page. When they run out of room, they simply cut off any remaining content. If you’ve written in the inverted pyramid style, your story will still make sense, and the reader won’t miss anything more important than what is printed in the space available.

Include quotes

Quotes provide color and credibility in news stories and press releases alike. Sprinkle a few in from the best source in your company for the story you’re writing. Don’t use too many, though. Use only those that add value.

Keep the inverted pyramid in mind when you add quotes into the story. Use the more important or interesting quotes earlier in the release. Work down as you go, putting the least critical quotes toward the end.

If all else fails

Take heart! As you can see, there are ways to get to the top of the press release pile. And if all else fails and you can’t get to the top of the pile, put your press release on your website and promote it yourself. That’s why you have a “news” page, right?

Follow these tips and your chances of catching the attention of editors will increase. The key is to make sure your press release contains actual news. That cannot be stressed enough.

Tell me your struggles

Many of you have struggled to get your press releases noticed. Go to the comments section below and tell us your experiences and how you have overcome the challenge of getting an editor’s attention. We can all learn from each other.

If you need help with press releases, give me a call or contact me here. I’d be happy to step in and offer a hand.

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