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How to write press releases that get published

In my previous post, drawing on my experience as a former journalist, I offered my views on drafting attention-grabbing media releases that may encourage (professional) journalists to actually consider publishing them.

I highlighted the non-negotiable requirement, namely that the content should be newsworthy. It should also be balanced and written well.

A news release is not a company’s marketing brochure. Remember, reporters aren’t in it to help grow your business or drive fans to your Facebook page. They are the least concerned about how your product offers the clichéd “best value for money,” or how your staff are “dedicated to client service” – or how your long-term vision to be the “leading whatever company” in the region will make your enterprise the “business of choice”. What they are looking for is news, plain and simple.

Here are further useful things to bear in mind when drafting your news release (or reviewing the one your agency presents for sign-off):

Attribute sensible and punchy quotes to a spokesperson. Do not quote spokespeople who will not be available or willing to conduct follow-up interviews (either because they will be on holiday, or because they do not view the media as an important ally).

Avoid jargon
Avoid jargon and technical industry-specific terminologies. Explain these in lay terms.

If you send out a media release riddled with grammatical errors, you run the risk of alienating journalists, resulting in your release simply being spiked (an old newspaper term which implies being thrown into the rubbish bin). Of course, there’s also the curse of ridicule.

Ensure your media list targets the journalists whose beat it is to cover the theme of your content. No sense sending a media release on the environment to a fashion reporter. Not only are you guaranteed it will not be published, but you also run the risk of jeopardising future dealings with that particular reporter.

Arabic or English
Especially in countries like the UAE where English is not the sole language of communication, ensure that your release goes out in the language used by the reporter (or media outlet) to whom the media release is addressed.

Contact details
List at least two contact people and their contact details at the end of your release – if one is unavailable to deal with a media query, hopefully the other would be reachable. Journalists work on deadlines. If they can’t reach you to clarify a point, they will either simply delete the story or go ahead and publish a story that may contain factual inaccuracies about your company.

These tips and those shared in my previous blog post are by no means the elixir for guaranteed publication of your news releases, but they will go a long way to ensure greater chances for seeing them in print.

Why we still need press releases

Even in our high-tech, video-laden, image strewn digital world, writing is still one of our most powerful methods of communication. While many people believe press releases are old-fashioned or irrelevant, the truth is that much of the news you read online or in the papers still reaches journalists in this format.

As public relations experts, it is crucial to position our client’s key messages in top tier publications — whether online or offline — and at the end of the day press releases remain a key method for securing publicity and coverage. In fact, in our part of the world the media relies heavily on well written, timely and concise press releases, and will often base whole stories on news that has reached them this way.

For this reason, writing and distributing press releases in a professional manner is not only important for securing coverage, but also for positioning ourselves as experts in our industry and building strong media relations. Whenever the media needs someone to comment on a story, you want to be the one they call on.

At the same time, with all the online press releases at the moment — whether newswires or social media — the media is no longer our only target audience. More than 80 million people currently get their news from online sources, so writing compelling press releases is also a way to speak directly to the consumers we are trying to reach, improve brand image and expand public knowledge.

Press releases are not advertisements, they are stories, and at heart PR professionals are still storytellers. They are also true and based on fact, which makes them essential for providing the public with a credible and authentic view of the news.

While press releases remain an important PR tool for securing coverage, enhancing media relations, gaining consumer trust and telling stories, they are often written very poorly, which defies the point.

6 easy tips for writing better press releases

  1. Create strong headlines using media hooks

Use short, strong headlines that capture the overall messages of your press release without the audience even having to read the rest. If you want to make it extra tempting for the media, throw in a media hook by thinking about what makes your news different, exciting, unique or spectacular.

  1. Your first paragraph is EVERYTHING

In your introductory paragraph, you should be focusing on the 5 Ws: Who, What, Where, When and Why. A perfect press release relies on short, straight to the point paragraphs that tell the news upfront. Only use your most important information in the first paragraph, and do not over work it.

  1. Your Why paragraph

Sometimes there isn’t room for the ‘why’ in your first paragraph, so don’t be afraid to add a short second paragraph. This gives you more room to explain the importance of the news without overworking the press release with long blocks of text.

  1. The human voice

In press releases, quotes provide the human tone of voice, thus ‘humanising’ your news. Use your quote to:

  • Explain the bigger picture behind your news
  • Add new information and avoid repetition of details that have already been used in press the release
  • Communicate why/how the press release will benefit the reader
  • Reassure the public/stakeholders and strengthen confidence
  1. Additional important details

All extraneous details should be neatly contained in an additional paragraph. They could include details like how a product works or what workshops an event will feature. These details are ‘nice to know’ but not essential, hence their placement towards the end of the release.

  1. Grand finale — Hooray you made it!

Just like when you were writing an essay back in school, your final paragraph should sum up the entirety of the press release. It can be used for several crucial reasons including:

  • Reminding the reader of the key messages
  • Providing website links
  • Adding a concluding quote, if necessary
  • Listing sponsors/partners, if applicable

Press releases vary widely depending on the news, but as a final bonus tip, always aim to keep your press releases within an A4 page if possible. In today’s busy world, make the media’s life easier by providing them with a press release that is a joy and a breeze to read.

Antoine Boghos is the Account Executive of Cicero & Bernay Public Relations. An independent PR agency headquartered in Dubai and offering new-age public relations consultancy to the UAE and across the MENA. |