I was recently sent a press release about young people’s failure to get what they want out of life – describing them as a generation of “could have beans”.
What’s this, I thought? A lack of carbs at breakfast has meant the under 35s lack the ambition and drive to achieve their dreams and goals?
Personally, I love beans but the “cringeworthy” typo (the PRs description, not mine) got me thinking.
I’ve worked in many newsrooms, fielding dozens of emails from PR people everyday, but I’ve also stood on the other of the fence trying to ‘sell in’ press releases on behalf of clients. So I’ve got a pretty good idea what works and what doesn’t.
Here are my golden rules when it comes avoiding a messy press release that will only end up the trash folder.
1. Make it newsworthy
Seems obvious, right? But it’s astonishing how many press releases I’ve received that don’t really say anything interesting or revelatory. You know, something like: “Survey says 70% of British holidaymakers enjoy taking summer breaks”. If it isn’t new it isn’t news. Why is your story something that a journalist or producer should care about and why would people want to hear about it? What’s interesting to you/your client isn’t necessarily interesting to the public. Think carefully about the news hook and what your trying to say.
Many press releases are just too long and overcomplicated. It’s important to watch the word count, have a structure and not overuse stats – otherwise key messages can get lost. Don’t think adding unnecessary words will make you sound clever. Keep it simple and to the point. If you’re using an expert/academic to offer insight on a subject, their quotes should be relevant and easy to understand.
3. Know your market
Reporters are tasked with writing all kinds of stories, so if you want to grab their attention you have to know how they’ll pitch your story to their editors and why it’s relevant to their publication. Ensure you’re clued-up about previous stories, ongoing campaigns, and topics and issues that will interest their target audience. Emphasise how you can help them with the brilliant press release that’s just dropped in their inbox.
4. The pitch itself
Many PRs will have heard the ‘I’m a bit busy right now’ line over and over again. But with fewer reporters these days, it should probably be taken at face value. So try to make it clear what you’re offering in about 150 words or two minutes chat. You can always add more detail later on if a reporter shows interest. Cultivating a relationship can be crucial to the success of your pitch, so don’t mis-sell, mislead or try to tell them how to do their job. Follow-up emails and phone calls are fine – in moderation – and if they’re not interested all is not lost. Emphasise what you can offer in the future and learn about the kind of stories that will chime with their audience.