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How to write an effective press release

How to write an effective press release
December 9, 2020 Lucy Wharton

The media landscape may be rapidly evolving, but research continues to show that the traditional press release still reigns supreme when it comes to journalists’ preferred news format.

The V Formation PR team explains why the press release is still alive and kicking, and shares some of its top tips on the dos and don’ts of writing an effective press release. 

The press release is alive and kicking

“For more than a century, the press release continues to be a journalistic staple.”

Press releaseA press release is written to help a journalist quickly understand a piece of news – both positive, and sometimes negative – about an organisation.

According to Cision’s 2020 State of the Press Release report, the press release remains a staple of media relations and PR – but also for journalists, continuing the theme for last year’s State of the Media report, which identified that 73% of journalists want to receive press releases from brands and comms professionals, ranking it well ahead of other content types.

Increasingly, media outlets are seeking content that works well on digital platforms and encourages views and clicks, such as online tools or widgets, interactive infographics and video. It is true that these methods can help build links to your website and drive brand awareness, and will boost visual engagement, but the value of a story told through a press release should not be forgotten.

Combining written copy with multimedia content is key to ensuring journalists have all the information they need to turn a story around quickly and in an effective and impactful way, particularly with ever-growing time pressures being placed on journalists.

It is important a press release includes everything the journalist, and your audience, needs to know. Ensuring these important points are covered will mean a journalist doesn’t have to spend time getting in touch for further information or explanation, and in turn, increases the likelihood that they may choose to cover the story.

Here are our top tips for writing an effective press release, and what you should include.

Top tips for writing an effective press release

Draw out your news hook

Identify the most newsworthy element of your story: what do you want the journalist to know, and why does it matter? Make sure it’s topical, relevant and newsworthy, and, as a guide, follow the Five Ws – who, what, why, when and where – to give a basis and framework for the story. Finding your hook will guide the headline and introductory paragraph of your press release, which should act as a summary of the story.

It’s vital to identify the audience, and in turn, consider tweaking your news hook for different audiences and media – for example, a news story about a business deal might lead with how this will impact on local customers for regional press, and for industry press, the new technology the deal brings into the business might take front and centre. You should also avoid using industry jargon in non-specialist media. For more advice on tailoring your stories to suit different media, take a read of this blog.

Get the headline right

According to Cision, the average headline length for a press release is 88 characters. Keep headlines short and sweet, and for a longer headline, keep the important keywords towards the beginning to ensure it is SEO-friendly. It’s a good idea to include action words in the headline too – Cision’s research found that press release headlines which include words like ‘confirms,’ ‘reveals,’ and ‘launches’ garnered the most views, as it invites the audience to read on. With journalists receiving between 70 and 200 press releases every day, the headline has to work especially hard to grab their attention and tempt them to read on.

Make it snappy

The Cision report found that the average length of a press release is 686 words, with longer press releases experiencing a sharper drop-off in reading time. Keep the copy succinct without missing out any important information, and, if you do need to include a lot of detail – for instance, if you are reporting on some research or financial results – try breaking up the text with different headings and bullet points.

Include a quote

A person of sufficient authority in the business should be quoted to add credibility to the story – just make sure this individual is available for any media interviews around the time when the press release is issued.

Maximise multimedia

Ensure you have high resolution, captioned photos and even better – video content (vox pop-style clips often work well) and visually appealing infographics to display any data – to support your written copy. Including a head and shoulders shot of the main spokesperson provides context and will help raise profile if featured alongside the story. For large files, it’s best to use a file storage platform like Dropbox and share a link to the images with the journalist, to avoid clogging up inboxes with too many files that may be slow to load.

Don’t forget the boilerplate

A boilerplate or ‘About us’ descriptor should always feature at the end of a press release to provide more background information about the business, including its location, size, products and/or services, award wins, clients, website, social media handles, as well as outlining its purpose, aims and vision. This will assist the journalist in understanding the nature of the business and help to demonstrate its authority and significance in the country, region or market.

Make contact details clear

Include contact details and be prepared to respond to an enquiry quickly and, for global announcements, around the clock. Nothing annoys a journalist more than not having a means of contacting someone for more information about a potential story. But no one being available to talk to them comes a close second.

At V Formation, we are experts in writing and issuing press releases and journalist engagement, and truly understand what journalists want (and need!).

To discuss how V Formation’s PR experts can raise your company’s profile and make sure your voice is being heard by the right people, please call us on 0115 787 0206 or contact us here.