media update’s Aisling McCarthy looks at the best practice for getting your press releases shared by the media.

When putting together a press release, it is vital to consider who you are sending it to, and how you can make sure they read it – and publish it. Although you might already have a set formula for putting your press releases together, you might be falling into some of the traps that make journalists roll their eyes and press ‘delete’.

Want to give your press release the best chance of being published? Then follow these 10 simple steps:

STEP 1: Make your subject line worth reading  

Keep in mind that the subject line of your press release is the first line of contact you have with the person you are trying to reach. Make sure it's simple, to the point and highlights the news angle of your story.

Your subject line doesn’t have to give the story away, but it does need to tell the recipient why they should open it. AVOID WRITING ALL IN CAPITAL LETTERS, AS IT COMES ACROSS AS SHOUTING.

By all means, use emotive words to jazz up your content, but never make it misleading. Ever.

“A valid subject line is crucial. One that is bad might still get read. One that is misleading will make me mad and I’ll just delete with no response,” says data journalist Lesley Lassister.

STEP 2: Get to the point quickly  

So you’re subject line was good enough to get the editor or journalist to open your press release. Make sure that you tell them the news – and fast!

When drafting your press release, make sure you start with the 4 ‘W’s’:
  • What
  • When
  • Where
  • Why
From the very first line, your press release needs to captivate the reader and tell them exactly why they should care. Don’t start with a history of the brand – the reader will immediately close your press release and never look back.

STEP 3: Check your grammar and spelling, then check it again   

When putting together a press release, the writing style, grammar and spelling should all be top priorities. Mistakes in these areas can cause your release to be ignored, as it makes your writing much harder to read.

“Double, triple check your spelling and grammar. [Remember that] the writing style should always be aligned to the brand [you are representing],” says Jenny Griesel, CEO of Jenny Griesel Communications.

Remember that your writing is a reflection of yourself – so if your press release is marred with errors, it reflects poorly on your ability to do your job. Griesel also highlights the importance of writing with purpose. Keep in mind that no one wants to read something overly long – get to the point and do it quickly.

“Press releases should never be too long or too wordy. Nobody should have to feel like they have to read an essay to get to the gist of what you are trying to say.”

STEP 4: Make the journalist’s job easy  

Keep in mind that a journalist doesn’t have to open your press release. So if they do, make their job as easy as possible for them.

Make sure every person quoted in your press release is named and that it includes their title and the company they work for.

Don’t send you press releases as a PDF. Journalists and editors will have to adjust your content to suit their style, and by sending an un-editable PDF file, you are asking it not be published.

Your aim to is ensure you send everything the journalist might need, all at once. If they have to keep asking you to clarify details or send images, they won’t be too keen to work with you in the future.

STEP 5: Make sure you’re reaching the right market  

Sending out press releases to the wrong target market is a waste of everyone’s time. Reaching out to the right channels can create good relationships with the media, as well as increase your chance of being published.

Account manager at McD Squared, Irene Von Buddenbrock, says that there are two target markets to consider when putting out a release. Firstly, there is the journalist or publication you target to publish your story and, secondly, there is the publication’s readership.

“These two audiences are interlinked and research must be done to find out if the story will resonate with the readers and whether the journalist will see it as something valuable to his or her readers.”

Griesel says that it is vital to find out who your client wants to reach and to try and match that with the media who services that particular audience.

“Focus on what you want the person reading it to notice or remember. Get straight to the point. Write it in a tone that will be appreciated by the target market, in case it does gets placed verbatim.”

STEP 6: Keep it relevant   

Von Buddenbrock says that the most poignant element is the ‘so what?’ question. When people receive your press release, there has to be a reason behind it. Why should people care about this particular person or event?

“If you have nothing new to say, don’t say anything at all. Refrain from sending out releases for the sake of it, and don’t assume that because it is important to your client’s organisation it will be important to the broader market.”

Griesel says that a good news hook is paramount. Editors hate promotion, so having a good news angle will help to make your work more marketable.

“Find the newness and highlight the uniqueness of the project. Every project does, or should, have something special. Focus on that and build on it.”

Finally, Von Buddenbrock says that, often, clients put pressure on their PR consultant and want things to be done in a specific way, but this does not necessarily reap the desired rewards. She says that, as a PR consultant, it is imperative to do the best for your client and guide them in the right direction.

“We often answer to people who do not fully understand the media and the industry … First and foremost, be a consultant to your clients.”

STEP 7: Don’t argue with the journalist   

You send out a press release and get a response saying that the content isn’t quite relevant to the publication.

Do not argue with the journalist and try to convince them why they’re wrong and that your press release actually is relevant to them. No one knows the requirements of a publication better than the employees of the publication.

We know youre convinced that a fashion magazine should publish your article about fishing attire, but if the journalist says no, it's a no.

STEP 8: Don’t be afraid to stand out   

Want to make sure your press release gets read? Then do something different.

Von Buddenbrock says that it pays to be bold. In order to stand out from the rest, you have to take a chance sometimes.

“Stop doing the same old thing over and over again expecting different results – be bold in your approach, tell a good story and make sure that you do things differently. “

STEP 9: Always, always include an image   

We know a job in PR is a busy one, but editors and journalists are busy too. If you send a press release without an accompanying image, you make their job that much harder.

If they are swamped with work and don’t have time to ask you for an image, you can almost guarantee your press release won’t get published.

Do yourself a favour and see if the publication you’re sending to has a specific image size or layout that they use. Do they only publish portrait images? Then don’t send a landscape image. Simple as that. The more obstacles you put in the way, the less likely you are to get published.

STEP 10: When in doubt, ask   

You’ve sent press release after press release, and nothing is being published. Remedy the situation by reaching out to the media and asking them what exactly they want in a press release – then deliver just that.

An editor or journalist would much rather receive an email asking for guidance than receiving irrelevant, poorly written content again and again.

Use this opportunity to build up your relationship with the media – they’ll thank you for it.

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In the digital age, how important is the old-school press release? Find out more in our article, How relevant is the traditional press release today?