Press Releases 2: Press Release Me

How to write a press release. It’s not too difficult to produce a professional-looking press release that works, but there are some basic rules that you should follow. The best way to make the press release look like a professional piece of work (which implies that it has come from a professional outfit) is to use a word processor template.

The best way to make the press release look like a professional piece of work (which implies that it has come from a professional outfit) is to use a word processor template.

That will simplify things in terms both of formatting (Microsoft’s layouts in particular are very acceptable to the journalists who receive the releases) and making sure that all your press releases have a definable corporate format.

The press-release templates that come with Microsoft Word are a good start, though you should adapt them to make sure your releases don’t look like those from every other Word user.

You’ll find templates under the File / New options in Word. (If you don’t have a press release template on your computer, go to www.office.microsoft.com/en-us/templates and check out the many alternatives available there for downloading.)
    Whether or not you use a template, make it look readable. In particular this means …
 

  • Wide margins to allow space for the journalist’s notes and for editing.Something
    around 3cm or slightly more should do it.
  • Double line spacing,for the same reasons. 
  • Crisp,clear,readable type – Courier in 11 or 12pt is good.

 
 
 
 
 

 How to write a release

Use an ‘inverted pyramid’ structure for the content, with the most important information appearing first. Most journalists are busy people, and even those that aren’t will get a whole heap of press releases each day to plough through. So make sure that even if your journalist stops reading after the first or second paragraph, he or she will already have gleaned the key facts. And if the release is used verbatim and it’s too long for the space available on the page, it’s likely that it will simply be cut from the back end towards the front.
   

Keep it short.

Don’t write press releases that need any more than two pages unless you have a very big story to offer (one page isn’t enough, though, especially if you’ve double-spaced the type – a single page with less than 100 words on it suggests that you don’t really have very much to say).
You might have backgrounder information and extras to offer, like a paragraph or two about the business or thespec of a new phone: you can append that to the main release, preferably in a slightly different format – no need for double- spacing here, for instance – to distinguish this material from the actual news release.
   
Include at least one contact name for more information, complete with a variety of phone numbers (switchboard, direct line, mobile) and an email address. Make life easy for the journalist by ensuring that the contact name and at least one of those numbers appears on each and every page. Include a snappy headline(no more than five or six words, preferably less) and a longer subhead which expands and adds to it.
These headings will rarely be used verbatim, even if the rest of the release is printed without changes, but they do serve to summarise what you’re saying so that the journalist knows whether or not they should be interested in reading on. Headlines also set a tone for the release – playful, hard- hitting, factual, jokey, whatever – which can affect the journalist’s own approach to the information. Never use the past tense in headlines: “Much Marcle Mobile Has Launched New Gizmo” sounds as though it happened some time ago, “New Gismo from Much Marcle Mobile” sounds immediate. Include a direct quote from someone if possible. That makes the release read more comfortably, and personalising information also makes it seem more real and pertinent.
 
Never use the first person in the body of press releases. It’s not a letter from you to the journalist, so always write in the third person – which means getting rid of any occurrences of “I”, “you”, “we” and “us”, except when you’re giving a direct quote from someone.
 
Stick to plain-English descriptions and key pointsif you’re writing a product release – the technical jargon and the item-by-item specification can be included after the release in a ‘Notes to editors’ page or a ‘Product backgrounder’.
 
Don’t use acronyms and abbreviations unless you have to. Sometimes they’re unavoidable, of course. If you do use them, spell them out on the first occurrence: “This product is aimed squarely at the business-to- business (B2B) market” and use the abbreviation thereafter (“The B2B requirement is very different”).
 
Keep things in perspective – don’t over- inflate what you have to say if it doesn’t merit the treatment. Don’t make claims you can’t substantiate (“totally unique”, “internationally applauded”, “world’s no. 1”) and avoid irritatingly vague adjectives such as “fantastic” and “magnificent”.

Photos and press releases

Include a picture if you possibly can. Most publications like to break up the mass of text that would otherwise appear on their pages with images of one kind of another, so give them something – a mugshot of someone quoted in the article, a pic of the product you mentioned, a copy of your logo if there’s absolutely nothing else available.

 
These days the majority of publications can take digital images. Use JPEGs – it’s the most commonly-accepted graphics format – and save your pic at 300dpi. Attach this to an emailed release; with paper press releases, mention at the end of release that you have high-resolution JPEGs available.
 
You could also attach a colour photograph to a snail-mailed release. Make it a print for preference rather than a transparency, and give it a securely-attached photo caption – try sticking the photo on to a separate sheet of A4 with the caption typed below it.
 
Say in the press release that you also have other photos and copies of your logo, product packaging and key management, all of which are available for download from your website or can be provided on request (via email or on CD-ROM).

Press releases by email
These days many journalists prefer to receive releases by email. In fact, if you can find an email address for a named journalist, send press releases by email for preference – but include a tickbox that asks if they’d prefer paper instead.

 
On the other hand, if you do send emailed releases, send the paper one as well – it  might reach someone who isn’t picking their email, and besides some news organisations like to keep paper-based reference files.
Emailed releases are slightly different:

  • Don’t use HTML formatting – plain text is always preferable for press releases. Besides, many email servers treat HTML-formatted mail as spam and may reject it. If you really do need to use formatting, send a brief text- message summary and attach a Word document containing the full version in all its glory.
  • Spell it out – put PRESS RELEASE at the head of the message and also in the subject line.
  • Keep it short. No-one wants to wade through a massive email message. Provide access to additional information by including clickable links to online press kits and other relevant material on your website.
 
Be careful with photography. Digitised images at print resolutions can be pretty large, which means they will take a while to download and soak up a lot of space on the recipient’s mail server. That might put off some people. What’s worse, a number of publications don’t accept attachments on incoming messages at all. It’s better to indicate that photos are available if needed, and provide a link to a website from where they can be downloaded.
 
Incidentally, if you don’t know a specific email address, try a generic one. These will
often work:
    news@publication.co.uk
    newsroom@publication.co.uk
    newsdesk@publication.co.uk
    editorial@publication.co.uk
    editor@publication.co.uk
 
Use the final one only as a last resort. Most editors are managers rather than writers, and they have better things to do than read press releases.
  

Make life easier for your editorial friends

If you want editorial coverage,it makes sense to be the kind of person that editorial people want to deal with.This means …

  • Don’t waste their time.Don’t try to plug stories that don’t really deserve their attention or don’t fit their readership. 
  • Don’t send each and every press release to each and any contact.Don’t follow up with phone calls asking whether they have seen your press release and when will it be printed.Look for angles that will appeal particularly to them – a local paper Bexhill will be more interesting in a story about a Bexhill celebrity buying two Razr V3s than would the Yorkshire Post.
  • In any oral or written communication with a media outlet,you should be friendly,articulate and concise.If you can’t do one or more of those,find someone else who can.A self-regarding stammerer who can’t marshal their thoughts and needs 20 minutes to get to the point is guaranteed to kill any interest the journalist may have had. 
  • Be willing to answer questions,even if you have to research the answers and get back to them.(Don’t be afraid to say you don’t know but can find out,and never give an answer you’re not sure is accurate.) 
  • Find the occasional exclusive to offer a particular journalist,and get to know them on first-name terms.The exclusive doesn’t have to be earth-shattering;it could be a human interest anecdote (something involving pensioners,tots or small dogs is generally a winner) or a first-in-the-area story.Pick the right journalist and they’ll start calling you.

 
TOP TIPS –  

  • Make it clear that it’s a press release they’re reading. Put contact info at both ends of the release:make it easy for them to get in touch
  • Double line spacing for clarity, and lots of room for notes.
  • It’s convention to put “more” at the foot of each page if the release continues on to the next one.   
  • Use a good, clear typeface. Courier is crisp and generally unequivocal 
  • The end of the release is signified by the word “end” 
  • Additional background information can be added in a different format 
  • Don’t be too short, but don’t be too long-winded either (two or three pages max)

 
 

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