Even in the age of social media, it pays to write a press release. There is a skill to doing this. So here are some tips to get you started.
Every news story should cover the five essential ‘W’s: Who, What, Where, Why and When (not necessarily in that order). There is also the ‘H’ element that is often key to a news narrative: How. The degree and order in which you cover these depends on the story.
Visualise the press release as an inverted triangle. All key information goes in the first paragraph. You then expand this in subsequent paragraphs with the least relevant information in the last one. This allows editors to cut your text without having to spend too much time on it – a real plus for busy journalists.
In total, your press release should fit onto one side of A4 and not exceed 450 words.
Here are 10 tips for writing a press release and sending it out:
1. First Paragraph: This usually consists of ‘What’. However, if it is a celebrity scandal, it will focus more on Who. The first sentence, or lead, should be no more than 25 words, preferably less. It encapsulates the story. For instance, a local news story may start something like this:
A giant marrow weighing 80 lbs has won first prize in a national competition. (14 words)
You can follow this up with an interesting teaser:
The super-sized veg piled on the pounds by guzzling 20 gallons of beer a day.
N.B.: Never start the first paragraph with a quote.
2. Second Paragraph: Focus on the five “W”s. In general news stories, this is usually Who and Where. However, in major news stories, ‘When’ may be of much greater importance and appear in the first or second paragraphs for instance when reporting a crime or major accident.
To continue our local news story:
Pensioner Fred Bloggs grew the monstrous marrow on his allotment. Mr Bloggs, 76, of Froggett-on-the-Mould said: “I’m thrilled. I’ve been growing vegetables for 20 years but I’ve never had anything like this”.
N.B.: For this kind of story, the second or third paragraph is a good place to include a quote.
3. Third Paragraph: Expand on the details of the story.
Mr Bloggs, who won £100 in the National Squash Growers Competition, fed his marrow on a secret formula whose main ingredient was beer. In the last days before the competition, he slept alongside his marrow on the allotment to protect it from jealous rivals.
4. Fourth Paragraph: More detail (we’re getting into the ‘cuttable’ zone here). You can include another quote or additional, less important details.
“You can’t trust anyone,” said Mr Bloggs. “That’s why I don’t tell anyone the exact ingredients of my liquid marrow feed. Marrow-growing is a highly competitive hobby.”
N.B. If your eyelids start to flicker and you begin to yawn, that’s a good indication of where the editor’s red pen will strike!
5. Fifth Paragraph: Definitely ‘cuttable’ details.
Mr Bloggs will receive his prize at the National Squash Growers’ annual dinner at Binhampton Town Hall on 25 September.
6. Contact Details: Always include the following information at the end of your press release: *website address, email, telephone and name of a contact.
7. Photos: Include some relevant, high resolution photographs. Journalists are hard-pressed for time and the inclusion of a photo not only makes their job easier but makes it more likely that your story will be accepted.
8. Where to send your press release: Do your homework first. Focus on media that will be interested in your story. For instance, The Times may not be interested in a Golden Wedding, but a local paper probably will be. Try local/regional magazines (many of which also have an online edition). Don’t limit your efforts to paid-for press, there are lots of excellent local free papers and magazines and community publications (including parish magazines). Don’t limit yourself to print. Send your press release to local radio and TV stations (including digital stations).
9. How to send your press release: Details of where to send press releases are usually included under the ‘Contact Us’ link on the relevant publication’s website. Send your press release and photos as an attachment to an email. However, it is a good idea also to copy the press release text into the body of your covering email in case the attachment cannot be opened.
10. *Website: Haven’t got one? Then get one now. If you have got one but have not visited it recently, do so again. Journalists can glean a lot of information from websites – it saves them a lot of work. Post relevant information about yourself and your subject on your website, keep it up-to-date and make sure that it is easy to find.
About the author: I am an author of historical fiction. My first book The Devil Dancers is set against the turbulent backdrop of 1950s Ceylon. My second book Barley Bread and Cheese is a collection of short stories inspired by Rochester Cathedral. I am currently working on my third book, a novel which explores an unusual angle of World War II.
To find out more, click here to visit my homepage.