The Perfect Press Release: What I’ve Learned in My Career
I had many reasons for writing this blog. Primarily, it was to give people entering into the PR profession advice on what I’ve learned and some of the pitfalls to avoid. But also to confess that writing is not my forte (I’ll leave that to my amazing copywriter business partner). Nevertheless, I’ve honed my writing skills, or lack thereof, to write engaging copy and a bloody decent press release.
I was asked fairly early on in my agency career “why do we write press releases?” and for all the flowery and informative reasons that my PR brain gave, I was wrong. It is, in fact, to make money for the agency. The traditional press release is a fundamental element that agencies still trade on even in today’s multimedia world. So, read on as I provide new PR practitioners (and some well-seasoned ones) some wisdom that I’ve picked up along the way.
1. Nothing is unique
This one has stuck with me. Many companies wrongly believe they have a unique product that no one else can offer. It’s common to see the u-word, and it often receives an epic eye roll from journalists. Remember, if what you’re writing about is unique, you won’t need to point it out to a journalist.
2. Ensure your quotes are meaningful
New client wins, senior appointments, award wins form the basis of a lot of press releases (particularly in B2B PR). Read some news, and you’ll observe in the quotes that everyone is “pleased”, “delighted” or “looking forward to…” blah blah blah. Have I used these words? Of course! When a client has input and final sign-off, there’s sometimes little you can do to avoid it. However, I learned quickly to try and make the quote sound like something they’d say in person. Or at the very least, sound like an actual human.
3. A company is singular
It’s a common grammar issue and one I seem to correct a lot. Just like a person, a company is singular. If it helps, replace the company name with your own and read the sentence to make sure you get it right.
4. Don’t add filler for the sake of it
I was guilty of this at the start of my freelance career. It happens when you draft a press release that’s a bit on the short side, so you pad it out with some corporate blurb, send to the client for approval, and then whip it out again before submitting to a journalist (as you know they don’t care). If you’re confident you’ve included the most important elements don’t add to the word count for the sake of it; instead, stand firm if the client questions it and explain the importance of only including information that is newsworthy.
5. Stop with scripted emails to journalists
I’ve never got on-board with this one. It’s the practice of sending a press release with a massive accompanying email that describes it in detail. My journalist contacts have told me that they read the headline of the press release and the first paragraph to decide whether it’s of interest. In short, your beautifully drafted email gets ignored. I’ve worked in agencies whereby I’ve been provided with a ‘pitch email’ template that resulted in something resembling an academic report. Here’s an example of the email I sent with a story that received national coverage:
Subject Line: “It’s faster to get cocaine delivered to your door than a Pizza in Glasgow”
Email body: Hello X
Long-time no speak, thought this would interest you, it’s from X company’s survey. Press Release is below but got the full report if you need more detail or want an interview. Ping me an email or phone me at 07***
Boom – coverage! All the info was in the release, so the journalist didn’t need me to feed it to them in a pitch email. It was personable, it was direct, and it had an interesting subject line. If you’re spending time pouring over an email to send with a release then STOP, you’ve got better things to do!