Writing a press release with punch

By Beth O’Neill, More Fire PR.

Press releases are a staple of traditional public relations – a tried and tested means of summarising and distributing news about an organisation’s work, products or services to target-audiences.

But despite its longevity in the communications sector, debate continues about the press release being ‘dead’ or ineffective in the fast-paced world of digital media where communications volume and noise can potentially drown out any desired impacts. But is this really the case?

In short this author believes the answer is ‘no.’ True, there are many alternatives to writing a press release – pitching an idea; interviews; photo calls; blogging, video presentations; events; media relations; press conferences to name a few.

However, there are few other communication tools beyond the press release that offer the perfect and effective mix of being able to tell your story in a single page, which can then be distributed to a select few or potentially hundreds of media contacts.

Do press releases work?

There’s no denying the way we produce and consume news has changed immensely over the last few years. Social media, blogging, vlogging and influencing have all altered the way we receive information, and with a 24/7 news cycle we want and expect news quickly.

But just as the news has evolved so have journalists and editors, particularly those who maintain their gatekeeping role for top tier, investigative and impactful material that genuinely seeks to inform, educate and increasingly ‘persuade’ audiences of a particular viewpoint (think political worldview).

At the same time, many immediate outlets are content-hungry and constantly filtering newsworthy material as it breaks, and don’t forget the rise of the advertorial (paid-for editorial) which is growing in stature as media face the challenge of monetising otherwise ‘free’ online content, and PRs and marketers seek control of their messaging in the public domain.

Getting the words down

An effective press release summarises the story and primary message in its opening headline and paragraphs. Depending on the media outlet journalists can receive upwards of 300 PR emails a day, it’s vital the subject headline is factual and hard hitting.

Think ‘newsworthiness.’ Your story needs to about something ‘new,’ and ideally contain a mix of the dramatic, quirky, unique, visual, conflicting, entertaining, timely and authoritative. Expert voices should be quoted, along with facts, figures or other data which evidences their case. We live in a visual world so provide an image or think about the best picture opportunity that can be offered, whether it’s of people, place or activity.

Most importantly – consider the media your story is going to. Is the subject matter suitable? What type of sections do they have – news, features, interviews, product updates and so on? What’s their writing or broadcast style? Try to mirror the details they’ll most likely be interested in in your presentation.

The press release needs to cover the essentials: ‘who; what, where, when, and why?’ It’s also essential to keep the end audience in mind by putting yourself in their shoes and ask of the story: ‘so what?’ and ‘what’s in it for me?’ For exampoles of this check out More Fire PR’s Latest News section HERE.

My press release journey

From my own experience of writing press releases, researching an appropriate media distribution list for the subject matter you plan to cover is absolutely crucial to success. I’d recommend not rushing this step.

Be sure to carefully vet any list that you source from a database and to begin with do your homework on a handful of fit-for-purpose media that you want to target. A carefully tailored and regularly updated media list will be essential for the success of future campaigns, so it’s worth putting in the time and hard work to get it right from the start.

If your press release isn’t immediately picked up by the outlets you’re really hoping for, don’t be disheartened. By ensuring the story features key search phrases and contains multiple back links, any online placement you achieve (even on a client company’s website) will be a beneficial start for search engine optimisation (SEO), and everything you write is a learning experience in conveying messages effectively.