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12 ways to produce a killer press release

Write concisely. Avoid unusual fonts. Include video and other visuals. Make it easy for reporters to cover your news.

You’d love to get that major publication or TV network to cover your event, embed your video or quote your chief executive in an economic forecast story.

The last thing you want is for reporters to delete your press release the moment the email notification pops up on their screens.

Surely everyone knows by now that stuffy, old-style press releases don’t cut it when reporters are busier than ever and newspapers want multimedia assets for their online editions. Yet ill-considered pitches keep flooding the inboxes of the dwindling number of journalists.

How to stand out? Here are a few tips:

1. Hook them with the subject line

Getting a journalist to open your email is the first step in earning coverage. Write a snappy subject line for your email, says Elise Copps of Hamilton Health Sciences.

Elise Copps, Public Relations Specialist, Hamilton Health Sciences
Think about headlines that make you click through to articles you come across in your social feeds, and try to replicate the level of curiosity they spark. An email with the subject line, ‘Experts warn against this risky trend,’ is much more likely to be opened than ‘MEDIA RELEASE: Experts say Tide Pod challenge is risky.’
Elise Copps, Public Relations Specialist, Hamilton Health Sciences

2. Less is more

Oh, you’ve got tons to say about your new robotic cat massager/cow milker. It’s going to change the world. But if you gush on for pages, reporters won’t read your release.

“Ideally no more than one page of copy,” says says Caroline Niven, vice president of external communications at Mastercard.

It’s a good idea to paste your text in the email, rather than an attachment, so if a reporter is on a mobile devices can scroll and read it quickly, she says.

3. Just the facts

Reporters look at press releases for facts, says Orly Telisman of Orly Telisman Public Relations. They gloss over boastful and praise-ridden quotes from CEOs, partners, and others.

Orly Telisman, Founder, Orly Telisman Public Relations
The who, what, where, when and why—that’s all you need.
Orly Telisman, Founder, Orly Telisman Public Relations

4. Write snappy copy

Use active voice, not passive. Avoid Ciceronian sentences and Faulknerian flamboyance.

“Keep it simple,” Telisman says. “If your sentences are a whole paragraph, they’re too long. Cut it down into digestible chunks of information.”

5. Avoid unusual fonts

One pitchman used to send me press releases that showed up as Greek letters. I don’t know what font he was using, but it was unreadable.

“If the reporter doesn’t have your font, you don’t know how it will show up on their screen,” Niven says. “Better to use something generic.”

6. Provide visual assets

Include photos and videos in your release as links instead of attachments so you can share high-quality files without overloading your recipient’s inbox, Copps says. Another option, Niven says, is to embed a low-resolution image in the release and link to a place where a high-resolution can be downloaded.

Be explicit about how media outlets can use them in their coverage, Copps adds. That is, make sure they know how the files can be used and whether credit is required. If you don’t want files to be altered, mention that.

“Encourage video embedding so views count towards your metrics, not theirs,” Copps says. “There’s no guarantee that media will comply, but by making the ‘ask’ clear, you improve your chances.”

7. Develop a pre-release video strategy

Don’t dump everything on journalists the day of the release. Plan ahead.

Caroline Niven, Vice president Communications, Mastercard
If you have compelling video content, it’s often worth developing a pre-brief strategy under embargo, using a private link. Reporters may not have time to view content on the announcement day, and then the news opportunity passes.
Caroline Niven, Vice president Communications, Mastercard

8. Stick to one announcement per release

Give the one reason why there is something press worthy, and stick to that for the entire document, Telisman says. If you have two things to announce, space them out over a few weeks’ time. “That way you keep the drumbeat going on your company or product—and your innovativeness,” she says.

9. Include meaningful boilerplate

The simplest points sometimes need restating: Write the boilerplate description of your company as if for somebody who has never heard of your business. Although random reporters might admire your creative writing workshop brilliance, they’re going to turn to Wikipedia for a straightforward rundown of your business if you don’t provide it.

10. Provide contact information

An astonishing number of press releases provide no contact information, forcing reporters to scour the company website for a phone number or email address.

As a Pulitzer Prize-winning former colleague once put it to me, Do organizations think we’ll just print a press release verbatim? Not only does this slow down interested journalists, but they might drop the story altogether in frustration. A lack of contact information lends unreliability to your entire press release.

11. Create a landing page

While emails remain a way to catch some reporters’ attention, there are huge advantages to creating news release landing page. Unlike email, web pages are indexable on search engines, driving traffic to your site. This is likely to draw journalists to other work, information and expertise on your site.

People also are more likely to share links, quotes and other information from webpages than than from emails. Sometimes reporters can be influential this way, spreading your message even if they don’t intend to cover your news in a story. Yet they must have something to link to.

12. Teach your clients

Whether your clients are internal or external, teach them how releases are used today, Telisman says. Resist the pressure to write long dispatches or to announce meaningless, incremental developments that only clog journalists’ inboxes.

Orly Telisman, Founder, Orly Telisman Public Relations
It’s our job as PR practitioners to teach them how the press release has evolved and how they are used by journalists now. By not telling them—and doing press releases the old-fashioned way—it doesn’t help them advance their message or help you get more media coverage.
Orly Telisman, Founder, Orly Telisman Public Relations

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This revised article has been published before on on July 9, 2018.

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