Who’s a PR pro in the eyes of a journalist? It is a person that facilitates contact with the company, provides information about new products or changes within the organization, and reaches out to spread the company message.
Unfortunately, often it is also a person who stands in the way of getting the company’s comments or statements and who doesn’t understand the specifics of a given medium. The things that irritate journalists the most is spamming their inboxes with meaningless info and hounding them with phone calls.
In order NOT to be that person, learn how to write press releases from journalists who are likely to receive them.
Writing a media release – tips from journalists
Danielle Capriato (@DCapriato), PRNewswire: use natural language that will resonate with your audience
#1 Most common mistakes in writing press releases: The number one mistake to avoid is forgetting to include key details. Names, dates, anything that answers the who/what/when/where. You’d be surprised, but those things can be easy to forget, and journalists or other influencers don’t want to have to dig to fill the holes.
#2 How to write an effective press release? This question is quite involving because press release writing is pretty involving itself, but I’d say that my biggest tip is to make sure you use natural language that will resonate with your audience. Write for people, not for search engines (search engines try to think like people, so they like natural language too!) and avoid keyword stuffing.
Seth Arenstain (@skarenstein), PR News: when I receive a press release from someone who has no idea what is covered in the publication I work for, it often ends up in the trash bin
#1 Most common mistakes in writing press releases: Writing a press release about your PR agency is similar to writing a press release about any subject. As with all press releases, do your homework before you write and send the press release. In this case, know something about the target you are pitching, presumably a publication or a media outlet. For example, do you know if this media outlet writes stories about PR agencies? More specifically, does this media outlet write about what’s covered in the press release? Does it write about personnel moves? Agency of Record announcements? Agency mergers and acquisitions? When I receive a press release from someone who has no idea what is covered in the publication I work for, it often ends up in the trash bin.
#2 How to write a press release that gets attention? Do your homework. Be brief and to the point. Tell the writer WHY the news in the release is important to his/her readers and do so as soon as you can. Don’t make the journalist search through your whole press release to find the answer to this vital question. Make things as simple as possible for the journalist by providing useful links and graphics and easy ways to contact the press release writer.
Sara Ghazaii (@saraelizabethg), Vice President, Director of Communications, PR Council: send news worth “bragging about”
#1 Most common mistakes in writing press releases: Don’t assume everyone will read every word, stick to the facts, and don’t exaggerate with false claims. Always credit your source, and don’t ever trash your competitors.
#2 How to write a press release that gets attention? Stick to the core of who, what, when, where, and why” — it seems simple, but you typically have a good 30 seconds to capture your reader’s attention. Keep it short, sweet and to the point — as I like to say, send news worth “bragging about.”
Marta Bellon (@Marta_Bellon), Business Insider Polska: journalists have a well-developed BS detector
#1 Most common mistakes in writing press releases: The mistakes are unfortunately silly. I have a feeling that 80% of the PR people who contact us don’t do any research beforehand. They don’t ready anything by the given journalist, and what’s still hard to believe, they often have no clue what publication they’re calling. A lot of PR pros also demand creativity out of the journalist – often on the spot. Example? I get a phone call saying “A Very Important Person is coming to Poland. It’s a one of a kind opportunity for an interview. Are you interested? If so, please provide a list of questions.” I know nothing about this person – the name doesn’t ring any bells. When I ask about the potential topics this person can talk about, I again get a very vague answer, but with an assurance that this is a VIP, and it’s a “one of a kind opportunity.”
#2 How to write a media release that gets attention? A PR pro should know the subjects covered by the journalist and contact him or her when an opportunity arises to interview an expert in those areas. It is also the PR pro that should know the most interesting things about the expert for the journalist. Yes, it requires more time and effort, but this is a job of the PR person, not the journalist. Otherwise, we’re just wasting each other’s time.
We understand that PR is not easy, and the clients of PR agencies are still convinced that as long as you send out a press release to 100 outlets everything will be fine because surely some will simply copy it. Of course you can do that, but it has very little in common with professional PR and promoting the brand in the media.
At all my media relations workshops, I always repeat that the most important thing is to know whom you’re talking to and understand what journalism is really about and that journalists have a well-developed BS detector.
A winning press release answers the basic questions of who/what, why, what for and why is it important. If the press release contains news about a new project of some company, then it’s necessary to provide some background information on the company like what they do, how long they’ve been around and so on. It’s also important to set the news in some context instead of just writing that it’s unique, innovative and “once in a lifetime” if it’s not true. Some interesting quotes of the people involved are also welcome, but not if they are of the “We’re extremely excited about this super project and couldn’t have done it without our partners/investors” variety. This is what Facebook posts are for. Journalists want solid facts and very much dislike hyperboles. Press releases too often resemble ads.
It’s important for a press release to always include the contact info of the person who can provide a detailed explanation of the project. It is quite key to be able to reach that person on the other end of that number or email address. When the company wants to go public with a piece of news, it has to be available to be contacted by the press and therefore should schedule such events accordingly. Times like right before a key person’s vacations or childbirth may not be the best to start a media campaign.
Paweł Zielewski (@PawelZielewski), Forbes: in a situation where you’re unable to provide all the additional details, don’t make it difficult to get to the person who has them
#3 An effective press release – so what does it actually look like? There is no such thing as useless information, but it can only be used when it gets to the right person. The problem is elsewhere. It is too often that I come across some good piece of info, but that’s it, nothing else. It’s scary, but a great lot of your new PR pros, upon being contacted for more details can provide nothing because they know very little about the brands they work for. What’s even worse is that very often these “pros” stand in the way of getting this information from others within the company. And believe me, these are not isolated incidents. Oh no.
The issue of visuals – it often turns out that the pictures sent are legally unpublishable because they lack the legal rights to be put out for example in print and online. That automatically disqualifies the agency.
#4 How to contact the media nowadays? It’s obvious that there isn’t just one right model for communicating with the media. Of course, the basic approach is “information-follow-up”, which works if the sender knows to whom and why they’re sending the release and can justify it a bit better than “because my client really wanted to be seen in a prestigious magazine.” The particular form of contact is not as significant, and even private messages on Twitter or Facebook come into play. Getting to the journalist is important, but the substance of the press release should be of utmost priority.
#5 What irritates you the most about the press releases you get from PR pros? In my opinion, the source of the problem of complicated relations between the media and PR is not the blind belief that the media are susceptible to PR’s influence and that companies/advertisers use their money and clout to, with the use of PR agencies, affect content. The source of the problem lies in… randomness. I have a feeling that the so-called new wave of PR, the young folks without any basic media experience or even a slight understanding of the ins-and-outs of this work, is just a bunch of random people who simply got into PR as a result of a trend. What are the consequences? First of all, using a comically ineffective language that is characteristic for analysts for example, but is unacceptable in mass media. Secondly, regardless of the significance and gravity of the subject, the constant attempts at drawing attention to the message with silly clichés, misleading titles and content that does not fit the headline. Thirdly, and this is the worst sin of all – not knowing your addressee, both the outlet and the work and interests of the particular journalist you are sending the press release to. This causes you to send out exactly the same thing in bulk, which results not only in a bad image for the brand, but most of all for the PR agency which employs such a thoughtless method of trying to get their client in the media.
Artur Maciorowski (@eArtur), Online Marketing Polska: the majority sends their info following the “everything for everyone” principle
#1 Most common mistakes in writing media releases: That’s why most of the information is neither here nor there – promotions and new faces in the company, won tenders, campaigns, case studies, etc. In some extreme cases, I get things completely not for me like invitations to a government press conference or news about a launch of some FMCG product. Sometimes, in the act of sheer desperation, some industry-important name gets dropped. For example, a construction company hired a known blogger for some event. But I have known Artur for years. We worked together in an agency and with all due respect, if I need to talk to him, I will simply get in touch.
#4 How to contact the media nowadays? But it’s the same thing I would do if I didn’t know him. I reach most of my contacts directly via email or social media, or I go through the PR department. Very often both ways at once. It’s quicker and more effective.
James Kotecki (@JamesKotecki), AutomatedInsights: communicate in active voice
#1 Most common mistakes in writing press releases: The passive voice is sometimes appropriate, but I get pretty annoyed when writers use it unnecessarily. If you want your company to appear active, write in the active voice! Another mistake can be to use business jargon. Again, there are times when industry terms may be appropriate, but it’s easy to forget that your target audience (journalists and readers) may not be familiar with the terms you take for granted.
#2 How to write a press release that gets attention? A truly killer press release is one with killer news in it. Some press releases might not be intended to spark massive coverage, and that’s ok. But if massive coverage is the goal, the news needs to be as interesting as possible. I would also take a step back and say that a great news launch might include reaching out to selected reporters with personal emails to preview the news in more casual terms than a press release. In other words, the press release is important, but as part of an overall launch strategy. You’ll probably have a lower success rate if you just push a press release out into the world without doing additional outreach.
Andy Bull (@andybull), author of “Brand Journalism” book: don’t write a press release, write a news story
The really big mistake with press releases is to write them in the first place. Think of what a press release is. It is an attempt by a brand or other organization to persuade a journalist that what the brand has to say is of interest to that journalist’s audience. Press releases date from a time when the journalist was the gatekeeper between those with information to impart (including brands) and the potential consumers of that information (the public in general or a niche within the public). In the modern world of communications, it is rarely necessary for brands to use a gatekeeper. Through the use of social media, our own branded websites, apps and all the other communication tools that we now have direct access to, the press release is increasingly becoming an irrelevance.
OK, we know that there is still, and will always be, a place for using traditional media organizations, in both their off and on-line guides, to help us get our messages across, but the press release was always a very poor way of doing that. Today, it is much more effective for us to use brand journalism. That is, to create the content of our own that, rather than sounding like the lame self-promotion of the traditional press release, uses all the techniques of independent journalism to communicate directly with our target audience. I wrote my book “Brand Journalism” to explain to all those who work for brands, in marketing, PR, customer relations, and brand management roles, how to use journalistic techniques to communicate directly with their audience. Brand journalism, and not press releases, should be the primary channel of communication for all in PR and marketing. To summarize, don’t write a press release, write a news story.