Press release on PressGo
Whether you think there's a better alternative or you'd rather receive PR pitches by Twitter, press releases are still a popular format for public relations and communications teams when contacting journalists.

But how can these releases become as popular with the journalists receiving and reading them?

To help improve our own press release service, PressGo, for both press release posters and journalist users, Journalism.co.uk asked for your advice on writing the perfect press release.

Below is our crowdsourced guide, broken down into sections corresponding to different aspects of a release and with the contributors name in brackets.

You can jump to different sections using the links below and feel free to add more pointers in the comment box:
Before you write the release:
  • If the PR in question has time, have a quick look at the site they are pitching to, to get an idea of the tone of writing and the type of article that does well. Use this to make the press release a bit more relevant. (Rebecca Thomson, reporter, computer Weekly)
  • Provide clear relevance to my 'beat'. I hate it when I am the recipient of scattered buckshot that has no relevance for my publication but I have to plough through a lot of information before I realise this. (Gillian McAinsh, La Femme editor, The Herald, South Africa)
  • Ask yourself these three questions:
  1. Is your press release really necessary?
  2. If you were running a story based on this release, what would be the headline be and does the first sentence fit into less than 15 words? If no, or the first sentence is 'Mrs Miggins plc announces…', go back to Q1.
  3. If you got Q2 right, why are you changing the wording for a press release? (Chris Edwards, freelance journalist)
Format
  • Don't send the release as attachment only. A release under the phrase 'Press release, see attached' and no other details is likely to be deleted with extreme prejudice and the company added to a spam list. (Mark Robertson, journalist/producer, BBC Cumbria)
  • Send a pretty PDF of the release to your client if you must, but send copy to journalists as plain text. PDFs and other formats often add weird character breaks and slow down the editing process. (Carlton Reid, editor of bikebiz.com)
Headlines
  • Headlines should be as short and interesting as possible. (Rebecca Thomson, reporter, Computer Weekly, UK)
  • A headline should be short enough for a Twitter update including a link. (Sarah Taylor, Inspiring Communication)
  • If you're emailing the press release, you've only got a handful of words in the subject line to grab journalists' attention and if the first four are 'Press release: Market leading…' chances are you're not going to get many hacks to actually read the rest of the subject line, let alone open the email/release itself. (Journalism.co.uk blog commenter 'Hack')
  • The headline should clearly contain the value of the press release to the reader. It should not contain the name of the issuing organisation -for example: 'NPR announces new special initiative' - obviously it's NPR, they're sending the press release. (Matt Forsythe, social media manager, National Film Board of Canada)
Subject matter and language
  • I get loads of press releases that are boring and paragraphs or even sentences containing lots of technical terms make me want to break things. Reporters get told to constantly ask the question when thinking of stories, 'why would people care about this?'. I think PRs should ask themselves that question when writing releases. (Rebecca Thomson, reporter, Computer Weekly, UK)
  • Press release writers should make it clear why my readers need to know about their product. That is, provide a news angle to their releases. (Gillian McAinsh, La Femme editor, The Herald, South Africa)
  • The biggest bugbear with press releases I find is the vague, nonsensical terms - leading, highly scaleable, holistic, end to end solution etc. Please, tell us in as plain a language as you can, what your client and their product does. (Journalism.co.uk blog commenter 'Hack')
  • My personal peeve is when press releases make tenuous, unbelievable tie-ins to current topics to get attention. Bad form. (Phill Dolby, freelance journalist)
  • Purge superlatives. (Carlton Reid, editor of Bikebiz.com)
Summaries
  • Bullet points at the top, summarising the main points, are helpful. (Rebecca Thomson, reporter, Computer Weekly, UK)
  • If you have to distribute a release that has already been approved by a US client, try rewriting the first paragraph as a 'news in brief' item and put that in the email before the press release. If you can condense your story into a NIB and save journalists some time, then it's more likely to be used. (Journalism.co.uk blog commenter 'Josie', referencing advice from social media consultant Nick Booth)
  • Summaries of the organisation's history or relevance are not required. A single line to tell us who you are is enough. (Matt Forsythe, social media manager, National Film Board of Canada)
Paragraph structure
  • Summarise what you are selling early on in the release, preferably using the standard journalism 25 words of 'who, what, where, when, why'. Releases often lack the time and place of an event, which can make all the difference. (Gillian McAinsh, La Femme editor, The Herald, South Africa)
  • Don't bury any, 'actually, the study doesn't really show what the title of this press release says it does' content down toward the bottom. (Journalism.co.uk blog reader 'Anna')
  • Once you've written your press release, go away and make a coffee. Come back and notice that the whole point of the release is in the last paragraph. This is because you were thinking to A4 scale and after writing seven paragraphs of waffle you had a space of one-paragraph left in which to squeeze your essential. Now make the last paragraph your introduction and go and have a second well-deserved coffee. It's a cliche, but the sting is often in the tail. (Tony Trainor, freelance journalist)
Length
  • Never, ever, write more than two pages - preferably one. (Sarah Taylor, Inspiring Communication)
  • Two-hundred-and-fifty words is enough to say everything. Add a link to a longer post if there are specific details that need to be added. (Matt Forsythe, social media manager, National Film Board of Canada)
Quotes
  • Only include a quote that someone might actually have said. No 'strategic partnership solutions' language (anywhere, but particularly not in the quote). (Sarah Taylor, Inspiring Communication)
  • Please don't quote people who aren't available for interview - there's nothing more annoying than getting a release and then finding the subject isn't available to talk. (Journalism.co.uk blog reader 'Hack')
Case studies
  • Please stop sending me case studies. I don't care what Wigan Council has done with its IT support, unless it's moved its server to the moon or something. (Rebecca Thomson, reporter, Computer Weekly, UK)
Images
Some differing opinions from our participants about the best way to handle images:
  • Fancy graphics or big pictures just fill up my inbox, meaning I might have to delete the release without really reading it. If I want pictures I'll ask for them, and graphics might look nice but they're just annoying to someone who gets hundreds of (uninteresting) emails each day. The release needs to be really easy to scan quickly and graphics can get in the way. (Rebecca Thomson, reporter, Computer Weekly, UK)
But if images are really an essential part of what your release is about:
  • Supply clear, usable photographs. (Gillian McAinsh, La Femme editor, The Herald, South Africa)
  • Always include two or three pictures in the actual release rather than fob people off to a website where they then have to spend ages finding images that you [the press release writer] should have found for them. (Journalism.co.uk blog reader 'Kate') 
Contact details
  • Don't send out a release and then go on holiday for two weeks the next day. It's amazing how often this happens. It's very annoying if you need to speak to the author urgently. (Journalism.co.uk blog reader 'Kate')
  • Always put your phone number somewhere instead of hiding behind an email address. There isn't always time for email queries. (Journalism.co.uk blog reader 'Kate')

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