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For journalists, press releases can be a persistent nuisance. All too often, they are filled with banalities and bland quotes and they end up in the trash folder.

So what should a press release include and what should it look like if you want it to be picked up by publications?

In a podcast with, Helen Croydon, journalist-turned-publicist and host of The Media Insider podcast, explained that an ideal press release should directly get to the point, rather than burying the lead under a mountain of cliche quotes and fluff.

"A press release should be the what, the when and the where - the factual stuff. The how and the why comes in the quotes because that’s the subject of it and that’s why you’re getting an expert," she said.

Including information to set the scene, such as old and publicly available statistics, at the start of a press release only serves to leave reporters trying to find where the story is and pushes it towards being deleted.

"Why on earth would you send old information that’s in the public eye to a journalist? Start with what is new, start with what the story is," she explained.

There are also words and phrases to avoid in any press release, in particular, any words in quotes that sound too corporate and not natural.

"Have you ever heard someone used the word 'furthermore' in a conversation? The whole point of a quote in either a pitch or a press release is it’s supposed to be conversational."

Quotes that include phrases like 'we are proud’ will not be used by a journalist, so instead of copying what other press releases do, it is better to follow the example of news stories that have been published.

"You might put that on your website or in a newsletter, but that’s not what is going to make the news."

A lot of this can seem like common sense to most journalists who often get frustrated by press releases irrelevant to their publication. However, press officers often do not know or understand what editors are looking for, said Croydon.

Much like the world of journalism, the bulk of a PR’s time is spent producing content, as opposed to pitching, making sure that the stories they write have a strong angle to entice publications and please the client.

With pressure from clients and with the communications sector made up of many people in their first jobs, this means that there is little time or knowledge available to them to do in-depth research into specific publications.

"They don’t have the resources to understand on a deep level what every single publication is about. Sometimes they do just have to pitch blindly, under pressure from their clients and their managers."

Developing the same news sense as a journalist is difficult outside of a newsroom. One way to be more successful in breaking through to editors is having a better understanding of the different story formats and which format do you want to pitch.

'Absorbing' the formats of content written by publications, analysing the components of each and understanding why those stories were published at that time is a good step to gain a better insight into what editors are looking for.

"If you start with that, the rest is common sense."

After getting a grasp of this, PRs should tailor their approaches to journalists by the types of content they produce.

"Think about the format, not the topic. Do they do interviews, do they do features or do they cover news stories?"

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