This ‘How To Guide’ has been written by The Think Tank’s PR Director Samatha Dawe as part of our on-going sponsorship of B2B Marketing’s PR Knowledge Bank.
There have been many tips offered for writing press releases. The key factor is to write a release that gets the main points of your news across clearly and gains the reader’s interest (whether a journalist, blogger or investor etc). This is simple but sometimes hard to do when you may be loaded with information that you think could be relevant.
It’s wise to write down the core news elements when you start to prepare your draft. There is nothing to stop you following this release up with a subsequent release, if you have more news or a progress report to give.And a word of warning: don’t make claims that you can’t back up. You may think this makes the release more attention-grabbing but if you can’t back up a claim with facts and figures, don’t put it in. A good journalist will check the facts. Your competitors may read it and counter your claims too.One of the best pieces of advice for preparing a release I was given was by a journalist, who referred to Kipling’s Six Honest Men. At the time I had to look that up, so to save you doing so here is the appropriate reference:
“I keep six honest serving men (they taught me all I knew);
Their names are What and Why and When,and How and Where and Who.”
The Kipling reference relates to the fact that you need to contain all of the elements of the story within the first paragraph of your release. That’s because of time pressures. The rest of the release might not get read, but if you have the elements of the story in the opening paragraph this is what will hook the reader. You can work through the six honest men as a check. Don’t forget to put the date when you are issuing the news, and if the story is time sensitive, and the time too, in this first paragraph or just above it.
Who are you writing the release for? Make your releases relevant; you may need to prepare two versions of the same news release for example if you are sending one out to the trade press and one out to the local press. What the journalists will engage with is different in terms of the content and what their publications will be looking for in terms of news, even though the core story itself will remain the same.
Language and clarity
Use language that is straightforward and business-like. Don’t waffle. You can leave further explanations and references to technical information for the ‘Notes to editors’ (see below). As a rule of thumb, abbreviations should be spelled out in full the first time you use them, even if you think that everyone knows what the letters stand for eg: Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG). After writing out it out in full the first time, you can use the abbreviation thereafter. Use standard measures consistently – don’t mix them in different references: the box measured 50cms high and one inch deep. If this is what you have been given, go and find the correct measurements in imperial and metric of all dimensions.
Subsequent paragraphs expand the story and a quote is usually included (not necessary if you are targeting the traditional broadcast media though). Adding in a quote from a company spokesperson or an agreed third party adds interest and can help bring a story to life. You can also use more conversational language in the quote otherwise it can feel wooden. If one of your staff has won an award for example, have a quote from them too. Killer quotes are passionate: “We have won this award through the efforts made by all of our staff here at Widgets Ltd over the past 12 months. We couldn’t have made this sort of progress without this sustained effort”. Rather than predictable: “We are very pleased that Widgets Ltd has received this award.”
Notes to editors
This is a really useful convention to be aware of. Editor’s notes appear at the end of the release and should be written under a separate heading ‘Notes to editors’. This is the place where you can put in more detailed background information, appropriate web addresses; expand on sources of data etc. It shows you can back up what you are talking about with more context. Depending on how the journalist writes their story this information may or may not be included. Put in a short background paragraph on your organisation here too and the website address.
Take time to proof read your release before you send it out. It is often worth getting a colleague to give it a proof too as they will often see things that you haven’t because you wrote the copy. Don’t rely on spell checks; we’ve all had that occasion when the spell checker has changed the original, misspelling word into something quite different.