What is the one fundamental thing that would improve most of the press releases which arrive in the inboxes of journalists – and make them more likely to succeed?
In my time I’ve seen thousands of press releases.
And I’ve taught hundreds of people how to write press releases.
The common thread in many press releases is that they don’t give a good top line – the one element of the story which will capture the imagination of the journalist and ensure that the story gets published.
And the common thread with all my trainees, whether they are on my PRCA courses because they’re starting out their PR career, or they run a small business, or they’re tasked with press release writing as part of their other duties, is is they don’t find out enough about the subject they’re writing about.
During my courses, we always have a brainstorming session where we discuss how to make their story ideas attractive for an editor or journalist.
And almost invariably, the top line of the press release they are writing isn’t the one they initially presented to the group.
At times, when I pose often the most basic questions about their topic, the delegate doesn’t know the answers.
Do your research
It is only by knowing your subject inside out and backwards that you’ll be able to come up with the most interesting angle, the little nugget that will capture the attention of the journalist and ensure coverage.
Ask the basic who, what, where, when and how questions.
Ask the questions your granny might ask.
Ask the questions the general public might ask. Particularly the ones who are your target audience.
So for example, if you’re writing a press release about a new initiative at a primary school. What are parents likely to think? Is this really new or is it standard practice in other schools already? How will this impact on their children’s education? Will this put more pressure on them?
Once you have answers to those questions, then ask some more.
Even for the most boring topics, somewhere in the answers to those questions, there’ll be a little glimmer of an idea, an off the wall angle, that will bring the story to life.
Another example: a new printing shop opens in Kingston. Not on the face of it the most exciting story. But after asking a few questions, it emerges that for every £xxx spent, the owners would plant a tree. Suddenly we have a sustainable, eco-friendly printers. We have far more attractive top line that provided the local newspaper with a nice little story.
So, do your research, interrogate the subject, ask as many questions as you can until you know everything you possibly can about it and more, and in one of those answers you’ll find your compelling headline and introduction that makes the journalist want not just to read on, but desperate to cover your story.
Ann Wright delivers press release writing courses for the Public Relations Consultants Association and other membership organisations, and Rough House Media provides a comprehensive range of media training, crisis communications, PR and presentations skills courses. For more information contact us on 020 8332 6200 or email on firstname.lastname@example.org.