Make your news amazing (and true)

A good journalist friend of mine rarely tires of saying how much he enjoys reading the headline and, if feeling particularly generous, maybe the first sentence or so of More Fire PR’s press releases.

That’s usually about as far as he gets before either responding, or having his attention drawn rapidly elsewhere.

He’s not alone. It’s a natural psychology behind what we all do when categorising news into our own mental ‘interested’ or ‘not interested’ compartments.

We first consider the medium itself. Whether we like a particular newspaper, TV programme, website or social media feed largely depends on our taste, past experience, peers’ opinions, and a host of other immediate decision-making factors.

What follows for journalist, editor, reader, viewer and listener alike are the two all-important questions - ‘so what?’ and ‘what’s in it for me?’ If you address these crucial demands in an opening paragraph you’re on the right track.

Your news release should, of course, be newsworthy. If you have an enticing image to accompany it, all the better - even radio has online pages these days.

To be clear, I’m not (like many) saying the press release is dead. It just needs to stand-out from the crowd and matter. Be ‘dramatic, quirky, new/topical/timely, factually accurate, concise.’ Include relevant commentary, offer further contact details, and be appropriately targeted.

The humble news release really is worth spending professional time and effort on. We may feel warm and fuzzy outputting 30 plus stories a month, but it’s much better to deliver just one or two that will actually reach your audience and have the desired impact.

Here follow some top tips when it comes to constructing your news release:

1. Have a punchy headline

Short, sharp and attention-grabbing. Achieving a response from the FT or The Sun will likely require different writing approaches, but neither have to be boring.

2. Have a clear message

Have a key point and avoid multiple themes in one article. The easier an audience can get the information they want, and quickly, the more chance there is of them actually responding to or acting upon it.

3. ‘Killer’ quotes

The “comments” in your press release need to be informative, accurate, help tell the story, and come from a relevant source or authority. Keep them to the point. If comments are interesting enough, a journalist or broadcaster will follow up for more.

4. Bigger isn’t always better

As a rule of thumb, keep your news release to around 250 words. If you haven’t gotten the point across by then – remember you’re living in the Twitter era. You can always include additional perfunctory detail – key dates, weblinks, further sources – in an ‘Editor’s information’ section at the end.

5. A picture… thousand words etc

A picture should ideally be attached as a high-res Jpeg, under 2MB in size. Never embed an image into a Word document – this simply annoys all involved and demands a further, time-consuming email or phone call. National press will almost always want to take their own picture, but there’s no harm in showing what’s on offer.

6. Be unique

The best, most proactive journalists love a genuine exclusive. This means your mass mail to several hundred contacts may well receive the same response as junk mail. Before pressing ‘send,’ think carefully about the story you want to tell a journalist. Ultimately, don’t make it about you and your needs. Ensure it’s about them and theirs.

For help communicating your message effectively: