What Journalists Want: How to Write Better Press Releases
This blog by Nikkole Couture was originally posted on PRsay.PRSA.org
We’ve been issuing press releases for well over a hundred years — since a train accident in 1906, to be precise. And yet despite a myriad of technological and social advancements, this tactic has changed little in the modern era.
We’re still employing the “inverted pyramid” of the printing press to compose them, we’re still using them as corporate equivalent of vanity plates for our websites, and we’re still sending them to journalists’ inboxes with a deep, self-serving hope they will magically turn into detailed coverage of our companies.
No wonder industry pundits have been sounding the death knell for this tactic for over a decade.
Without changing how we write, publish or use press releases, expecting ever-increasing returns borders on insanity. How long can something last when it doesn’t evolve?
The press release isn’t dead — but it has changed.
The good news? This tactic isn’t dead — but it has changed. Let’s consider how much it’s changed in order to drive better results for your business and improved message pickup.
- Purpose: Releases serve more purposes today than they ever have before. They provide valuable SEO for your website, serve as a primary source of information for your investors, and help align your internal teams on critical messages — all while advising the media of important changes and events at your company.
- Content: No more boring, text-only content on the latest corporate announcements. The press release today can be an engaging, multimedia experience. This is where you can make a journalist’s job easy and increase your changes of getting coverage by including great B-roll footage, embeddable video and compelling, high-resolution images with your release.
The more content you include and the richer the story you tell, the better your chances of getting coverage.
Bridge the gap and put yourself in the journalist’s world
When you’ve got a story to tell and the CEO has set their sights on getting coverage, the natural inclination is to craft that release, and then blast it out to everyone: a massive list of relevant journalists, your website, your social channels etc.
If this is your approach today, then it’s highly likely it’s not working. Instead, consider instead putting yourself in the journalist’s world:
- The medium matters: Broadcast and print are not the same, and you need to tailor the story to the medium you’re after. A compelling headline, short bullets, and some great B-roll are far more likely to land you broadcast coverage, while a long-form story with evidence and third-party research will more naturally lend itself to print.
- The 24-hour news cycle is real: It’s very real and consists of multiple channels, both digital and print. You must be ready for the pick up if you get it – so make sure your spokesperson is available and prepped to respond to follow-up inquiries once you post your release.
- One size does not fit all: Your pitch to widely read publications like The Washington Post or The New York Times will need to be customized and crafted just for them. The wider read the publication, the more likely they’re looking for an exclusive. If you’re looking for quantity rather than quality of coverage (no judgement — we all need both!) trade publications are going to be a better target for that press release.
Provide better information — not just more.
Rather than just extending the length of your press release, remember it’s about providing better information, not just more of it.
And while that might have you scratching your head, the key to understanding what constitutes “better” information is to plug yourself into the news cycle swirling around your business everyday:
- Watch what’s trending: Always ask yourself, “Is this a relevant conversation for my brand?” The sweet spot you’re after is something timely and newsworthy that adds to the conversation rather than just duplicates it. Social listening and media monitoring tools are key here to hooking into current conversations and being ready to move quickly.
- Keep the content newsworthy: You’re more likely to get pickup with third-party research housed in a well-timed release than a humdrum C-suite announcement. And if your news is a humdrum C-Suite announcement? Include some validating research, and time that release to when it will be relevant for your readers. Positioning yourself as a thought leader is key and will be critical for getting the coverage you’re after.
What have we learned?
Companies often want a press release when the message itself isn’t “news.”
We’ve come to think of the press release as a tried and true tactic to spread the word about our businesses—but remember, this isn’t the only tactic at our disposal.
You can always consider things like a blog post, social post, or an email blast. There is a wealth of options available today to tell your story — so while the press release remains a key part of our toolkit, it’s best deployed when the time and story align.
More than anything, if you want your release to be newsworthy, make sure it tells a story, is truly “news,” and makes it easy for a journalist to write about.
Great stories are hard to pass up — so even if it means waiting on that release until the stars align, your patience will pay off in greater impact.
Nikkole Couture is vice president of Go to Market, Intrado Digital Media. Learn more about Intrado Digital Media and their suite of PR solutions. You can also follow them on LinkedIn and Twitter.