According to The Guardian, “a well written press release is one of the quickest and most cost-effective ways to gain publicity as well as high-quality leads.”
But as we all know, most journalists are continuously swamped with press releases, and it often takes time, effort and a bit of chasing to land press coverage for your business. With this in mind, we decided to take a deep dive into the world of PR and discover what you can do to get your press releases noticed and published by the right journalists.
Often aptly described as a tug of war, How to Write the Perfect Press Release is best learnt from the top journalists themselves – so we invited BizCommunity’s Editor-in-Chief, Leigh Andrews, as well as top journalists from Popular Science, Mashable and Yahoo! Tech, to share some tips, tools and advice on how to Win the War on PR.
They shared with us tips to make your press release shine, what definitely not to do to get your press release published, and how to find your ultimate journalist database.
Having a role in the PR industry is one of the most overlooked and underestimated roles. In 2020, there are fewer journalists doing more of the work than ever. Your average journalist is also wearing the hat of proof-reader, fact-checker, photographer, image-generator, reporter, social media manager, video editor and basic graphic designer. An average day, according to Leigh Andrews, consists of a cup of strong coffee, scanning the news, and then diving into a flooded inbox to make sure they’re not missing any breaking news.
On a bad day, journalists are bombarded with emails from people demanding to be published, asking if they’ve received their last email which was actually addressed to the wrong journalist, reading through content that is far too promotional to be published, or completely missing the mark in terms of content that the publication will actually publish.
In addition to meeting newsletter deadlines, they’re often scrambling to get hold of someone to commission that breaking news story, if not dropping everything to put something together on the topic themselves. If you’re approachable as a PR officer and able to quickly put together comments from clients on a hot topic, you’ll fast become a favourite.
Gone are the days where a customer would read the full front-page newspaper article and continue to fold it up, put it in their pocket and ask for your product. Instead, if we don’t make a concerted effort, we’re going to see only advertisements facing a crowd with an ever-decreasing concentration span, because brands are vying for attention everywhere we turn.
The reality in 2020 is that today’s ease of communication has a flip-side; it’s scary and overwhelming.
Your potential customer, who you wish would read your piece through, think it over and respond favourably, is switching their concentration between screens up to 27 times an hour and has, quite literally, thousands of messages and notifications pouring in from every app and on every device from friends, family, colleagues and brands. In addition to this, the recent incline in the spread of fake news means that audiences are more sceptical of brand messaging and news stories than ever before.
Here is what the experts had to say on the topic of what needs improving:
"I am deeply annoyed by press releases that assume I am a man because I work at a science and technology magazine. And a shocking number of press releases perpetuate other gender stereotypes. There is a press release in my spam box right now that says “Rein in Your Girly Thoughts.” - Jennifer Bogo, Executive Editor, Popular Science
"Press releases are an efficient way to get news out to reporters, but often the language used is very dense and tedious to get through. I sometimes read an entire press release and can’t pull out the key takeaway. Subjects can be complicated to begin with, especially when it comes to science and technology, so language that really cuts to the chase and explains the news is most helpful." - Samantha Murphy Kelly, Tech Reporter, Mashable
"I receive more than 500 emails a day. An astonishing number of them are pitching topics that neither I nor my staff has ever covered—sent by people who’ve either never read our publication, or never read our coverage, or noticed what bylines go with what stories. I edit Company Town, which covers the business side of the entertainment industry. We are not interested in stories about developments in dental hygiene." - Charles Fleming, Editor, Company Town, Los Angeles Times
"When other journalists get them before me. When there’s no contact information for who to reach out to. When key information is left out or left vague." - Jason Gilbert, Senior Editor, Yahoo! Tech
BizCommunity’s Editor-In-Chief Leigh Andrews asked her colleagues what they would say if they could give advice everyone who’s pitched their press release to them. The tips and techniques fell into three main categories:
Embargoed press releases are shared with the intention of only being published at a later, specified date. Although a great way to organise work in advance, embargoes are often referred to as the weapon of mass destruction – what a disaster if things go wrong.
If you’re sending an embargoed release, be sure to have the date and time of release clearly specified. Remember to take into account that if you’re sending news to a different country, different time zones apply and this can, too, have major ramifications if done incorrectly. Go wild with putting this information in big, bold, underlined and highlighted text.
Once your press release has been written, checked, and double-checked, you’re ready to pitch it to the media. There are seven steps to success you need to be aware of. They may sound simple, but they’re often overlooked.
"Most journalists I know regularly check newswires for new announcements. So the good news: it’s possible to land a good story via press release, but it must be well-written, targeted to the right reporter and sent with a specific story idea via the headline." - Jason Gilbert, Senior Editor, Yahoo! Tech
Another way to make your release stand out is to go beyond just rehashing your client’s words in black and white text, and add a video to it – this could be an original edit, a clip describing a product update or even a video of a TEDx talk. Video content is the stickiest and by far the quickest way to amplify your message on social media.
"Press releases, unlike pitch emails, should be thorough. We’re looking for all of the information about this new product, study, or whatever that we can find, so that we can determine if it’s worth digging deeper. Links to websites with even more information are great, too. And you have to have contact information at the end. And not just that, but you better be replying to those contacts quickly, too. Don’t add an email address you never check, or a phone number for a line you never answer!" - Jason Gilbert, Senior Editor, Yahoo! Tech
You should have the gist of it by now: don’t call as soon as you’ve hit send, if you haven’t received a response, one follow-up call or email at least 24 hours after you sent the original should be sufficient (Disclaimer: unless it really is urgent, timely, “breaking news”).
Be careful about calling after office-hours. These editors are likely juggling just as much trying to maintain that work-life balance as you are. Of course, emergencies can hit at any time. When this happens, highlight the exact part of the press release you need changed or emitted, and send through as soon as possible.
"It’s definitely possible to find good stories in press releases, but because many people get the same announcement, there are limitations and writers don’t want to publish the same story as another outlet. By granting embargoes and doing pre-press release briefings, this will ensure the writer has enough time to put together an insightful piece and get the background information and quotes they need. That additional time is so appreciated." - Samantha Murphy Kelly, Tech Reporter, Mashable
Trend specialist and owner of Flux Trends Dion Chang says the customer of 2020 is the definition of woke, which is defined by Urban Dictionary as “being aware; knowing what’s going on in the community, especially in terms of social injustice.” Customers today have less tolerance for mistakes and errors that are either not politically correct or downright discriminatory.
In an age where more people than ever have the opportunity to express their opinions, and social media has given users the platform to publish and share their thoughts, the saying “the customer is always right” has never rung more true.
So, when in doubt, ask Google, Alexa or Siri, check your facts as well as the connotations of the diction you’re using. Using a reputation consultant can help you take the steps needed to protect brand reputation in any release and prepare for whatever disaster may strike.