How to make sure your press release actually gets read

Dominic Pollard large

Dominic Pollard, head of content at City Road Communications, explains how to increase your chances of journalists reading your press releases and covering your key company announcements.

Press releases are the cornerstone of a company’s PR activity. They are the easiest way to get a story – whether it’s about a launch, promotion, company update, opinion or piece of research – in front of a large number of journalists to secure media exposure. However, writing and distributing a press release does not guarantee media coverage and, if not executed correctly, they can easily fall on deaf ears. In fact, most of them do.

The vast majority of journalists receive dozens upon dozens of press releases in their inboxes every day. So, if you’re keeping PR activity in-house and are labouring over your own press releases, how can you make sure that they’re not skimmed and dismissed or, worse yet, deleted before even being read?

Here are some useful pointers for ensuring your press release has a good chance of getting some traction.

Get your language right

First and foremost, when contacting journalists it’s essential that the language used both within the press release and the email accompanying it are suitable.

Many people tasked with penning press releases within a company (assuming it doesn’t have a dedicated PR department) sit on the marketing team. Importantly, there are distinct differences between how marketing professionals will typically communicate with an audience of potential clients or customers and how a journalist likes to receive information. What’s more, if a press release is deemed too “marketing-ey” then it will be quickly dismissed – reputable publications will always be very reluctant to be seen offering free advertorials to businesses.

Articulacy and an amazing vocabulary are great assets to have, but journalists typically deal in simple and direct language; resist the temptation to pepper your press release with superlatives, adjectives or common turns of phrase – they will only serve to deter a journalist from engaging with the core message of the story you’re pitching in. Determine what the over-riding point of your press release is meant to be and ensure it is communicated clearly and concisely, favouring simple facts over needless frills.

Keep it simple and remember the end audience

Another common temptation facing a company doing its own PR is to get drawn into providing granular details about things that, for a journalist, are relatively banal. This is particularly the case when creating a press release for a company or product launch – those within the business might want to shout about very precise details but, more often than not, the interesting angle is actually the problem, challenge or issue that you’re solving.

Unless you’re dealing with very specific trade titles, the intricacies of how your business operates or the inner mechanics of your new product will be of little interest to the press; at very least these are secondary points and this ought to be reflected in the structure of your press release. A journalist will want to know why they should share your news with their audience, so keep the information and messaging geared towards the specific readership – be it consumers or businesses – that you’re targeting.

Get to the point

It’s one of the accepted truths of PR – when communicating with journalists, get to the point. Quickly. With the pressure of producing high volumes of stories to tight deadlines, journalists usually do not have the luxury of 10 minutes to discuss things on the phone with you or browse through a press release to find the relevant snippets of information. So, when sending a press release, it needs to be instantly clear to the journalist what you’re trying to say. Clarity of language and making the point of your press release immediately obvious are vital.

The subject line that you use when emailing a press release to a journalist must reflect this; not only do you need to grab their attention, but also provide an understanding of the story you have to offer.

The covering email can be more important than the release itself

You can spends hours, days or even weeks working on creating a perfect press release that is well-balanced, engaging, superbly written and factually rich. However, if the covering email is not up to scratch, it may never get so much as a quick scan.

When sending a press release out to journalists – typically as an attachment or pasted within an email – you will need a short introductory email explaining why you are contacting that person and what the press release is all about. Even though it need only be a few lines long, this email can dictate whether the release is considered by a journalist. Again, the same key principles apply: keep your language simple, your messaging on point, offer some context for why you’re speaking to that particular person, and provide an engaging snapshot of the story you have to offer without drowning them in superfluous detail.

And try to be friendly – journalists are bombarded with press releases so a personal feel to your introduction can help set yours apart.

Emails are never enough

As much as the focus here has been on written communication, ultimately sending out a series of emails with your press release attached will only get you so far. Phone calls to discuss the press release before it’s emailed over or following up on one that’s been sent across are integral in ensuring it gets read.

Even great press releases can be easily missed in busy inboxes – a friendly phone call to draw a journalist’s attention to your release is an important part of an effective PR strategy.

Some other top tips

Here are some other very simple rules to follow to give your press release every chance of being taken seriously:

  • Spell the journalist’s name correctly
  • Avoid attaching a press release as a PDF – it will likely get stuck in people’s spam folder
  • You can offer a journalist or publication exclusivity on a press release, which will improve your chances of it being covered, but will restrict the amount of coverage you could secure from a single release
  • Include a quote in the release that is attributed to the business leader or a relevant industry expert
  • Include a ‘notes to editors’ section at the end of your release, which should include bios, company or product information, useful stats and links