How to get your press release read by journalists

Press releases
Written by SianElvin

It’s a Friday afternoon, I’m tired and I just want to go home (or more likely, to the pub). But I need a good story to fill my last couple of hours at work. A press release pops into my inbox. Hurrah! I think. A decent article to end my day.

But around nine times out of 10, I open up that press release to be disappointed, and end up sending it straight to the bin. Sorry, if you’re the person who works in public relations, I know us journalists are binning your hard work.

So here begins my campaign to ban bad press releases. If you’re considering working in public relations in the future – I know not everyone wants to be a journalist – this is well worth a read. It’ll help make both your job and mine more efficient. Win win.

What I want to see in your press release

Far too often, I receive a press release which contains dry statistics, isn’t relevant to my local area, or is basically an advert.

In a time where an entire world of information is posted online, and publications are increasingly short-staffed, I’m looking for a story which is going to stand out above the rest, and not take lots of extra time for me to put together.

So sorry, your release about car breakdown statistics across the South East just doesn’t cut it.

Student magazineThe top three things to always include in a press release are:

  • A case study to give the reader a human link (I cannot stress this enough)
  • Relevance to my publication (e.g. specialism or local area)
  • Pictures

A case study is of utmost importance to almost any press release. If you are trying to push a survey your client has carried out, find someone who has been affected by whatever the survey is about. For example, to accompany those car breakdown statistics, find someone whose car broke down four times in one journey between Manchester and Kent. I would write a story about that, and include your survey results and client at the bottom.

If you can’t include a person as a case study, make it interactive where you can. New product? Offer to send a sample. Restaurant refurbishment? Invite journalists in to do an honest review. New hotel? See if a photographer wants to go and take some pictures for a “first look inside” story. Think about what would catch a reader’s attention, and whether you would read it yourself.

To make sure your press release is going to be relevant to the publication you’re pitching to, spend some time doing your research. If you want Kent Live, for example, to publish your story, you’ll want to find statistics relevant to Kent. If you send statistics from the South East, you’ll either be ignored or see it sent back, asking for more area-specific information. Also if you can, make time to get to know journalists from places you’re planning on pitching to regularly. They’ll give you feedback, tell you more about the publication’s style and you’re more likely to have success getting something published if they remember your name when it pops into their inbox.

And finally, every single story needs a picture to go with it – there are no exceptions to this. So make sure you include one with every press release, and in high quality so it’s good enough to be printed in a newspaper or put online. And ideally, it’ll be an original picture and not a stock picture which makes me cringe.

What I don’t want to see

The number one thing is to remember is journalists are busy. There is always a story going on which is more important than yours (sorry, but it’s true). So don’t get on our wrong side by sending us irrelevant press releases, case studies which are off patch, or phrases like the below:

  • “Hi, I’m just reaching out”
  • “Thought I’d touch base with you”
  • “Here’s something a little outside of the box”
  • “I want to put this on your radar/flag this for you”
  • “Let me action this for you”
  • “I’ll get this to you by the end of play today”
  • “I’m just floating this to the top of your inbox”

None of these actually mean anything! When even is the end of play?

Other obvious things not to do – which sadly I see a lot of anyway – include sending press releases in PDFs (I can’t copy text from them) and not checking for obvious errors. Not getting my name correct at the top of the email is just going to start you off on a bad foot. Oh, and don’t be too vague. We want names, ages, locations, and specifics right down to the person’s inside leg measurement. I would much rather cut information out than send you a million emails asking for more details.

Don’t cold call me, because I’m likely to be in the middle of something and just ask you to email it to me anyway. Email it to me so I can deal with it when suits me. And don’t bother chasing me more than once. I may have missed your first email if I was on holiday or something, but if I don’t answer the second I’m almost definitely not interested.

If you follow the advice above, you’re over halfway to regularly getting your press releases published. Think like a reader, follow a publication’s style and you’re golden.

Happy pitching, and good luck with your career in public relations! I promise journalists aren’t as nasty as I’ve just made us sound.