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Writing a press release that works


As a publicist, it is still a good idea to follow the basic rules of writing good advertising copy to make your story interesting, readable, and always make the product the hero.

However, when you work as a publicist, you also need to remember that you are writing for a very specific market.

A press release is a pseudo news story.

You have not paid for the space so you will need to demonstrate to an editor that your story is newsworthy before they will even consider publishing it.


Get to know your marketplace

Once upon a time, last century, a press release was part of a full press kit that was accompanied by a pitch letter and was hand-delivered by a troupe of dancing girls or a butler in full dress, or sent by fax, snail mail or sometimes e-mail.

In those days a press release followed hard and fast rules: always use the company letterhead, always type double-spaced, never staple photos to your press release, always glue an identifying caption on the back of your photo, etc. etc. etc.

The press kit sought to demonstrate to an editor the newsworthiness of a person, event, service or product. It was part of an invitation for an editor to allocate a journalist to cover a particular event or topic.

These days, most editors don’t have the luxury of having enough time to send out a journalist to cover a media circus and most stories are sourced, researched and written on electronic media – and if you know this and work to the editor’s deadlines so you can send in a story that is written in the style of the publication, you have a much better chance of getting your story published.


Supply a good photo

It is always a good idea to supply your own photo. If it is a quiet news day the editor may send out a photographer to cover your event, but again, you have a better chance of getting your story published if you supply your own digital photo that is interesting and high-res that you can email along with your story.

Check that your photo is in focus with good contrast.

Avoid fussy or distracting backgrounds and do make your photo as interesting as possible, rather than another line-up of smiling faces.

Does your photo tell a story? Happy snaps are often useable, so long as they are high res and not fuzzy.

Again, do some homework with past issues to see what types of photos are preferred by the publication.

Your photo is the hook – along with your headline – to interest the reader so that they want to read more.

Think about that editor and what they want.

If you supply a good photo and a good headline that follows the style of their publication, you are more likely to be published.


Write an interesting headline

It is pointless to write a tabloid headline for a broadsheet newspaper, just as it is useless to write an advertising headline for a publicity release.

Write for your market because your story may not run if editors have to take the time to rewrite your headline.

Take the time to do some homework and actually read a couple of issues of the publication you want to print your story so you can write in the style of their journalists.


Tell a story, don’t write an ad

Once you have your eye-catching high-res photo and your attention-grabbing headline, write your story – and do make it newsworthy.

The editor doesn’t really care if you offer a great range, super customer service and commitment to quality – that’s advertising jargon where you pay for the space so you can try to bore your market into buying a product if your client demands it.

This is a whole different territory where the editor wants news so find that newsworthy hook if you want to sell your story.

If you have done your homework, you will have realised by now that journalism is a whole different style of writing to writing advertising copy, or writing a thesis, or writing a thank-you letter to your great aunt.

Look at a recent newspaper story and analyse it.

When you break it down you’ll find that the main points of the story all appear in the first paragraph.

If it is a lead story that runs over a couple of columns, the main points will be in the first two paragraphs.

Make sure your main points are right up there in the first paragraph, then in your following paragraphs you can flesh out your story, tell some interesting background, put in a quote if it supports your story, even make a joke if it is appropriate and will interest your readers.

Your last paragraph should contain your call to action.

  • Who do people contact for more information?
  • What's the best phone number to use, that will be answered?
  • Where do they buy tickets?
  • When does this product go on sale?
  • Is there a deadline?
  • What do they need to know to buy/see/test/use your product or service?

The reason that news stories are written to this format is because - if they need the space - sub-editors will cut your middle paragraphs no matter how long or how hard you laboured to polish your sentences. When this happens to one of your stories, you can save yourself some angst by following the formula so you can instead congratulate yourself on knowing the newspaper world well enough to get the main points you wanted to cover in your headline and final paragraph.

If you are a good publicist, you need to take your ego out of the story. You have to balance "sell the product" with "tell the story".

If you are first and foremost an advertising copywriter you definitely have to take your natural inclination to sell, sell, and sell out of your story. Remember that you are not writing advertising copy, but a pseudo news story.

You need to think like a journalist.




Now that you’ve written a brilliant press release, there are just a couple more things to do:


  • Let the editor know that you’ve finished your press release. Put a –o0o- in the centre of your page to visually signal the end of the story.
  • Right under the end, put your contact details. If there is any problem, or a reporter wants to check a point with you before publication, you can be reached quickly and your story has a better chance of being published i.e.


If you'd like more information about this topic or would like to schedule an interview, please contact Sue Bagust @ Ideas Unlimited


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