The focus of all good copywriting is your audience. But with writing press releases there’s a subtle difference: you’re once removed from your readers.
Technically, your audience is readers of the magazine, newspaper or industry publication you want your news article to appear in. Whatever subject you write about should of course be of interest to them. But before your press release ever reaches them, it has to pass muster at the news desk first – where sits a journalist or copyeditor.
Journos and copyeditors are humans like us
They want an easy life. They want an article that leaps out of their inbox and screams ‘job done’ before they’ve even done it.
So how do we align ourselves with their ‘easy life’?
Well, we do what we always do with copywriting: put ourselves in someone else’s shoes before we ever put pen to paper.
We plan, we think, only then do we write.
Remember, these people on the news desk are under pressure to shift paper off shelves, or ore likely, boost the number of clicks on their website. They want stories that’ll help sell their newspaper or magazine and to do that they need read-made articles that practically write themselves.
Sadly, that usually that involves scandal, sensation and negativity: bad news sells.
Yet positive, human interest stories still sell. Revelations, breakthroughs and micro-tales of triumph over adversity have their place too.
So it’s your job to find a clear angle for your press release – the germ of a story that’s easy for a journo or copyeditor to run with.
What a well-written press release looks like
- A captivating headline: or two, written to appeal to their readers
- An unusual angle or spin: especially one that aligns with the M.O of the publication
- A précis: of what you’re trying to say and why, also who you are and what you stand for – be honest.
- Quotes and citations: written like people actually talk, saying something genuine and interesting, rather than paraphrasing body copy
- Statistics and evidence to back up your point: research done is one less job for the copyeditor – reference your sources
- Media assets: prepared links to video and images for the story saves them sending out a photographer, or scraping the web
- Contact details: the real name of someone they can chat to and a direct number for more information (not a department or general telephone number)
Don’t be afraid to be specific, especially if the publication in question is a trade magazine or fanzine. If you obsess over your art, and really believe in your cause – let that show. Your goal is to connect with likeminded people through your Why. Your story should provide evidence of that through the What (has happened) and How (it came about).
How to find an angle for your press release
That second item in our list is worth a post in its own right, but here are five bankers off the top of my head:
- What’s happening in current affairs? Can you relate to topics in the public arena – like mental health, environmentalism, Brexit?
- Is there a local angle? Tie your story in with local people, organisations and communities (always popular with regional publications)
- Is there a human story behind the story? Sure, you’ve got a product to launch but what about the people behind that?
- Have you asked which stories are most popular? Papers know which stories sell. Can you draw parallels with yours? Can you confirm or reinforce some worldview they already have (one you also believe, of course)?
- Will readers actually learn something from your article? People love to pass on new knowledge, especially if it’s on innovation, a discovery, contradicts received wisdom or otherwise gives them some reflected glory.
I’ve seen press-releases written by so-called PR firms that read like history lessons. Dull as ditch-water. You know the sort. Some grey man in a suit stands purposefully – looking like he means business, announcing how proud he is of some dull event that’s happened ad infinitum, in words that sound barely human.
Congratulations Nigel, on your stiflingly dull move to new premises. But tell me, is it the first ecologically sound one of its kind in the area? Is there heritage nearby that echoes your cause? Are you breaking the record for the quickest, most environmentally friendly office-move ever?
You can do better than this
Write a press release that’s ready-to-go and interesting. Frame it to yourself in terms of helping people – adding value to readers and the people you want to publish your story. Tailor it for each publication. Make their lives richer and easier and your press release will get picked up.
Remember, your object isn’t to reach everyone, it’s to get through to the right people. You can be specific, you can be bold, you can talk about the things that matter. A good journo or copyeditor will help you do all that – they’re on your side.
Follow this advice and you’re one step closer to reaching that goal.