If you’re looking to get media coverage for your small business, knowing how to write a press release is an essential skill. But what should you include in your press release? How long should it be? And who should you send it to? Here’s everything you need to know to get started…
What is a press release?
A press release is a document that gives journalists the information they need to decide whether or not they want to cover a story.
For local or industry titles, a well-written press release that includes compelling quotes can be published, almost without change. On a national publication, the journalist will almost always want to do their own research and interviews.
When should you send a press release?
I like to think of a press release as a written announcement. This might be about a new product/service you’re launching, an event you’re running or a significant change in your business, like a merger or buyout. So you should only send a press release if you have something new and/or newsworthy to share.
A good way to tell if something is newsworthy is to think about the things that interest you. What have you read, watched and listened to over the last week or so and why did those those stories grab your attention?
It's important to be realistic. While you might be excited about your new handwash fragrance or online yoga course, would any really care (apart from your nearest and dearest?).
It's also worth considering that what might be 'news' to one publication/programme might be different to another. For example, your local newspaper may be keen to cover your nomination for a local business award, but this is unlikely to be of interest to a national.
That's why it's vital to read, watch or listen to the publications or programmes you’d like coverage in to get a feel for the kind of stories they typically cover.
What should you include in a press release?
Most journalists get hundreds of press releases each week - many of which don't even get opened. So it’s a good idea to label the subject header of your email with the phrase ‘press release’ or ‘story idea.’
A great subject line is also a must - but don’t try to be mysterious or clever. If your story is about the first 'men only' nail bar in your town, you might be tempted to write something like 'Local business owner nails it' - but this will mean nothing to a busy journalist. If you're opening the first 'men only' nail bar in your town....that's exactly what your subject line should say. You can also use your email subject line as the headline of your press release.
The first line of your press release should be a summary of the story (ideally no more than 15-20 words) and read like the opening line of a news article.
Journalists are generally taught to get as many of the 5ws (who, what, where, when and why) in the opening line of a story - so if you want examples of great first lines for press releases - look no further than your daily newspaper.
Quotes from people in your company can be helpful for journalists (and on a regional or trade publications are often used, word for word). I'd recommend including at least two quotes in a press release.
A common beginner’s mistake is to use quotes to provide information e.g. ‘Last year, we exported 1m tonnes of olives to 10 European countries.’ But quotes should be used to provide insight and opinion and sound like a real person said them. And they definitely shouldn’t be full of jargon or technical language.
This Slideshare presentation shows you how to write a press release, step-by-step (with examples), including how to write a great headline, opening sentence and quotations.
How long should a press release be?
A single side of A4 is a good length for a press release. Sub-headings and bullet points can be useful to make information easy to digest, particularly if you’re including figures or statistics.
How and where should a press release be sent?
Press releases should generally be sent by email, but avoid sending them to generic addresses e.g. editor[email protected] as these often don’t get checked regularly.
Make it your mission to find out the name and email address of the person who will be able to make a decision about whether or not to run your story. Here is some more information on how to find journalists' contact details.
Should a press release be sent as an attachment?
Paste your press release into the body of an email (a busy journalist may not bother to an open an attachment).It’s also a good idea to include a short summary of your idea (no more than a paragraph) and where you think it might fit in the publication or programme you’re pitching to. Here is some more information on how to write an email pitch for a journalist.
And should you send photos with a press release?
Yes - if they’re relevant to the story. But don’t send big files as these can clog up peoples’ inboxes.
What happens if you don't get a response to your press release?
You probably won't hear back from a journalist unless they're interested in your story - not even to get a 'thanks but no thanks.'
That said, in a busy newsroom, things can get missed. So there’s no harm in putting in a follow up phone call to chase. But if you’ve followed up a few times and not had a response, it’s probably safe to assume they’re not interested.
Take another a look at your idea to see if anything can be improved and offer it elsewhere. And don’t be disheartened if it takes you a few gos before you’re successful. It’s not easy to get journalists’ attention - particularly on the nationals - and it can take years to build up the know-how and contacts to get regular coverage. But if you’re persistent, consistent and willing to learn from your mistakes (and you will make them), you will get there.