When looking for media coverage, sending out a press release can be one of the most effective tools in an advocacy group’s marketing kit.
But with journalists receiving hundreds, if not thousands, every week, how can you make sure your release stands out in the crowded inbox? Here are five questions you should ask yourself when writing your press release to make sure it gets noticed.
1. Is it news?
The first thing you need to establish is if the thing you want to shout about is newsworthy. If it isn’t, it won’t be used, and you will have wasted your time. Ask yourself three questions: do I have any new information, is it anything unusual or unexpected, and would it be of interest to anyone outside of my organization?
Remember, different publications, programs and channels have different audiences, so what is newsworthy to one won’t necessarily be of interest to another. If you are not sure, watch, read or listen to the outlets you want coverage in to get a feel for the kinds of stories they usually cover.
2. What’s the subject line?
Journalists will typically spend just a few minutes deciding if something looks interesting. If they are not grabbed by your subject line, they will move onto the next email without even opening yours.
In your subject line, always write “press release” followed by your headline. Your headline needs to be catchy, but it also needs to be direct. If the journalist doesn’t understand what the story is the chances are they won’t open the email at all.
Don’t use complicated medical language or words that might be classed as jargon outside of the advocacy sector. You need your subject line to be short, to the point and easy to understand.
3. What’s the opening paragraph?
Once they have opened your email, the battle is not won. Next, you need to entice them to read the whole thing. Take that “newsworthy” angle you identified in step one and make it your first sentence.
It should be a 15 to 20-word summary of the story and read like a news item. Try to do what journalists do: get as many of the “five W” – that’s who, what, where, why and when – into your first sentence.
Ask yourself how the story would be introduced if it were an item on a radio news program. A presenter will usually have between five and 10 seconds to sum up a story – what would they say about yours? That’s your “top line.”
If your press release is about a case study, humanize it. For example, say “a mom-of-two” rather than “a woman,” or “a disability campaigner” rather than “a man.” If you are raising awareness of a new report or piece of research, pick the most surprising or enlightening statistics as your top line.
4. How much should you write?
Between 300 and 400 words is an ideal length for a press release. Anything less and you probably haven’t answered all the questions a journalist will have. Anything more and you have probably included information that isn’t relevant to your story.
Aim for four or five concise paragraphs and two or three quotes that really tell your story. Use jargon-free quotes to add insight, rather than to provide information. It might be important to the story to include prevalence figures, for example, but this should be in the main body of the release, not attributed to someone.
Save the background, including the details of your organization and detailed information of the therapy area, for the “notes for editors” section. This goes at the end of the release and doesn’t need to be included in your 300 to 400 words.
5. What about photos?
Your release will often stand a better chance of being picked up if you can provide high-quality images of the people involved in your story. If you are sending out a case study, it’s vital to include publication-quality photos. However, don’t send big files that can clog up inboxes and stay away from staged “corporate looking” shots.