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PR Dos and Don'ts: Press releases and how to get them right

Press releases, they're what PR is all about aren't they? Got some news – bang it out on a release and wait for it to get picked up.

PR has moved on a lot since the days when a press release was all it took to get a story published. There are so many different ways to reach the people you need to speak to, and those groups of people are changing too, getting their information from many different sources not just one publication. Add to that the number of press releases arriving in a journalist's inbox every day and it's plain to see that a press release has to work extra hard for its money.

So what makes the perfect press release?

First it's important to decide whether a press release is actually what you need. Would what you're trying to say reach the right people better through social media, perhaps through a briefing or even just a note on your website?

Once you've decided that a press release really is the best way to reach your customers, or that you want one as part of an integrated campaign, there are a few ways to make sure that your release makes it past the first hurdle: actually being read by a journalist.

Here are our top tips for a cracking press release:

1.   Send actual news
Will readers be interested in what you have to say? Does it affect them, and is it new? If not, then a publication simply will not publish a story based on your press release. This is where other communication channels come in - think creatively about what you want to say and the best ways to say it.

2.    The killer headline
Although I’ve included this way up near the top of my list, don't write it until the very end: when the press release is written and you can condense the main points into a snappy one liner. Remember this will be the title of your email: the first thing journalists see.

3.    Hardworking first paragraph
Any PR and journalist will tell you how important the first paragraph of any press release is. It needs to do so many things, in such a tiny space. It has to grab the journalist's attention, and at the same time must contain just about everything the journalist needs to know to decide whether or not to write your story. So in around 25 words, you need to answer the five golden Ws: who, what, where, why and how (ok how is clearly not a W but you get the picture).

The rest of the release is where you add the detail - there should be no surprises at the bottom. Many journalists won’t get past the first few words of your release, don't bank on them making it to the end!

4.    Grammar and spelling rules
I am a bit of a stickler for grammar (yes I'm the person who corrects posters in the office kitchen!) but I'm not the only one. Getting spelling and grammar right means your press release won't be instantly relegated to a deleted folder, it could be the difference between your story being published or just being spiked. Which leads to my fifth golden rule:

5.    Check, check and check again
Use spell check and read through your press release - reading aloud often throws up problems you might not notice if you quickly scan through it. Then get it checked by another person, maybe someone who isn't as close to the subject as you are so they can point out where things could be unclear to a journalist who doesn't know as much about your news as you do.

6.    Target your release
Make sure the journalists you issue your release to will be interested - so don't send a release about a new channel programme to someone who only carries out product reviews. They won't care about your fantastic news, in fact they could get annoyed if they're bombarded with irrelevant updates and may start ignoring any news that comes from you, even if it's right up their street.

7.    Get the timing right
Think about when you're going to issue your release. Five o'clock on a Friday is not a great time to contact journalists. Also look at the news you’re sharing – could it wait a few days so that you can set up some briefings around it beforehand?

8.    Contact details
How are journalists going to get in touch if they want more information? Always make sure you add your contact details (phone and email).

It isn't hard to create a hardworking press release, but it does need thought and preparation. Monitor your coverage and be prepared to learn if you don't succeed. Look at what you could have done better and make sure you do it next time - a hugely important lesson for writing press releases, and any PR activity.

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