Despite what some people say, the press release still has a place in our comms toolkit. This helpful new post provides a useful guide to creating an effective release.
by Emma Lyons
For me a good press release is at the heart of the campaigns I work on. It pulls together all of the relevant information, all the key messages and forces me to focus on what I am trying to tell the reader. What do I want them to do as a result? It also means I have to have a good think about what makes it news worthy, why would people want to read about what I have to tell them?
I got thinking about this when I was trying to help a member of my team improve their press release writing skills. Whilst they are really good at writing short snappy social posts, a different approach is needed for writing a news story and so we started looking at how to bridge that gap.
At first I questioned whether my ancient experience in PR is relevant still. Maybe things have moved on and it’s all about social. Maybe we don’t need press releases anymore?
But, I think we do. To be honest if what I write goes in the local rag then that’s great, but putting together a good news story is so much more than that. It’s storytelling, and once you’ve mastered that, putting together content for the rest of your campaign suddenly gets a lot easier.
All too often we churn out ‘information’ and not news. I think my days at a vicious PR agency have drummed in to me how important it is to find the news angle, how to make the facts interesting and how to get this into a few words in the first line!
Plus it’s not just the press who see our news releases. We publish them on our website, we link to them in our social posts, we send them out to key stakeholders, all our elected members see them, staff read them. Even if the story doesn’t get printed it’s worth doing anyway.
So after much thought and discussion, we’ve had a bit of a recap of the basics of putting together a press release. Here’s what we’ve set out as things for us to think about when writing a news story:
Why is this news? Simply getting information out isn’t enough. Is it about something that’s new, is it a change of direction, is it an announcement, what will it bring to the community or to businesses? Find this angle and lead with it.
Don’t spend ages on thinking up a creative headline – the papers will likely change it anyway. Equally, don’t make your headline three sentences long! Sum up your main point in a way that makes people want to read your news.
That first paragraph counts. Imagine everyone will stop reading after it. Have you managed to get your main point across right from the start? If you had to explain the whole thing to someone in one sentence what would you say?
Follow with the details. Don’t try to cram too much in at the start. Lead with the news hook and include the finer details once you’re further into the release.
Check for ‘who, what, why, where, when’. Have you covered the essentials? Sometimes when we’re so close to a project we forget the obvious.
Use your quote to say something that’s not as easy to say in formal text, make it human. This is your chance to say something with empathy, to show an understanding of the readers’ point of view and outline our call to action.
Sign off with the details of your call to action – how do you book, where do you go for more information.
When you’ve finished drafting your press release, take a minute then look through it from the readers’ point of view – will it make sense to them if they know nothing about the story? Do they have the basics to do what you’d like them to do next?
On top of all of this, it may sound obvious but make sure you get your content approved. You don’t want anything to be news to your management team or service lead. If you’re quoting an elected member they need to be aware of the story you are writing and of course approve any quotes. If you’re announcing a change in anything to do with a new service or a new charge – do due diligence and make sure it’s been through the council approval process. Trust me, we’ve taken this for granted before and paid the price!
Emma Lyons is communications and marketing manager at Wyre Council
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Image via Maff Long