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Press release know-how

Press Release
Emma Cowan on March 24, 2014 - 5:04 am in Advice

Emma Cowan has been editor of nine different magazines and has received many thousands of press releases over that time. She has also worked part-time in PR and has composed and distributed her fair share of stories. Here is a straight talking take on what she looks for in a press release.

How you word your press release, how you structure it and what you supply with it will largely determine whether it has a chance of being used.  Editors are generally time-poor and they want material that requires minimal work to re-write for publication. So if you’re taking a DIY approach to press releases – and let’s face it, many small business simply can’t afford a PR company – here are a few tips.

Time it right

There are two sides to the timing issue. One is to tell the editor when it’s okay to use your press release. Press embargoes are quite rare, but if you need to  put on an embargo, state the date and the time when your story can be used. Otherwise, simply write ‘for immediate release’ at the top of your press release.

The other element of timing is fitting into the publication’s schedule. If you’re aiming at a weekly newspaper, know what the editorial deadline day is and time your press release to hit the editor’s desk a day or two beforehand. Likewise, for monthly magazines, phone up and ask for the editorial deadline and be sure your story arrives on time.

Pull a punch

Press releases aren’t like stories, which build up to a climatic ending that reveals all. If you want to hook an editor, tell the story in the opening sentence and then expand upon it in more detail. For example, if you’re employing more people, don’t start off with a potted history of your company and then get around to saying you’re expanding – do it the other way around. Tell all your most important details first because editors will cut your story from the bottom up, which makes it all the more important to deliver your key message right from the get go.

Give me five

Tell the story with the five W’s – what, when, who, where, why. Cover those bases and you’ve got a story an editor can work with.  Again, remember the bottoms-up rule and try to get all the really vital information into the first half of the release.

A thousand words

They say a picture tells a thousand words and, for many editors, the decision on whether or not to carry a story depends upon a useable picture being supplied. Obviously, professional photography is best, but it’s not always essential, if you are good with a camera yourself or know someone else who is. The important thing is to supply a good photograph that is taken at the right resolution – print publications usually want a 300ppi quality image. Set your camera to the highest quality setting. Too many people in a photograph is also very off-putting – try to keep it to a maximum of five (three is better) and make sure you leave space over the heads. If you’re going for a portrait photograph of people standing up, don’t cut their feet off either.

Tease me

It’s usual to introduce your story to the editor in your email. Try to make your introduction attractive, for example, ‘Local firm XYZ Ltd is employing 10 new staff in a £000 expansion of the business – details attached’. The purpose of the teaser is to make the editor look at your release, so try to make your synopsis very short and very relevant.

On a Plate

Last, but by no means least, send your information in the right format. Even if you paste the release into the body of your email message, also attach a word document – easy to open, easy to edit equals easy to use. As for the image, NEVER, ever, embed a picture into your email. Always add the image as a jpeg attachment. This is standard format and, again, easy to use. Embedded images take time to extract and often turn out to be too low in resolution for print use.

Luck of the draw

Even with everything made easy for your target editors, whether or not your press release is used will depend on factors you can’t control – what else is happening in the news that day, what else is pre-planned into the publication, how many stories there are to choose from. At the end of the day, you can only do your best and hope. Good luck!

For more information on how Summerisland Consulting can help with press release writing, contact


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