Grab Editors’ Attention with a Press Release that Tells a Story

Carol Tice

sad-little-jack-russel-terrier-dog-xsBy Gilly Fraser

Writers who can create great press releases are valued — and valuable.  However, newsrooms receive dozens of press releases every day… and most go in the trash can.

Why?

They fail to grab the reader’s attention. A press release must make an immediate impression.

If you’d like to add press releases to your list of services, here are my tips on how to create compelling releases that get your clients media coverage.

Why press releases hit the trash

Often, the editor reading your release is either:

a) too busy
b) too impatient
or
c) too lazy to read beyond the opening paragraph.

Don’t bury the gold – make the story obvious

The point of the story must be in the first couple of sentences. Detail comes later.

For instance: I recently had great success with a press release for a local veterinary practice. A dog had eaten horse hoof-clippings following a visit by the farrier – apparently they’re considered a delicacy in the canine world!

However, the dog also swallowed several nail ends. He needed major surgery to survive.

My press release began:

Horse-owners are being warned to be vigilant about picking up nails discarded during horse-shoeing after an elderly dog ate several and had to undergo major surgery.  Fourteen-year-old Mutley had to have more than a foot of small intestine removed in an emergency operation.

Those two sentences introduced the dog, summarized the problem, and gave a warning which broadened the audience beyond just dog owners.

Subsequent paragraphs described the dog’s breed, detailed the veterinary treatment, and provided quotes from both veterinarian and pet owner.  Photographs were included of the dog — and of an x-ray showing nail ends in the animal’s gut.

The one-page press release ended with contact numbers for owner, veterinarian and PR person (me).

The result? This story was used by local and national newspapers, radio stations and television channels plus canine, equestrian and veterinary magazines. A national TV breakfast show even did a live broadcast from the family’s living room – complete with recovering dog.

The importance of good – and available – contacts

It’s vital to include contacts for further information and interviews – and equally important to ensure they’ll be available.

If the journalist can’t reach them easily – the story risks being binned.

The press release as bait

If you lack writing clips, why not experiment – put together a mock press release as a sample of your writing.

It will show prospective clients you can write – and you know how to sell a story.

The press release can also be a deal-clincher to offer prospective clients.

Other key points to remember:

  • If a press release is promoting something commercial — don’t make it a blatant advertisement. Try to find a case study to illustrate the value of the product.
  • If the press release is emailed, attach low-res photographs, but state that high-res versions are available on request. The paper will appreciate the offer if it has few staff — or a small budget.
  • Offer ‘real people’ as interviewees rather than worthy but dull experts.
  • Don’t use jargon and if the subject is complex, simplify it as far as possible.

Have you written press releases? Leave a comment and share your tips, or ask your press-release questions.

Gilly Fraser was a journalist for 25 years, working in newspapers, radio, and TV. She now works freelance on a wide variety of media-related subjects. She says she spends her days ‘running very fast to stand still.’

29 Comments

  1. Peter D. Mallett

    Thanks Gilly and Carol. I have wondered about doing these for the couple of organizations I have been a part of.

  2. Janet Hartman

    I send media releases for a local nonprofit and regional publications pick them up. I do everything you recommend except I was taught to put the contact info at the top, not at the end. I can see that it might be best to put the story first. Does it really matter?

    • Gilly Fraser

      Actually Janet that’s an interesting point – and I think it’s a geographical divide. I’m in the UK and we always put the contact details at the bottom of the press release, but I think in the USA you may put them first. Can’t quibble with either version really – can see the logic in both.

  3. Ariella Tice

    This is a very interesting web site.
    It seems like you have taught loads of people how to make a living writing.

    -Ariella (Leafpool)

    • Carol Tice

      Hi Honey! (Meet my daughter, all.)

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