Grab Editors' Attention with a Press Release that Tells a Story - Make a Living Writing

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

Carol Tice | 29 Comments

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

  1. Janet Hartman on

    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 on

      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.

  2. Mizan on

    Hi Gilly,Thanks for your writing.Writing Press Release sounds interesting & new to me.I think like other blogging,Press Release writing is another option to show the skills of writing & creativity.

  3. Karen on

    Excellent post; great advice re easy-to-reach contacts! As a freelance journo I could not believe it recently when I called 9 make-up artists — only reached 1 – and no c/b from any others! Don’t they want free publicity? Anyone in bus. for themselves should have live person answering phone at all times.

    • Carol Tice on

      Yeah, that makes me so nuts. I’m always tempted to leave a message that says, “Hello, free publicity calling! Don’t you want some?” But it is amazing how many companies won’t get back to you.

    • Gilly Fraser on

      It’s completely infuriating and it’s amazing how often it happens. A company will send out a press release, complete with name and telephone number of person to contact – but when you call, you’re told the person’s off on holiday – and no, no-one else can deal with that matter!
      Making sure someone’s available is surely a no-brainer – wouldn’t you think? Maybe we should write a manual for companies!

  4. niki on

    I loved reading that Gilly – I bash them out every day for work so it’s helpful to read your professional advice. My top tips would be to attach a photo as the story looks much more attractive and important with one and, if you haven’t got one, go out and get one as it may make the difference about whether they print it or not; always re-read your first draft out loud to make sure it sounds like you’re talking; include quotes from two sources whose contact details you can provide at the bottom in the notes to the editor; never use the word “very” and send it out to yourself with your media contacts in the blind cc box. Timing is important – if it’s for a weekly newspaper make sure you get it to them by their deadline or it might be old news by the time they go to press next week and if it’s an event you want the press to attend send it out three days in advance – no earlier – or it’ll just get swamped by other stuff on top of it in the journalist’s in-box and they’ll forget about it. The press release has to come “alive” in some way. I had success a couple of weeks ago with one about Royal Mail failing to put in a post box they’d promised to install last year. In the telephone conversation with a local person who was campaigning for the post box they droned on a bit and then said “and there’s an elderly lady who even has to take a taxi to the other end of town to post her letters” and I thought ah ha I’ve found the hook for my story and, sure enough, the local media loved that bit.

      • Karen on

        That’s right, Carol and Niki! And often after I think the interview is “over” and have turned off recorder.

    • Gilly Fraser on

      Hi Niki – I’m totally with you on with every word – all great advice. I especially loved the last bit – about the elderly lady and her taxi – I could feel my own reporter antennae going up as I read it!

  5. Michael Hicks on

    I love the fact that you emphasize getting right to the point
    as quickly as possible. Whether it’s a press release, a
    case study or web copy, readers have the attention span
    of a gnat. The faster you captivate their interest, the more
    likely they will read your story.

    Gilly’s press release example is further evidence that copy
    must be chronological in importance. When you state the
    most crucial information in the first paragraph, readers can
    walk away knowing that they got the “meat” of the story
    right up front. Further details can be nibbled on at their leisure.

    What an excellent article, Gilly. This is the first time I’ve read
    one of your posts, and I must say that I’m very impressed.
    And many thanks to Carol for hosting you. Well done!

    • Gilly Fraser on

      Michael – may I just say that you have completely made my day! Your comments are both kind and constructive and I’m more than delighted that you found my post to be of value.

  6. Cheryl Rhodes on

    Writing a good press release is another way for writers to increase their income. I’ve written a few in the past but its not been a niche that’s been profitable for me.

    I’m having a hard time wrapping my head around the press release example used in this article. I do agree that horse clippings are a real delicacy for dogs. Every dog I’ve had has loved them. Coming from someone who has hired many farriers over the years to shoe my horses and who’s had to pull the odd loose shoe from a horse, I just don’t understand how this could have happened to poor old Mutley. When removing a shoe from a horse, the farrier snips off the small piece of nail that is still showing on the outside wall of the hoof. Then the farrier picks up the horse’s hoof to pull as many nails out of the bottom as he can before removing the shoe. There are 8 holes in a shoe for nails. Farrier usually puts in 6 nails, maybe up to 8. Every farrier I’ve had has been meticulous when snipping the nail ends to make sure they don’t fall on the ground and if they do he searches for them immediately. Same when pulling the nails out. Farrier holds onto them and then puts the used nails into a bucket or his apron, or however he discards them. No farrier leaves nails on the ground. An animal or human could walk on them. If the horse is being shod in a driveway, a car could pick one up in a tire. There might still be a nail or two left in the hoof when the farrier pulls the shoe off, but its easier to pull as many nails as they can before pulling the shoe, so its likely some nails may still be stuck to the shoe when they pull it out. It would be very unusual for a nail to still be stuck inside the hoof somewhere before the farrier starts trimming the hoof. The farrier doesn’t trim that much hoof growth off, about a quarter inch to half an inch and not all in one lump. Much comes off as shavings, very thin pieces. In fact when they put the new shoe on, usually the nail holes from the old shoe are still visible lower down on the hoof. I just can’t picture how a nail could still be in a hoof while its being trimmed. The hoof trimmings drop on the ground, the dog eats them. I get all that. But with nails still in the hoof trimmings? That horse owner needs a new farrier. Something is not right with the one they have. I hope Mutley’s owner got some financial assistance from that farrier for their vet bill.

    Now I think that is a great story that could be sold to horse magazines.

    • Gilly Fraser on

      Really? Well in that case I’ve been doing it all wrong. For the past 30-odd years of being a horse-owner, I’ve always swept up after my farrier(s). I’ve clearly been spoiling them!

      • Cheryl Rhodes on

        In over 40 years of horse ownership and at least a dozen farriers over the years I’ve never had to clean up after a farrier. But yes I can see if a horse is shod on cement and the farrier just lets everything drop on the ground and afterward its swept into a pile and not put in a garbage can that a dog could eat hoof trimmings and nails.

  7. Sarah Russell on

    Great tips, Gilly! The first two sentences you shared definitely made me want to read the rest of the article 🙂

    I don’t do much with press releases right now, but will bookmark this article should I need it in the future. Thanks for sharing!

    • Gilly Fraser on

      Hi Sarah – Thank you very much for your comments – and I take it as a great compliment that you wanted to read the whole article.
      The actual details of your own recent post on disability insurance aren’t germane to me (since I’m in the UK) but I nevertheless found the article very thought-provoking and worthwhile and I’ll certainly explore the rest of your site.

    • Gilly Fraser on

      Thank you Heidi – I really appreciate your comments.
      As to ‘speaking finger’ – I confess I had a hard time with the concept to start with – being a bit ‘old school’ – but now I’m loling with the best of them and don’t even mind the odd emoticon (sparingly used of course,,,)!

      • Heidi Thorne on

        Welcome to the mobile jungle, Gilly! Hey, it took me quite a while to get an iPhone and iPad. Now they’d have to pry them from my cold dead hands. Thanks again for a great post!

  8. Kevin Carlton on

    Gilly, I guess another tip to add to your list of key points would be to make sure the release answers the what, who, where, when and why questions, i.e.

    What happened (or is happening)
    Who did it (or is doing it)
    Where it happened (or it is happening)
    When it took place (or it is taking place)
    Why it happened (or it is happening)

    • Gilly Fraser on

      Hi Kevin – thank you for that. All very valid points. However, I would also add that whenever possible, press releases should be sent out BEFORE the event. If the thing has already happened, many Editors won’t be interested, not least because there may no longer be a photo opportunity for them.

      Obviously this won’t always be the case, but if you have the choice – send the release to say the event (or whatever) is GOING to be happening. Then you can always send another one afterwards saying it happened – and that way you have two chances to get your story told.

    • Gilly Fraser on

      Emily, I’m so delighted to hear that – I believe that’s what they call serendipity.
      I hope you find something useful in the advice. As a journalist I saw so many press releases being binned – it would be great to think this might help others to stay out of the trash can!

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