Human interest: The key to writing an effective press release
Written by Sarah Rowland
Last updated: 20/10/2016
So, your business or brand has just achieved something major: You’ve just sold a unique or impressive unit to a new market, you’re celebrating a new addition to the management team, or your team has just completed a challenging charity fundraiser. Now you want to tell the world how great you are, so you turn to the traditional press release to get the word out there.
Still as important in reaching the media today as it was 100 years ago, there are some clear rules to be considered when writing a press release, which often puts some businesses off from tackling this challenge.
Yachting Pages details below the key to writing effective press releases, helping marine businesses to gain coverage for their brand, not only via Yachting Pages' superyacht news pages, but within a wealth of superyacht publications and more.
What is a press release?
First things first, what is a press release? A press release, a news release or a press statement is a written communication that is strategically targeted at members of the news media in order to announce and inform of an incident or event that is considered to be news, or newsworthy.
It should clearly present the facts and important information of a significant event to encourage coverage by the media, offering a layout that is noticeably distinct to this form of communication.
Is my story or event newsworthy?
Before you even begin to draft a press release, you should ask yourself: “Is there value in this story?”, “Is it newsworthy, does it warrant a release?”, “Would I be interested to read this story myself?”.
You should not write or issue a press release using material that is simply not newsworthy. Your aim is, after all, to get coverage and raise awareness among your target audience(s), and the story will not be picked up if it is not considered to be interesting or relevant.
If you answered ‘no’ to any or all of the above questions, your time and efforts could be better focused elsewhere, perhaps sharing your update via word-of-mouth at industry events, or online via your business website or social media channels.
A human-interest angle is key to any press release. If you can show that your news or event will have an impact on people, especially those within the industry in which you work, you are on to a successful release. You just have to ensure that you abide by some very significant rules to ensure that it is as easy as possible for journalists to use your material for that all-important coverage.
What should go into a press release?
First and foremost, you should consider the ‘who’, ‘what’, ‘where’, ‘when’, ‘why’ and ‘how’ of your news story. Where possible, try to include these concisely in your first paragraph in short, punchy sentences. This can be difficult, but if you keep trying you will be able to communicate the benefits of your event, immediately grabbing the journalist's (and the end-readers) attention.
A press release is typically around four or five paragraphs in length, with a word limit between 400 to 500 words – which is about the length of this article up until this point. Ideally, you should use as few words as it takes to convey the facts of your story. Leave the descriptive language to the journalist, and the sales pitch for your clients. A press release should be as factual and objective as possible.
If you can capture the essence of your story in 50 words or fewer, just as in a news story in the newspaper, you are on the right track. Aim to provide just two sentences in your first paragraph of 25 words or fewer. Editors often edit from the bottom of a press release upwards, but remember, the most important points should always be here at the top.
What is my angle?
Well, who is your target audience? If you are targeting the readers of a very specialist industry website or publication, your angle will be very different to the readers of the local newspaper. If you are hoping to target both, you should issue two very different releases.
When thinking about your target audience, it’s useful to understand what they know about your company and its products, and the type of language that they will understand. This will help you to realise just what may be interesting to these readers, and how to express it. Most importantly, the content should be objective, informative and factual rather than heavily sales-driven or promotional – the release is about your business's achievements which celebrate your success, rather than your business's greatness itself.
Writing a press release: Structure and format
Hopefully by now you’ve got the hang of what a press release is, what it should be used for, and realised and drafted the content to be included. Now, it’s time to pay attention to the structure and format of your release.
Timing: Immediate release or embargo?
At the top of the release, you should indicate whether your release is available to be released immediately, or if it is embargoed until a certain date. If so, you will need to provide the date.
Generally, immediate release is sufficient and preferred, as it can be frustrating for journalist to receive a release that they are unable to publish straight away, and this can give it time to be forgotten about if received too far in advance. However, journalists are able to contact you about the release in the meantime, which can give the story chance to gather further depth and momentum.
Underneath, give your release an attention-grabbing title. This should intelligently summarise the story, so you could even write this once you have finished your release. Keep it short, get to the point, use industry keywords (but avoid jargon) and try to create an emotion. If this sounds difficult, you could read the aptly titled article from Howtocreateapressrelease.com.
This title is just a suggestion to the journalist, so try not to pay too much attention to whether the title will work in print as journalists can opt to change this if it’s not suitable.
Ideally, you will use double spacing with wide margins. Alongside the short, factual content, presented in concise, punchy sentences, this will help the journalist in reading and making notes on your release. You could use hyperlinks to websites and resources (sparingly) throughout your text if they add value and understanding to your story.
Remember to include quotations throughout your text where relevant. This not only helps to give perspective and personal opinion, but it adds interest. Ensure this is not heavily self-promotional or sales driven, as it will likely not make the cut. It should be authentic, adding more detail to the story in your own words rather than simply repeating the content of the press release.
Use as few words as it takes to get your point across. After all, it’s not an article - it’s an informative press release.
Before sending it on, take out the flowery language and unnecessary explanation and keep the copy as tight as possible. Your story should be understood in just the first paragraph, while your second should expand on the first. The final paragraphs should outline any final information or mention forthcoming news, such as products in development, for example.
Ending the release: Background and boilerplates
Signal the end of your release by adding ‘ENDS’ in bold. After this, you can add, “For further information, please contact…”, adding the details of the elected employee. It’s a good idea to include a mobile so that journalists can make contact out of hours, especially if the release is international, spanning different time zones. The more contactable you are, the better.
Beneath this, you could include ‘Notes to editors’, which gives a short background to the company for those who do not know. This is known as a boilerplate. You could also indicate here that photographs are attached or available – these should typically not be pasted in the release itself as it can sometimes look unprofessional, or cause emails to be caught up in SPAM filters.
High-resolution photographs and multimedia
A report from PR Newswire shows that providing eye-catching images with your press release increases engagement and social media sharing, expanding your audience up to 92%. A mix of multimedia images and videos could further increase this to 552%!
Remember, photographs should be high quality (minimum 300dpi) and relevant, showcasing what it is that you are sharing where possible. You could also include a high-resolution company logo.
Sending in JPEG or PNG format, you should save your images with relevant captions and copyrights. They should usually be of a file size between 0.5 and two megabytes. Alternatively, you could include a link that states that high-resolution photos are available from your email address or at a hyperlink to Dropbox or a similar file-sharing site.
Distribution: Targeting and promoting your press release
Email is the typical means of distribution of a press release. It’s widely used, it’s immediate and it’s easy. Paste the copy of the press release into the body of the email itself in plain text rather than adding it as an attachment.
Once you have carefully selected the publications to send your release to, you may contact the publication to ask for the email address of the person that should receive it, but it’s not generally a good idea to chase the receipt of the email afterwards to find out if they have received it as busy journalists hate this.
Other distribution channels
If you do not have the time or confidence to write a press release yourself, or to source a distribution list, you could use one of many PR or distribution services. To reach the marine and superyacht industries specifically, you could contact Yachting Pages for targeted help with your PR and marketing activities.
To find out where your story has been covered, you can set up ‘Alerts’ on Google, Bing, Yahoo and other Internet search engines. Adding one for your company name will help to bring up your coverage. Some distribution services and publications will also send you a coverage notification if your story is used.