The question all PR agencies, marketing managers and CEOs ask themselves. When it comes to getting my news out there, how can I make a journalist sit up and pay attention to my news?
Well, we asked freelance journalist, Vicki Power, just what makes a story jump out of her inbox and right onto the page. Here’s her take on how to best pitch your feature or press release:
As a publicist, your dream scenario is sending a press release that grabs a journalist in a chokehold and doesn’t let go until they’re under your spell and wondering how soon they can publish that story about the widget/computer chip/tech solution you’re promoting.
If you don’t manage it, one click and your release is in the trash. As a journalist of 30 years’ experience who writes about TV, showbiz and travel, I’ve deleted more press releases than I’ve had black coffees on a deadline. So what I think makes a great press release may be useful information, no matter what sector you work in.
To achieve ultimate press release nirvana, think like a journalist. Make your release as much like a ready-made story as possible, emphasising something that’s new, taps into a trend, is unique, or works for a niche topic I cover.
We’re always thinking about words and headlines, so a punchy subject line for your email release is crucial. My ideal subject line would be ‘George Clooney available for interview,’ obviously, because that’s valuable information I can work with. But on a less thrilling note, just this morning I was amused by an email that began: ‘Just when you think it’s safe to go back in the water,’ and it prompted me to click on it. For a person of my vintage, the amusing use of Jaws’ tagline was cute – it turns out the PR is promoting a week of shark-themed TV shows, which is useful if not earth-shattering information for me.
A PR friend who works in the food industry shared with me a subject line that got her oodles of responses from food and health editors, which was: ‘Diet Coke could kill me.’ She was publicising an aspartame-free cola and included a case study from a woman for whom the artificial sweetener was toxic.
Not all products or new launches can produce such joyous clickbait, granted, but a captivating subject line is a good start. Once the email’s been opened, hit recipients with an intriguing headline like: ‘The MaxPro Gizmo will revolutionise the UK’s communications network.’ Chances are a tech journalist will be eager to know how that’s going to work. What might supersede that info is a survey result – journalists crave a news angle, and if you’ve commissioned a survey that’s yielded noteworthy info, I’d want to know that first.
The best press releases are well- targeted. Just this morning I was annoyed to receive a follow-up email from a PR asking how I had felt about her release (which I’d ignored) promoting a new range of gin. I’m a TV journalist, mate – how I felt is irked that you hadn’t done your research.
A press release written like a news story is manna to a journo. We’re very short on time – you’d be surprised at how few staff journos are putting together your favourite newspaper or magazine these days. Help out by telling us who, what, when, where, why and how this gizmo will transform lives and include dates, prices, links. I can’t stress enough that we haven’t got time to think about what you’re trying to say with your flowery lingo. We need to be able to see straightaway how this story would work and where to place it. Use bullet points if you can: anything to save us time.
A bit of light humour is always welcome, but a try-hard is tedious and overfamiliarity a turn-off. Please don’t call me gorgeous, as in ‘Hello, gorgeous.’ Yes, that’s happened.
Do include a case study of a person or business whose fortunes have been transformed by the gizmo; if that’s not appropriate, draft in an expert to explain why the gizmo is a must-have and keep his or her quotes snappy. But a sentence starting, ‘The CEO of ProMax Gizmo plc is excited to announce…’ would make anyone glaze over. Squeeze a more interesting tidbit out of the CEO or quote somebody else.
As for the look of your release, tickle my eyeballs – a wall of tight copy, even if it’s been written by JK Rowling, is just too dense to navigate by a frazzled journalist on multiple deadlines. Break up copy a pretty picture – a few low-res images dotted throughout the release also provides visual confirmation of what you’re saying. Include a link to hi-res images – this is a deal-breaker, as is your email address and phone number. If you’re off on holiday soon, include a colleague’s contact details.
Proofread your release and get someone else to proofread it, too. Sloppy grammar and especially misspellings will cause your credibility to shrink faster than yesterday’s birthday balloon. Journalists are very judgemental about that kind of thing.
Lastly, keep it short and sweet. One side of A4 is all you get to charm our socks off. You can do it!