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Writing effective press releases

This resource was commissioned for the event, When Religion Makes the News, but it applies to anyone working in communications or PR.

News releases fail because:

  • They don’t contain news, are too specialised or too insignificant
  • They are badly written
  • They are too technical for the audience
  • They are not accurately targeted

The aim must be always to communicate the main point quickly and simply.

You are not trying to produce a literary masterpiece!

Before you start, ask yourself who it is for and where you hope to achieve coverage. This will help determine length, style, degree of specialism if it is a technical subject.

Most subjects will require more than one version of the release. Try to get into the mind of the prospective reader/viewer/listener.

Writing Style Key Points:

  • A short factual or eye-catching headline is best
  • The main point (the news) must be in the first paragraph
  • The least important information should come at the end
  • Include all relevant information in the first or second paragraphs – who? what? where? when? why? how?
  • Write in the third person. No personal pronouns
  • Keep the language simple, avoid long words
  • Do not include superlatives like ‘excellent’, ‘superb’
  • Avoid clichés
  • Avoid jargon
  • Use the active, not the passive, ie. ‘John Brown chairs the discussion’ not ‘The discussion is chaired by John Brown’.
  • Keep the paragraphs short
  • Don’t repeat the same words or features too often
  • Include quotes, attributed to a senior person (except for releases for broadcast media)
  • Accuracy is essential! Double check figures, etc.
  • Edit, re-edit and edit again

Presentation Key Points:

  • Keep it short, ideally one side of A4, two at most (unless a specialised technical article)
  • Use 12pt double spacing
  • Put today’s date at the top
  • Put ‘ends’ at the end
  • Include a contact name, ‘phone numbers, at the foot of the release. Make sure that that person will be available to respond very promptly to press enquiries.
  • If relevant, include additional background information about the organisation in ‘Editor’s Notes’ at the end of the release
  • Provide a good photograph, if appropriate; identify individuals in it with a caption at the foot of the release
  • Send as part of an email, not as an attachment
  • If embargoed*, this should be clearly stated at the top of the release
  • Timing is important – learn the deadlines

Remember – no journalist is obliged to use your release exactly as you have written it. If they use it at all, it’s likely they will cut and paste. Make sure it is clearly written and unambiguous to avoid mistakes.

 *embargoed: Not to be used until after the specified date and time.

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Copyright of the author, Christine Warwick, PR Consultant

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