Writing rights and wrongs – press release 101

We all know how tough it can be to sit down to a blank sheet of paper and magic up a gripping, newsworthy story that will appeal to the press.

Trust us when we say that our whole team has, at some point or another, faced that crushing writers block that feels like you are hitting your head against a brick wall, or that pesky afternoon ‘lull’ in which your concentration quietly snoozes in the corner while you desperately try to string something meaningful together.

As a PR company, writing is part of our day job and fortunately for us, this has meant we have had years of practice to hone our craft, and fortunately for you, we want to share some hints and tips that we have picked up along the way.

Remember the five w’s. Yes, this goes back to our old school days spent in English, but is still a rule of thumb when it comes to writing. Try and lock down all five w’s – who, what, when, where and why – right at the start. Do this and you will have your readers’ attention from the get go. Failing to acknowledge these until mid-way through (or worse, at the end) can lead to a frustrated reader, which lets face it, no one wants!

Keep it short and sharp. We appreciate this can be really difficult when writing about a complicated subject, but if it’s possible, avoid waffle. Big long paragraphs will only turn a reader off. Keep it concise, with each paragraph consisting of 3-5 lines and only a few sentences. Plus, let’s not pretend that we haven’t all grimaced when opening a wordy 5-page document in the past!

Make it newsworthy. It’s funny what some people believe is newsworthy and what isn’t. But ultimately, if you take the time to write a release, you really need to stop and think about the best way to make the story appeal to a journalist. No one wants wasted manpower, which is what those few hours will be if you write a release that has no real story. Find a news hook and you will have your readers hooked!

Remember to proofread. Yes, it seems like an obvious one but you will be surprised at the amount of people who have succumbed to a grammatical slip up with an apostrophe or comma, or by those who have been tripped up by a spelling error, for which, there really should be no excuse (we hold our hands up to this too!)

Never underestimate the power of a quote. Pretty much any press release you see will consist of a quote. Quotes are a great way of putting forward what a client thinks about the topic, and often, a quote from someone high up will engage readers. If you look carefully, you will see many articles in newspapers feature quotes heavily, there is a reason for that!

Know your audience. It sounds a silly one but if you have a business story, write it for the business pages, if it’s consumer, put a consumer or human-interest spin on it and if it’s a blog post, it’s usually OK to write less formally. So remember, tailor your writing to the story and the audience.

Any finally, we love that writing is part of our day job, so remember, do as we do and enjoy it!

Victoria Henry, July 2015

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