Enticing media with engaging press releases: an informal manual

31 Aug 2021

As communications professionals, a press release is the quickest and easiest tool to make sure your news reaches the right audience. It is basically a short and compelling story written by brands to pique the media’s interest, thereby leading to a story in a publication, either locally or internationally.

While press releases are synonymous with traditional media outreach, the rise in social media platforms has given businesses an opportunity for direct communications with their consumers, without having to use journalists as intermediaries. This just means that when the tool is used, it needs to be more appealing than ever to stand out from other forms of content.

Want to make sure your press release catches media attention? Here are some key tips:

Headline, headline, headline

British property tycoon Lord Harold Samuel once coined the expression: “There are three things that matter in property: location, location, location.” In a press release too, there are three things that matter: headline, headline, headline. Headlines often give journalists a foretaste of what the content is going to be about, whether it’s relevant to them, and whether they should read on. Our cognitive biases mean that we rely on first impressions when making a judgement. No matter how well written your press release might be, it is likely to be ignored if your headline isn’t catchy enough.

When drafting a headline, you need to think about what will encourage the journalist to continue reading. The last thing you want is for your news to be misinterpreted; to avoid this, writers have to adopt a strategic mindset and draw an equilibrium. On the one hand, your headline needs to deliver the key message; on the other hand, it needs to make you want more.

The headline should share something new. There is no point in writing to say that you are announcing something, just announce, launch or introduce it. Go for the jugular and use your few words wisely!

Targeting the right audience

Although the content of your press release should be factual and concise, it doesn’t mean that you can’t bring in a personal touch. Paint a picture for readers in simple language to make your content seem more familiar, and avoid using jargon. Don’t expect others to guess what you mean, be clear and where necessary, walk through the process step by step.

While your press release should be immersive, make sure that it is not a labyrinth of stories that make your readers struggle to find the exit, or the core message. Spatiotemporal frameworks are the best way to win hearts and minds. To get your message across succinctly, consider the 5W1H model: Who are we targeting? What is our goal? When do we want to publish? Where do we want to be featured? Why having such a campaign? How to further leverage our outreach?

Don’t exaggerate

It is common to amplify the uniqueness of each brand’s offerings, but you will need to do so wisely to avoid potential backlash. Hyperboles and other amplificatory writing forms can be essential triggers but their use should be supported by evidence. If the product being promoted has been independently accredited, show the evidence. Avoid frequently using words such as “great,” “amazing,” or “unique.” What you hope to portray as a fact is a mere assumption to those outside your organisation. Always remember that journalists are trained sceptics and your press release is biased in nature. A successful press release seduces subtly and soberly.

Be alive!

Use the present tense unless you are concluding an event. This will make your press release lively, timely, relevant and help others better connect with the key message. Although your speaker’s statement was made in the temporal past, his or her thoughts are still of actuality. As English singer and songwriter Robert Plant once said: “The past is a stepping stone, not a millstone.”

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