It’s true that journalists receive dozens - sometimes hundreds - of emails a day, many of them from PRs and businesses who are vying for their attention. It’s also true that they will spend just a few seconds looking at a press release in order to decide whether it’s something worth their time (i.e. newsworthy enough to make it into print, or online).

So what is it that journalists are looking for, and how do you ensure that your press release stands out among the rest? As a former business correspondent on a regional daily newspaper, I have a few top tips to share:

Put yourself in their shoes

The emphasis is on newsworthiness here, the number one thing that journalists have in mind when deciding whether a story would be right for their readers. Ensuring that you’re targeting the right publication for the story you’re ‘pitching’ plays a huge part in this. For example, you wouldn’t submit a story about your new hairdressing salon to a manufacturing magazine would you? It wouldn’t be newsworthy, or relevant, to them or their audience. The second part involves having something of interest. Taking local business news as one example, good stories would include:

  • The launch of a new business
  • Turnover/profit growth
  • Growth into new sectors/countries
  • Staff growth (either looking to take on a number of new staff or recently taking on a number of new staff)
  • Award wins
  • Grant awards
  • Big contract wins
  • New innovative products
  • Premise moves
  • Mergers and acquisitions
If you’re new to PR, it might be a case of trial and error to see what works for different publications, but you’ll soon start developing a ‘nose for news’. The most important thing is not to get disheartened if you don’t hear back, or if your press release is rejected. Even those with many years’ experience don’t have a 100% success rate!

Sort out your structure

Journalists are taught to follow a specific structure, called the ‘inverted pyramid’, when writing news (features are different, and are generally more relaxed in their style). The inverted pyramid goes something like this when writing a business story:

  1. The ‘angle’ of the story in a nutshell (generally 15-30 words)
  2. A paragraph to give context
  3. First quote (usually by someone in the business)
  4. Additional information that doesn’t need to go at the top
  5. Second quote (perhaps by someone external, such as a user of that business’ services)
  6. Further additional information, or information about the business itself.
With this in mind you should aim to answer the ‘who?’, ‘what?’, ‘where?’, ‘when?’, ‘why?’ and ‘how?’ in any given press release. Bear in mind that quotes should not be a fact-repeating exercise - they should add opinion and value to a story.

Check your copy

Without meaning to sound like your secondary school English teacher, it’s vital to check and check again once your press release is done. Ensure there are no spelling mistakes, and banish meaningless words like ‘leading’ and ‘state-of-the-art’ - these are bugbears for journalists! I’d also recommend lower casing all job titles (if you don’t the journalist probably will), and add a ‘Notes to Editors’ section at the bottom with any additional information you think the person reading it will need to know. A contact number and email address should be included here.

By following these tips you’re already halfway there! Now for making contact with the journalist…

Find the most relevant person to email

If you contact the general news@ or info@ email address, there’s a high chance that your press release will get lost in all the noise. Take a minute or two to check the publication’s website to see whether there’s someone more relevant you can email, or call.

Keep it short and sweet

As mentioned earlier, journalists are under a huge amount of pressure, and as such they’ve only got a couple of seconds to decide whether your press release is worth their time. In my opinion the ‘pitch’ is as important as the press release itself - so make it count. Address them by name, but skip the niceties (no ‘how are you?’, or ‘I hope you had a good weekend?’), journalists prefer it if you get straight to the point.

Emailing is ideal but if you’re intent on calling, keep it succinct. Introduce yourself and the business you’re from and give a quick overview of the story you want to shout to the world about.

Top tip: Always accompany a press release with a couple of high-res images. In today’s digital age, videos are often appreciated too.

By Rebecca Smith-Dawkins, digital PR account executive at Impression