Do you know the Five W’s? It’s one of the first things journalists learn: Who? What? Why? Where? When? (‘How?’ is often included too.) Answering these questions should cover all the angles of a story.
You can use the Five W’s to your advantage to make sure your story is covered. Think like a journalist. The top line of a good news report will answer all of these questions. So treat your press release as a news report. Good news writing is simple. It’s about facts, not flair. So even if you have what you think is a great intro, perhaps a good play on words, don’t use it! Get to the point and get there fast.
Who are we talking about? Is it your organisation? Is it a person within your organisation? Is it your client? In PR, you’re working for the client. Get their name in right at the top of your release. Again, keep it simple. Don’t get flashy.
What have they done? Most importantly, what is newsworthy about it? Why will a journalist reading this want to cover it? When sending your release you must make sure it’s timely. If you can, fit it into the news of the day/week. It’s much more likely to be covered. Also make sure there’s no big story breaking as your release will get lost.
Don’t lose perspective: What might be important to you or your client may not be important to the news organisation you’re sending it to. Journalists can also see straight through an attempt to make something sound more newsworthy than it really is so keep it straight. Make sure you are sending your release to the right publications, those that are likely to be interested in what you have to say. Otherwise it’s a waste of your time and, most likely, an annoyed journalist with a full inbox.
Why should the news organisation care? Most importantly, why is this important to the public? While you must always consider how journalists think, never lose sight of the fact that the journalist is, in turn, thinking about what the public wants. Why is this something that people will want to know about? What’s in it for them?
Also think about why your company/client did what they’ve done or are planning to do. Why do people need to know about it?
When did this happen? Are you talking about brand new research conducted this year? Is it an event that took place at the weekend? Will it take place next weekend? Don’t send a release about something that’s not happening for a few weeks (and certainly not months) as it will get lost and forgotten but understand the news organisation that you are sending your release to and how they might treat the story. If it’s a daily television or radio broadcast give them a bit of time to set up interviews and filming. For newspapers, is it a daily or a weekly? It might be a magazine show you’re pitching to. They might want to do a longer piece. Think like the news organisation.
Where did it happen? Where is your event taking place? Don’t pitch an event in Scotland to a London daily! It sounds obvious but you would be surprised! It’s more work to filter your press releases, ensuring they go to exactly the right people but ultimately, you may be rewarded for it.
Answer the Five W’s at the start of your press release. This will ensure that a journalist finds out everything they need to know without having to read too much. A journalist will never read a long press release. In fact if they open a long one they might not read it at all!
Be concise. Distill the essence of your story into three or four points. Use examples and facts. Steer well clear of jargon and fluff. Think like a journalist and write like a journalist and you will be rewarded with exactly what you need – coverage from a journalist.