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Wednesday30 July 2014

How to make your press releases work for you

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A PR’s guide to the most common mistakes and how to avoid them

In my life as a PR, there are few subjects that cause as much stress and angst as the press release. Originally, the press release (or media release) was designed to provide journalists with timely facts and news. However, since the advent of email and digital media it has become the “camel” of communications, too often carrying the weight of collective expectations on a journey with no apparent end in sight.

It is commonplace for dozens of people to be copied in and asked to contribute to a release previewing the most mundane of events.

There are several basic mistakes that many organisations make but you can avoid. Firstly, who are you targeting? If your news release is for news journalists, keep their needs at the heart of what you want to say. Don’t confuse the news release with an internal memo to the rest of the team or a newsletter to customers. They are very different pieces of communication.

Secondly, be brutally honest. Is your news remotely interesting to the audience of the publication you are sending it to? If you have won third prize in an obscure trade award, is it really of interest to a magazine? By all means tell your customers, put it on your website etc — but hold back from cheesing off a journalist with an overloaded inbox.

Thirdly, be timely. Sending a release a week after an event is not news. In fact, you will do more damage to your relationship with a journalist when they open a release, get interested and realise that the news is a week old. You have just wasted their time. This is often a tough one for architects as you often have to get approval from clients and other partners. If this is the case, then plan ahead — draft a release ahead of time so that you are not delayed by days as it pings back and forth during the approvals process.

Fourth, stick to the facts. The journalist is not interested in your hidden ambition to be a great writer. Cut the flowery prose and the witty headlines. Journalists do make snap decisions and sometimes get it wrong, but for the most part they have an excellent understanding of what their readers want. Trust them to be able to judge from the facts. It is vital to include key statistics and clear information on who can be contacted for further information.

Finally, make sure you are available — sending a press release whilst simultaneously leaving for a far-flung holiday is not a good idea.

Leanne Tritton is managing director of ING Media

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