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PR Masterclass 4

This month:

Press release secrets
The press release is to PR what the spreadsheet is to accounting or the letter is to law. Its the most basic and most used form of communication in the PR toolbox. Unfortunately, it also happens to be the tool that is often misused.

Two popular complaints from journalists are that they regularly receive press releases that are simply not relevant to their readers and that too many of the ones that are of interest, are poorly written.

The first problem can be solved by some preparatory desk research to ensure the right media is targeted for your story. The second requires an understanding of simple press release structure plus a little practice.

The press release (sometimes also called a news release) is essentially a short, informative piece of written communication, targeted at journalists. Done well, a press release has the power to convey exactly what you want to say in a short, well-crafted style. It has the potential to be used by the media as the basis for an editorial story or feature at no direct cost to yourself.

So what are the secrets to writing a great press release? How can you ensure that your arrow hits its mark? Even if you are able to employ a PR specialist whose job it is to draft these, its a good idea to know a few of the essential dos and donts. Here are seven tips to keep in mind:

Identify the news: its important to only issue a press release when there something newsworthy happening in your business to write about. To find out what journalists are looking for, take a look at the What Makes News article at

Get the news upfront: pick up any national newspaper and take a look at a couple of front page news stories. Youll see the main points of the stories are included in the first paragraph. This is what you need to aim for with a press release. Get the Who, What and When in first. The How and Why follow after.

Keep it snappy: a news release should ideally be one or two sides of A4 long. Extra detail and supporting information can be given in a notes to editors section. The exception to this rule is when there is news of a complex technical nature that may require more detail, but be careful not to waffle on. The aim is to grab - and keep - their attention.

Double check: facts, grammar and spelling. Fundamental errors of this nature reflect badly on an organisation, so take care to weed out any mistakes, which can be hard to spot on a computer screen. If youve written the press release yourself, get a colleague to read it before you press send.

Get buy-in: its good business to let third parties who are mentioned see the release before it goes out. Once its uploaded to your website, consider setting up a reciprocal link with them too.

Streamline the process: check technical facts with the relevant experts, and make sure the MD is happy, but avoid having too many people involved in the sign-off process.
Be prepared for a quick response: if a journalist decides to use the press release, they may need more detail. They will often be close to deadline, so treat the request as a priority. A slow response could mean them dropping your story for another and all the hard work will be lost.

Top Tip

Dont forget that thanks to the web, you wont need to wait for just the media to pick up your release.

Uploaded to your website, your news can be accessed directly by your customers, not to mention bloggers and search engines - in fact, potentially millions of people.

Also, check out online news distribution services that offer RSS (Really Simple Syndication) feed capability, which can dramatically increase the number of people who will have access to your news. 

More tools and techniques for making the most of PR on the Web in my next column.

Amanda Barry-Hirst is Head of Consultancy at Mistral PR, a specialist environmental PR consultancy.

If you have a comment about this column or have a PR issue youd like her to cover in the future, email or go to




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