I’ve journalisted for what feels like forever, and I estimate I’ve had about ten brazillion press releases come across my desk in that time. To my dismay and confusion the quality of the info I’m receiving has gone in the wrong direction. On the whole, I reckon only about 10% of press releases I’ve seen are any good. The rest is missing something. So, in order to make my life a lot easier (and yours, too), here’s a handy checklist.
What goes in a press pack?
- It has to be news. If you have nothing to say, then… don’t say it.
- A headline. Why should the world care about your story? (Top tip #1: if your headline sucks, your release doesn’t get read)
- A short summary. If you’re struggling for how long ‘short’ is, grab a business card, and write the story on the back with a pen. That’s ‘short’. (Top tip #2: If your summary sucks, the rest of the release doesn’t get read)
- Keep six honest serving men. Make sure your release includes the what, where, when, who and how. And, if possible / relevant, the why.
- A useful amount of copy. The body of your press release needs to have a lot of info in it. We won’t use it all, but it helps you get the story covered from several angles by various news organisations, and it helps me come up with those angles in the first place. 100 words isn’t enough. 500–600 words is perfect for the core news release. 2,000 words and I probably won’t read the whole thing, but at least there’s extra info there if I need it.
- Keep the superlatives to a minimum. Yes, the press release is where you roll out your biggest guns and blast us with your marketing spiel, but resist the temptation to descend into fragrant intellectual onanism, and keep it factual. If your press release contains the word ‘awesome’ more than once, it’s going in the bin. If it says “best app ever” (you laugh, but it happens), I’m going to print it out, set it on fire, and then throw it in the bin. Fact.
- Write in the third person. Please, “Company X today released an app”, not “We released an app today”. Why? Well that goes with the next point:
Pray for a busy news day, a lazy journalist, or both.
- Write well. Journalists are usually frightfully lazy, in a terrible rush, or quite possibly both. We shouldn’t, but if you have a well-written press release where we can copy-and-paste chunks of it, we just might. Write well, and pray for a busy news day or a lazy journalist. Or, as I said, both.
- Include quotes. Save us a few back-and-forths. Include 4–5 quotes from the CEO / Project lead / whatever, and remember to include their job title (!), and to spell their name correctly (!!).
- A release date. Preferably be more than 3 days from now*. With a time. And a time zone. If the date is more than 5 days ago, the press pack will probably go straight in the bin.
- Background. After the main press release, give me some background. Where and when was the company founded, who are the founders, how is it funded. What are the other products the company makes. This is stuff that journalists can put into their stories, or aid additional research. We love that shit, it makes us look far smarter than we are.
Hire a decent photographer.
- Images. This is crucial. If there are no images, there is no story. If the images are bad, there’s probably no story either. Hire a decent photographer. You’ll need at least three photos, but preferably 10+. If you’re showing off an app, try to have it show up on a phone, in use, in someone’s hand, in the setting it is meant to be used. It’s a hell of a lot better than just a screen shot photoshopped onto a stock image of an iPhone. Some publications want product shots on a white background, while others prefer lifestyle shots (i.e. the product, in use, by a real person. Or at least placed in an environment so there’s a bit of context). Most publications I write for only use lifestyle shots.
UPDATE: Here is a load of extra tips for what I’m looking for in a press release image. It’s important, so it’s worth getting that bit right.
- Make downloading the files easy. Please, please make it easy for me to get your files. Don’t embed them into a Word document. That’s just dumb. If I have to click on every image, download a 20mb TIFF, discover it’s not a photo I’ll use, lather-rinse-repeat, I will swear at you. Loudly. And I may just bin the release. Make a Dropbox folder or something — it makes a huge difference. Don’t worry about resizing the images, but if you do have print-ready photos in TIFF, please also make high-res (2,000px longest edge is perfect) JPEGs available.
- Contact Info. I might need to check stuff as we’re coming up to deadline, so a phone number is really, really useful, and an e-mail address for the press team (preferably one that’s monitored outside of business hours) is mandatory.
- Video. Optional, but awesome. YouTube is fine in most cases.
- No, you may not read it before it gets published. Sorry.
Handy printable checklist
A note on file formats
I’ve had a few questions asking me about file formats and how to send me documents. That… Is tricky to answer. Some publications have different standards than others, and it differs from journalist to journalist, too. For me personally, I’d go with the following:
Press release — No files needed. Stick it in the body of an e-mail, underneath the intro / pitch. There’s no reason to also include a PDF or (shudders….) a Word document. The PDF bit is particularly important because a lot of PDF documents are hard to copy and paste from. Making me re-type that quote from your CEO? Yeah… Not a big fan and mistakes could sneak in.
Images — As discussed above, JPEGs are fine. If you have stupid large files, please also make smaller files (2,000 px along the longest edge is perfect) available. Throw a folder in a Dropbox / Google Drive folder and share it with me for extra bonus points.
A note on embargoes
- Not all writers stick to embargoes. Don’t send a press release to anyone under embargo unless you already have a relationship with them, or unless you have discussed respecting an embargo ahead of time.
- Remember time zones for embargoes.
- Also, make sure all other news organizations stick to the embargoes, too (if they don’t, don’t send them the release in advance).