Research suggests 70 per cent of reporters spend less than a minute reading each press release they receive to determine if it’s newsworthy.
When I worked on the chief of staff desk during my television news days, I was responsible for making a decision on whether or not a press release was newsworthy; I could usually tell in the first paragraph.
In today’s media climate of shrinking newsrooms and amalgamating newspapers, it is even harder to have your story told in the media. The way people consume news is changing and when it comes to writing a media release you need to adapt to that change.
Don’t get me wrong; a media release should have all the right ‘corporate’ messaging but there needs to be a balance of newsworthiness if you want it to cut through.
As a media advisor, I’ll admit there are challenges in attracting a journalist’s interest. For those who aren’t used to dealing with the media, it can be intimidating, and it gets confusing when trying to navigate who to send what to and when.
Understandably organisations want their releases to focus on strengths and to use them as a form of promotion. Unfortunately (for a journalist) sometimes a by-product of this is a heavily worded, jargon crammed advertisement.
But instead of giving up and opting to publish on your socials, there are a few easy tips to follow, to help you get the desired result from your media release.
Tip one: use clear, concise and interesting language. Journalists don’t have time to decipher convoluted copy. Corporate jargon may make sense to you but if a journalist doesn’t understand what you are trying to say in the first paragraph they will likely move on.
Tip two: find a news angle and lead with it in your headline. Think human interest, uniqueness or community impact. The press release needs to have relevance to your journalist’s audience. For instance, if you were attempting to promote your organisation’s new managing director, a community audience would be more interested in what changes they will bring to the community, rather than who they are or where they have come from.
Tip three: be available. It’s very frustrating for journalists when they receive a media release and can’t pick up the phone and ask follow-up questions soon after the release is sent out. Have a spokesperson on stand-by ready to go. This is also important if you want your message out on radio or TV.
Tip four: pay attention to each organisation’s news cycle. Sending a proactive media release to dozens of generic newsroom emails close to deadline is unlikely to be a successful strategy. Instead try targeting an individual journalist the day before you want the story to run.
Tip five: it sounds obvious, but news needs to be new. If it has already been covered, consider your unique point of difference. Have you got a perspective that reveals something new and adds to the conversation?
Tip six: include quotes. Journalists sometimes find it easier to use quotes straight from your release rather than an interview but make sure they are interesting and easy to understand.
Tip seven: have a delivery strategy. Could you offer it as an exclusive? Journalists want to be the first to break a story. Offering them a scoop could be the difference between your story being on the front page or buried in the back.
Tip eight: have you thought about accompanying visuals? We live in a digital era. Journalists want their story to go viral. This is especially important for television journalists, who can’t tell their story without pictures.
At the end of the day, mainstream media is unpredictable but a well written media release with a strong strategy behind it is far more likely to get you the coverage you desire.