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Below you will find a slightly tongue-in-cheek set of guidelines but they should stand you in good stead.
This article sets out what I expect to see from a press release when it hits my mailbox. There are many people out there who think just because they have a masters in journalism or the letters CIPR after their name that they know about writing a good media release.
This article focuses mainly on the structure of releases but I will add some comments on content as well. Please note that it is written from my personal perspective and your mileage may vary as our American cousins like to say. As the editor of the Welsh Icons News website http://www.welshicons.org/news, this is how I’d like to see releases submitted and if you follow these simple guidelines then you certainly have more chance of getting your copy featured.
Let’s take it step by step:
ALWAYS start a new email for every release. Something pasted at the top of your last release is going to really piss people off.
Do not go through your distribution list and just paste it all in to the To: field. This will allow the recipient to see everyone else you have sent the release to. I get some releases where the writer has sent it to every journalist on the planet and their dogs. I really don’t need to see that you have sent your finely-crafted article on farming in Powys to every sports reporter at the BBC and the flower arranging stringer at the Evening Post, and I certainly don’t want them to see that you have sent it to me.
If you want to send to more than one person then use the BCC feature. In some email programmes this may not be switched on by default but go through the options and make sure it is enabled and paste the list of people you want to send the release to in the BCC field.
BCC stands for Blind Carbon Copy as opposed to CC or Carbon Copy. It will, as you have surely guessed, allow you to send emails out to multiple recipients without them being able to see the other recipients on your list.
Please make this field relevant. I would suggest that you put the title of your release in this field. If you leave it blank then I will treat it as spam and not even open the email. There are many other editors who will do the same.
I’m sorry to name and shame but here is an example of a bad subject line:
“Datganiad newyddion gan Gyngor Sir Ddinbych / News Release from Denbighshire County Council”
Well bugger me, you send us at least 20 releases a week, how am I or my team going to tell them apart and send them on to the relevant subs?
In fact, most email programmes by default only show part of the subject field so all I see is:
Datganiad newyddion gan Gyngor Sir Ddin
In the body of a release I expect to see:
- The suggested title of the release – Yes, I or one of the subs may change it a bit
- When it can be published. “For Immediate Release” or “Embargoed Until xx.xx.xx” is good.
If you are going to embargo a release then:
Please make it clear at the top.
- Do not send it out weeks or even months in advance – It will get lost in the system. We get around 2,000 emails a day and are not going to go searching through stuff sent weeks ago.
- Even though the day:month:year numeric format – 01/05/2013 – works, it is easier to read if you add the day and month as a text value: for example, “Embargoed Until Thursday 1st May 2014”.
By the way, the 1st of May is my birthday and a little gift in the preceding week is always appreciated.
After that I suggest that you use a tag such as <STARTS> to let people know where the meat of the release is. Feel free to choose your own tag. This is not HTML but <STARTS> and <ENDS> markers really do help.
OK, here are some guidelines about the body of the release:
Never write in the first person. Yes, I know I’m doing it here but this is my blog and I can do what I like. If you need to add your own comment then please include them as quotes. For example:
Dai Jones, communications officer for Welsh Sheep said:
Quisque suscipit risus ut metus dapibus lacinia. Aliquam nec sollicitudin eros, eget blandit justo. Praesent placerat neque diam, quis viverra lacus auctor et. Donec vel tortor eget est hendrerit fermentum sed eget nulla.
Always, and I mean always send the full body of you release as plain text with proper line breaks. Do not even think of sending it as a MS Word document as no one wants to have to launch word and strip out all your formatting just for a couple of paragraphs of text.
What I mean by line breaks is you do not stop typing when you reach the end of a line. This may be obvious to most people but some people are still stuck in the days of typewriters that used to go ‘bing’ at the end of each line. If you want something that goes ‘bing’ then buy a microwave oven.
If you are using a text editor then make sure you have word-wrap enabled. If you have to use Word or some other word-processing package then please cut and paste your text into a text editor to ensure you can see the line and paragraph spacings, correct them and then cut and paste into the email system you are using to send the release.
If you are using a Windows based PC then you will have Notepad available to you as a text editor and if you are a Mac user then open up TextEdit. These are not the best tools but you should find them installed on your machines.
When you have finished typing a paragraph them please hit the enter key twice. This may seem obvious but many word-processing packages will put in an extra space after a paragraph that will not be seen by web and print based systems.
As I said above, when you have finished the body of your release then please mark this clearly with an <ENDS> tag.
If you want to add any additional information such as a short biography of people mentioned then please include this under a notes header. This can be as simple as “NOTES” placed under the body of the main release.
Please try and supply a reasonably sized photograph or graphic with every release. I have included some guidelines below:
Ensure you photographs are not too big or too small. As a rule of thumb I would suggest that they are at least 1024 pixels in their longest dimension whether that be width or height. On the other hand nobody wants to receive a 20Mb out of focus photograph just because somebody has bought a new high-res DSLR.
I would advise that you send no more than five images. Most people cannot afford the luxury of dedicated picture editor these days and will probably only look at the first three and select the one they thinks fits best. To be honest, I quite often select the one with the most people in it as people always like to see photographs of themselves and their team/friends/colleagues in the media.
When you save your photographs always give them a meaningful name. PIC1, PIC2 etc. does not help and asking us to work out what DSC_998 or DSC_999 mean is bang out of order.
Just below the body of your release please suggest suitable captions and you absolutely must include the names of everyone who appear in them (unless there is a legal reason not to). Unless you are using a decent photographer please do not ask for them to be credited as the photographer. Most amateurs produce second-rate work and if they really want to see their name in print or on-screen then I suggest that they go away and learn their craft.
If you cannot supply a photograph then at least try and supply your company’s logo at a reasonable resolution. Most people will try and keep this on file for future reference but it always helps if it is included in every release issued without a graphic or photograph.
Finally here are some final thoughts. I may/may not write a follow up article about how to write the content of a release but I’m a busy man with loads of crap in my inbox.
- Check and double-check your copy. With modern systems there is no excuse for bad spelling or basic grammatical mistakes. OK, it is quite easy to let a few slip through, so ask someone else to check you copy. When proof-reading you should scan your copy at least twice. The first for meaning and the second as a word-by-word check. You’ll have seen those graphics or the Only Connect game where you have to fill in missing letters and our brains do that naturally, reading what they expect to see – read it backwards if you want. It is easy enough to know what you thought you wrote but not too easy to spot your mistakes.
- Be nice, play nice. Develop a relationship with those you send releases to.
- Ignore most of what I say when you need to. Rules are meant to be broken.
- If you ever send me a PDF then I will hunt you down and hurt you.