How journalists read press releases

By Nicky Rudd
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One thing that has changed over the years is the number of releases that journalists are sent and how they view them. Some literally receive hundreds of press releases a days and many don’t bother opening their emails. They purely scan the list of email headers, so think carefully about what you are putting in the subject line. You only have a small number of characters to grab a journalist’s attention and as a cautionary note, most don’t like to be sold to (more on this later!)

When a journalist is scanning the press release, they need to get a feel for the whole news story and if you use capitals, bold and italics, it can jar and hinder this process. In your press release copy, job titles should not be capitalised and don’t be tempted to use capitals, bold or italics to try and emphasise a point.

Journalists are busy people and have to deal with a lot of information in an extremely short space of time. They don’t want to read copy that is attributed to someone that isn’t relevant to their story angle, so ensure the people you are quoting in a release are important and relevant, as is what they are saying. Use quotes to back up the story if possible. If you are using a quote, ensure that it is further down the release so that the main news story is still at the top and doesn’t get diluted. Use the format – Name, title, company says: “…” Again, this is to help journalists out.

It’s also worth noting that a press release follows a set format that journalists expect to see. In a press release, the first paragraph is crucial and should include all of your ‘who, what, when, why, where and how’ information (see more about this in our post on ‘What should a press release include?’) Press releases are always written in the 3rd person. The copy differs from sales material in they we don’t use ‘you’.

Information should be factually expressed rather than reading like one massive plug. Use 1.5 point spacing for the main body copy of the press release – this makes it easier for a journalist to read. A company is always referred to in the singular in a release, eg: ‘Padua Communications is launching a series of training workshops…’ When using numbers in a release, it’s standard practice to use words from one to nine and numbers from 10 upwards.

I have mentioned the huge number of press releases journalists receive these days. More than ever before, the length of the press release is crucial. Don’t make it too long! The press release should be no longer than two sides of A4 in total and if you can get everything on one side, even better. Again to make it easier to read, only the title should be in bold and don’t go mad with capitals (this is very American!) A sub-heading is optional but if you feel it’s necessary to add one, you can do so.

Lastly but very importantly, proofread your release and ensure there are no typos or grammatical errors. This is a sure-way of getting your release binned!

Look out for our next post on language to keep out of a press release.

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