Created in collaboration with our marketing expert.
What would you do if you received over 100 press releases a day? How much time would you spend on each one? This is the reality facing many news and magazine editors. It is also a challenge for schools, who want to ensure their press release stands out and is published so their story can be heard.
This guidance, created in collaboration with our expert who specialises in marketing and communications, contains seven steps for writing an effective press release.
1. Answer the question: ‘so what?’
The first step is to answer the question: “Why would readers of this publication want to know about this?”
Just because you think something is interesting or important, that does not mean everyone else will. For instance, if your school has awarded a new catering contract it may be of interest to parents, but it is unlikely to be relevant to everyone reading the local paper.
One tip is to have a mental picture of a typical reader in mind. For the local paper, it might be a neighbour or a local shop assistant. Why would your story be of interest to them?
Generally, publications are interested in stories about:
- People (human interest stories).
- Things that affect their readers.
- Information that is useful to their readers.
- Notable events such as anniversaries, milestones, record-breaking attempts.
- Unusual or innovative events and occurrences.
The key is to find the right approach or angle to presenting your story. For instance, if your new catering company also supplies the town’s professional football team, it may have wider appeal in the community.
2. Make sure you have all the information
Make sure you have all the relevant details to hand before you start writing:
- What is happening?
- Why should readers be interested?
- When and where is it occurring, if relevant?
- Who is involved?
- How can people find out more?
Write the first paragraph
Press releases should follow an inverse pyramid format. That is, put the most important information first, then important but not essential information, then additional detail that is interesting but not important. You should be able to cut sentences from the bottom up without losing the essence of the story.
As editors will only spend a few seconds deciding whether your press release is relevant, the main points need to be in the first paragraph. Don’t be tempted to start with the background or credentials of your school, or a teaser about what is to come later in the release. Don’t tell a story or try to be too clever.
Your first paragraph should be clear, direct and simple, and set out the key information.
3. Write the rest of the press release
Once you have the first paragraph, you’re ready to add in the rest of the detail in order of importance.
Write in third person and keep the text objective and factual. It should read as a news story, not a promotional piece. Anything that is subjective or an opinion should be included as a quote – from staff, parents and pupils.
Quotes from members of the school community are a great way to add colour and detail; however, don’t repeat what you’ve already said elsewhere in the release. Don’t be too formal – good quotes sound as you would speak.
Short paragraphs are better as they make your press release easier to skim quickly. If you’re in doubt about what writing style to use, read articles in the publication you’re targeting and try to match their style.
The overall length of different press releases will vary depending on how much you have to say, but in most cases they should be fewer than 500 words.
4. Go back and edit
This is where you need to be ruthless with your writing. Make sure your writing is as tight and concise as possible by taking out unnecessary words and subjective adjectives. Delete interesting but unnecessary detail that takes the focus away from the main point of the story – you do not want to confuse or distract readers. Avoid jargon and spell out acronyms, e.g. rather than saying KS2 pupils, say 7- to 11-years-olds. Use short sentences (10 to 20 words) and use the active rather than the passive voice in most cases. Stick with simple sentence structures; avoid lots of subordinate clauses. Lastly, proofread – ideally have someone else do it who is reading with fresh eyes.
5. Write the headline
After editing your press release, you can then write your headline. Like the introductory paragraph, it should not be cryptic or clever. Editors will use the headline to decide if they should read further, so it should contain enough information for them to make a quick decision on whether your story is relevant. 6 to 10 words is ideal.
6. Ensure you follow a press release format
Say whether your story is ‘for immediate release’ or ‘embargoed until’ a specific time and date – this tells editors when they can publish your information. You might embargo a release if you are announcing award winners or making an important announcement and you want it to go in the press at the same time as your communication to parents.
You can use ‘Editors notes’ at the end of your press release for information that isn’t necessarily part of the story but may be useful.
Make sure to provide a contact email and telephone number of someone who is available out of school hours.
At the end of this document there is an example press release that can be used as a guide for when you send your own release.
7. Send your release
Journalists and editors will prefer to receive your release by email. Send it to a named person, if you know which journalist covers your area, and be mindful of the publication deadlines. If you’re not sure who to send your release to, and the best time to send it, the easiest option is to ring the news desk and ask.
When you send your release, be mindful of the editor’s deadline. To find out the best time to send your release, the easiest option is to ring and ask.
Do include photos if you have them, with names (at least first names) of individuals in them. Remember, you will need to get consent from the individuals in the image in order to distribute the photos.
Finally, be prepared to respond quickly. Journalists often work into the evening and on tight deadlines for daily publications. By making their job easier, you’ll have a better chance of making the next day’s news.
Example emailed press release
The guidance attachment also contains an example press release that can be sent via email. This example can be utilised to shape your own press release and contains tips to what should be included in each section of the press release.
This article has been created in collaboration with our marketing expert, Sara Gadzik. Sara is an education marketing and communications specialist and owner of Smith Gadzik Communications. She helps schools achieve better results with their communications and marketing activity. You can reach her at email@example.com