How to get your press releases noticed and written about

How to get your press releases noticed and written about

In this article, Lucy Handley, editor-at-large for Catalyst magazine, reveals how to plan and put together a press release guaranteed to turn heads and get your news noticed.

As a journalist, I receive hundreds of press releases a month from companies hoping for media coverage. But most of these go ignored because they are irrelevant or generic, they don’t get to the point quickly enough - or they don’t provide ‘new news’. 

Here are my top questions to ask yourself before you hit ‘send’. 

Is it really news? 

The first thing to ask, before you start writing a press release, is whether what you want to tell the world about is new, or not. Be honest: if it’s an update to a product, then say so, or if the new part is that you’re launching an existing service to a new market, then explain that.  

What is the single most exciting thing about your news? That’s your headline. To get a journalist’s attention, you need to be able to tell your story in one sentence, and if you can’t then it’s not likely to be a story. 

Editors receive press releases containing no new information so often that the phrase: “It’s not ‘new news,’” is one that I’ve frequently heard in newsrooms. 

What’s your story in four or five words? 

In the same way you need to make it immediately clear why someone should buy your product over another when it’s on a shelf – and make it easy for them to purchase – you need to help a journalist quickly understand what you’re trying to tell them, in four to five words.  

Think about how your email inbox looks. It’s likely you’ll see three things as you scroll: the sender’s name, the subject line, and the first few words of the message. On a smartphone, you get about four to six words before the subject line is cut off, so don’t waste them. Those few words are the most important part of your entire email. 

Let’s say your press release announces the results of a study on different types of milk. Don’t start your subject line with the fact that you’ve done a research project, or even that a press release is included in your email – that’s not interesting. For example, if you write: “Press release - Research reveals that most adults now drink milk alternatives,” the chances are that only the first few words will show up in the journalist’s inbox and they won’t open your message. 

You need to immediately tell the recipient what the news is, so put it first. “Most adults prefer milk alternatives over dairy, new research shows,” for example. If you can, be more specific: “Oat milk overtakes dairy as most popular ‘milk’ drink, says a new study.” That way, even if only the first four or five words of your subject line show up, you’re giving the journalist the crucial information they need. 

Are you wasting your first sentence? 

Next, think about the first sentence of your email. If you’re sending a press release to multiple people via an email marketing system, then use one that can personalise it to the recipient’s first name. And again, don’t start the email with “Report finds…,” or, as a message that just popped up in my inbox says: “Hi there, please find below a press release unveiling the trailer for the upcoming…” These words are all wasted because they don’t give me interesting information – and I’m much less likely to open the email. 

The first sentence is your chance to tell the journalist more about what’s in the release and encourage them to open your email. And you’ll need to do this in 14 to 15 words, because that’s all you’ve got on a smartphone screen. 

In our milk example, you might say: “Alternative ‘milks’ are now more popular than dairy milk, with 53% of adults choosing oat milk,” or “Alternative ‘milks’ have beaten dairy as the most popular milk drinks in the UK.” You can then go into specific numbers, details of who you surveyed, quotes from your spokespeople, a notes to editors section that explains your company or product background, and contact information. 

Who are you trying to reach? 

Are you making an announcement aiming to reach senior executives in a specific sector, or do you want to inform the public about a new brand of oat milk? It may sound obvious but the more you know about your audience – and the media they read, see or watch – the better. The first person a journalist thinks about when writing a story is the reader.  

If you’re a business-to-business brand where it takes a long time to build awareness and interest from a new audience and then months to make a sale, you’ll likely need to nurture relationships with key journalists who specialise in your sector. Then when you have news, they will be warm to your press releases. 

And if you’re sending a release about a consumer product and you want to reach a mass audience, you still need to send it to the right journalists. You can use databases like Cision to help reach your chosen media, and the above questions continue to apply. 

The press releases I’m most likely to write about are the ones sent by a real person with a message that shows they’ve researched what I’m interested in. This could be something as simple as saying they’ve read a piece I’ve written that’s relevant, or identifying some common ground. Or it could even be an email introduction that doesn’t include a press release but gives me some useful information about what the company does and why it’s different. You can also ask whether the journalist is happy for you to send the release and try to invite a dialogue. 

What’s your follow-up plan – and are your expectations realistic?  

If the journalists you’ve sent your press release to don’t respond, a follow-up email is fine – and I’m sometimes more likely to reply to chasing emails than I am to the original message. Best to leave it a few days before doing so. 

A reporter might want more information, or to interview a spokesperson, so be ready to respond promptly to their requests, and ask what their deadline is. If you can be responsive and easy to deal with, you will make their life easier – and it’s better to turn a request down quickly if you can’t fulfil it.  

Hopefully after all of this, you’ll get coverage in your chosen media. But manage your company’s expectations, as the outlet will write its own headline (using press release headings is frowned upon, and could also be seen as plagiarism), which may come from a different angle than you hoped or expected. You may find the whole piece is about your press release, your interviewee is quoted as part of a wider feature, or the announcement gets a sentence in a story about another company in your sector.  


If you're looking to learn more about writing for PR and what journalists look out for in press releases, book your place now on our Copywriting for PR virtual training course.


Perfect your press releases


Lucy Handley Editor-at-large, Catalyst magazine CIM
Back to all