Bands, entertainers, event organisers, agencies and all other businesses have one thing in common; they all need to get their name, product and services in front of potential customers and clients. This can be a very costly thing to do but there are ways of curbing expenditure on advertising and promotions yet still get exceptional coverage of your product or service.
One of the most effect forms of free advertising is the press or news release. In fact press releases, if properly written and targeted, can be more effective that advertising costing thousands of pounds.
In this master class I’ll be delving into what makes a great press release, explaining just how to go about writing one and discussing how to get it in front of the right people.
A good press release can achieve remarkable things giving you coverage not only in your local newspapers but also in the national press and in glossy magazines. With the right approach this can be extended to exposure on television and radio for you and your business – all for free.
Content, Pegs, Bolt-on & Spin
The information that goes into a press release must be complete yet concise. Your story must be interesting and attention grabbing to the journalist or editor and more importantly be relevant to the readers of the publication you are targeting. It must be newsworthy.
Your writing should avoid self-congratulatory superlatives and remain clear, to the point and easy to read. Try to avoid catch phrases and industry jargon.
If you want to use an acronym you should, in the first instance, write the whole name with the acronym following on in brackets. After which you can use just the acronym. For example if you are talking about the Association of Festival Organisers, the first instance should be the Association of Festival Organisers (AFO) then subsequent mentions can use just AFO.
Avoid embellishments and exaggerations. You need to be wary of making claims like “the UK’s finest dance band” or “the biggest and best online agency”. In fact you should not make exaggerated claims at all unless you can back them up with evidence. Even then it is best to avoid too many superlatives.
When you write your release you must be objective and always write in the third person. By this I mean you should avoid words like; I, we, us, & my and instead use him, her, them, he, she, they, etc.
You should avoid writing the past tense. News has to be new and fresh. Using the past tense instantly gives it a stale feel. For instance rather than “Band X released their CD” put “Band X release their CD” or “Band X to release their new CD”
The peg is what you hang your story on. It’s the reason for your press release. The peg can be many things but is usually an event or landmark. For instance a Queen tribute band may be playing its 1000th gig, an events management company might win a contract to stage the world’s biggest party in Dubai, a local marquee hire company supplies marquees to Princess Anne, a new scheme to get people playing musical instruments is announced.
There are so many pegs you can use to hang a press release on. Are you moving to a new area, are you launching a campaign, have you received an award, has something odd happened, have you reached a milestone, do you want to condemn the effects of new legislation and so on.
Because you are reading this article you probably already have a peg in mind and a good idea of the message you want to get across to your target audience. However, even if you have something planned, just take a step back and take a good look at your enterprise. Then try making a list of newsworthy pegs that you can be spin into press releases.
The Five W’s
Is your story complete?
After writing a rough copy of your release, read it through to see if you have addressed the five W’s. The five W’s are questions that your piece should answer.
Some people also recommend adding How? to the mix.
Say you run a festival: you’ve done your market research and found that you need to cater more for vegetarians who felt aggrieved that, last year, practically none of the food vendors offered a vegetarian option. You’ve listened to this and this year will be bringing in two vegetarian food wagons. Now you need to get the news of this out to the public. In this case the five W’s can be answered like this.
Who will it affect? – Festival going vegetarians and those looking for a greater choice of food
What? – Two new vegetarian food outlets at festival
Why? – Because a survey highlighted a growing demand for more vegetarian food
Where? – In food street next to the beer tent at the Summer Festival in Ambridge
When? – Friday 6th to Sunday 8th June from breakfast time to midnight every day of the festival.
The above illustration would give you the bones to wrap a story around but that’s just one simple example of applying the five W’s. You could apply the template to individual elements of your story as well. For instance the fictitious festival did market research: – why did they do it, how did they do it, where did they do it, when was it done, who did it and what were the results.
Don’t overdo it though because you could bog down the copy with a mass of trivial information and lose the required punchy writing style necessary for a good release.
Rudyard Kipling wrote;
“I Keep six honest serving-men:
(They taught me all I knew)
Their names are What and Where and When
And How and Why and Who.”
Kipling is bang on the nail.
Use the 5W’s and 1H rule to ensure you give your audience the complete picture and teach them all they need to know.
Bolt it on to something
Once you have your basic story you can add more interest to it by bolting it to something that is currently in the news or on people’s minds. Journalists are always looking for stories that tie into the big current issues and events. The media spent a fortune on trying to find stories to bulk out their Bird Flu coverage. If you can give them something that rides the wind of current affairs they will probably grab at it.
As an example, in 2008/2009 the “the Credit Crunch” was big news as were rising fuel costs, green issues, global warming, councils running out of grit for snow covered roads, Michael Jackson’s death, Afghanistan & Iraq, depressed house prices, Swine Flu and so. You can also look to local matters to bolt your story to. One of the recurring local news items across the country is a campaign to stop a supermarket being built. There are many others such as worries about the lack of a bypass or conversely the bad effects of a bypass on a village. There might be something really specific to your locality like a twinning with a place in Europe or a visit from a VIP. Just keep an eye on the current news to see what can be used to make your release more interesting. You might find a news item that becomes a peg.
Linking the news and your release together is quite simple it just takes a little imagination. For instance someone running a free festival could use news about the increasing cost of living to bolt to their press release and write something like: “In this climate of rising prices it’s refreshing to see that one of Ambridge’s most important music events has pegged ticket prices, in fact it’s better than that because for the third consecutive year, admission to the Ambridge Festival is free of charge. With rising costs and more than twenty acts appearing from all over the country this is quite an achievement.
Using some of the headline news from above:
Lack of grit for snow covered roads – “Band X braved the treacherous condition of untreated roads to make sure their fans were not disappointed.”
A town twinning – “ABC Event Management offers to manage the twinning ceremony of … ”
The question, So what? is a question that you do not want asked of your story. Therefore you should make sure that your release passes the “So what?” test. You do this by making certain your story is not only newsworthy but also relevant and of interest to the target audience.
Some of the elements that can make your release newsworthy are controversy, conflict, danger, condemnation, extremes and prominence. For instance in your professional capacity you might condemn the government’s approach to entertainment licensing laws, attempt a dangerous fire stunt or spend an extreme amount of time singing non-stop Beatles’ songs . If your story can include prominent people then the Prominence factor comes into play. Novelty is another dynamic that can be employed.
Keeping it relevant to the readers
Let’s say your article is now newsworthy but that’s not the end of it because a newsworthy story will still be irrelevant to certain audiences. You would be wasting your time sending press releases to Gloucestershire newspapers about a small local event in Yorkshire because it would not be relevant. ‘Proximity’ is important because if the audience is in a different geographical area to the event being written about then the chances are they are not going to care and will say, so what?
Knowing your audience is vital and you must think about who will be reading your news release. If you are targeting local newspapers or local radio then it is essential you write something of interest to local communities. A “local person makes good” type of story works well. You just need to give weight to the local angle to motivate the local reader.
For example if you are a singer from Chipping Sodbury and you have just landed a contract to tour venues in China, your local press (in the Chipping Sodbury area) may well want to hear from. Why? Because you are a local person, probably know to some of their readers, and you are doing something interesting that can engender a feel good reaction with readers thinking “that’s one of us doing that”.
In the past I’ve had amazing results playing the local card. As a partner in an entertainment agency and events management company I sent out a release, the core message of which was: local business is talent scouting local musicians and entertainers for international contracts. That attained incredible local newspaper coverage resulting in a radio interview when the story was picked up by BBC local radio. All in all, a valuable amount of advertising in return for the price of a few stamps.
Another “local” idea I’ve used is from my years as a professional musician. Each time I moved house I’d send out a local press release to the papers in the new area. My duo was not a household name but we had played on TV & radio, toured New Zealand and had residencies in The Middle East, Europe and on board ships. The feel of the release was “hey! look at these exciting people who are coming to live in your locality”. It worked every time.
If we go back to the Chipping Sodbury story, mentioned earlier, you can see it would be totally useless submitting it to local papers in Weymouth, Manchester, Perth or anywhere else but Chipping Sodbury. Likewise a local theme, when you approach national publications, will probably get a “so what” response. If you want to aim for coverage in the national newspapers you have to target a national audience, that gets much harder and you really need to use all the tips and tricks I’ve listed thus far.
Although coverage in a national daily or weekend newspapers is highly desirable there are of course easier ways to go national. Look for publications with subject matter that you can tie in with. You also need to think about the type of people you would like to reach and the type of people that would be interested in you and your services. Then draw up a list of publications they might read. If you are a harpist, string quartet, jazz band, function band, DJ, etc. then one obvious channel is wedding and bride magazines.
In essence all readers have different interests and values but luckily they can be sorted into overlapping groups with divergent interests and there are always magazines, papers and periodicals that cater to each group.
Whether the publications you are targeting are local ones or nationals interested in weddings, tourism or corporate events you need to tailor your press release to appeal to them. It would be pointless sending a release about a revolutionary new guitar pick-up to a motorcycle magazine because they would not be the slightest bit interested. Admittedly this is an extreme example to emphasis the point again but it is a singularly important point.
Your writing style and subject matter must please and interest your target audience. Conversely you must target an audience and publications that will be interested in what you have to say.
The journalists and editors are the gatekeepers of the publications and they have to feel they are giving their readers the stories they want to see and read.
The correct layout for your press release is all important. The gist of the story should be evident to the journalist with just a quick glance. This can be achieved with appropriate layout and succinct headlines.
Ideally the whole press release should fit on to one side of a single sheet of A4 paper. There are times when this is not practical and a second sheet has to be employed but never use more than two sheets of paper. Journalists just don’t have the time to thumb through wads of paper and the release will probably end up pushed to one side or binned. Best practice is to use just one side of one sheet of A4 paper.
Within the layout it is important to leave room for the journalist to make notes so leaving a margin is a good idea. Spacing between lines of text is also an issue and a 1.5 to double line spacing is often recommended. However this is not necessary in emailed press releases. If you send your release by email you should use the body of the email for your story rather than sending it as an attachment (unless otherwise requested). Some journalists will not open attachments and some mail systems block them.
The information you need to covey must be ordered so that the most important details are at the top of the page with each subsequent paragraph carrying less important information. This creates a hierarchy of information running from the most important at the top to the least important at the bottom. The lower down paragraphs will contain an additional body of information in support of the more concise top paragraph.
Top of the page
At the very top of the page are the words Press Release followed by either “For immediate release” and the date or “Embargoed until:” and a date specifying when you want the release used.
Title or Headline
Above the first paragraph will be the title or headline and this again should communicate the core of the release. It should do so without puffery and be crafted to grab attention and entice the reader to read on. In length the headline should be limited to no more than ten words.
The top/first paragraph needs to encapsulate the whole of the press release in a few crisp and punchy sentences. This paragraph should contain the five W’s (more on those later) and convey your complete message in around thirty words. In short, this paragraph needs to stand on its own, as a complete summarisation of the whole story.
The second paragraph should add more detail to flesh out the information found in the first paragraph and present any new but less important information.
The third paragraph is a good place for quoting people. Journalists like quotes because they add a bit of weight to the story. It can also be used for additional information.
Moving down to end of your story, you need to add a line space then write “Ends”
Notes for Editors
Below the end of the story you can add the subheading “Notes for Editors”. In this section you give background information and facts about your company, band, event, product or service and offer photographs and/or interviews. This can be bullet pointed but again must be kept very brief and to the point.
Finally at the foot of the page place your name and contact information. Give phone numbers at which you can be reached twenty four hours a day.
- Identify your pegs
- Bolt on to bigger events and stories for more impact
- Keep the story concise and punchy
- Keep it relevant to the readers by adapting the story to fit the audience
- Make sure your story is complete by using the 5W’s rule
- Avoid puffery
- Get the layout right with additional notes to editor and contact info
For guidance on writing promotional copy see: How to write promotional copy
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