Press releases are more effective when you follow the rules!

Most businesses would like to get press coverage and, believe or or not, journalists need us to tell them what’s going on.
The trick to getting your news noticed is to make it easy for the journalist!
That’s why we asked award winning journalist and communications expert Rachel Extance to give us some tips – and we got a lot a more!

Rachel helps businesses to draw people in and communicate with them so that they become loyal customers, fans, and advocates.
This is the transcript of the Ask the Expert session.

What comes first?

Q. Before writing a piece is it worth making contact to see if there is interest or do you send the article in first to gauge interest?

Rachel Extance  Send an email setting out what’s it’s about and asking if it’s of interest. Look up who is the best person to send your email to or ring up the organisation and ask them.

Q.Typically how many words should an article be?

Rachel Extance A press release should ideally fit on one side of A4. It needs to be clear to the person receiving it what it is about and why it is of interest to their readers. If you would like to write something more in depth (or you would like the publication to) then have a chat with them about the potential.

Q. Is there a format one should follow. Not layout, but structure e.g. summary, beginning, middle, end?

Rachel Extance Make it clear from the start what your story is. Are you holding an event? Have you invented something amazing? Or is it a human interest story, in which case focus on the person’s story and set the scene. Put a note at the end saying ‘for further information’ with your contact details and any brief notes you think will be helpful like a web address where they can see your organisation or a line or two about what you do. Always include your email address and a day time contact number.

Attention grabbing headlines

Rachel Extance-Virr A headline should be short and to the point. The journalist or a sub editor will write the headline which goes on the final article. So for local interest, something like “Cambridge woman climbs Everest to raise money for Addenbrooke’s”,  or if you’re going for something more general: “How one woman overcame her fear of heights to scale Everest”

Q. When pitching a story, are there things to avoid? What do journalists particularly dislike?

Rachel Extance Don’t ring up and say: “I’m just calling to see if you got my press release”.  Don’t format your press release oddly or use pdf. It needs to be possible to copy and paste it. Don’t use double spaces.

Avoid jargon and make sure you spell check it. I have seen press releases where the name of the town was incorrect or the person’s name was written two different ways.

They will welcome a well written press release about a local event or company as long as it is of general interest to their readers. Try to follow their writing style. Include a quote and a good picture.

Q.  Is it best to put press releases in the body of an email rather than as an attachment?

Rachel Extance Put it in the body of the email and then you don’t need to worry about an attachment getting lost.

Who to approach

Q. Is it worth researching different journalists before approaching them?

Rachel Extance Yes. Get to know who is the right journalist to approach. Unless it’s a very small publication where one or two people write everything, they will each have a different role. On a local paper this could be looking after different geographical areas or a subject matter like education or health. On larger publications they will write on a particular topic or for a certain section. If you’re not sure who is the right person to send your press release to, ring up the paper and ask who deals with the topic.

Q. Are there any tips/tricks one can use to capture a journalist’s attention?

Rachel Extance It needs to be a good story. Make it grab the heartstrings or talk about something which they can see is of value to their reader. Be helpful. If you read a newspaper/magazine regularly you will spot there are columns like ‘A day in the life…’ or ‘My morning routine’ and they will need people to fill these slots. Find out who compiles the column and send them an email saying why you would be a good fit. Don’t just look at the business ones. You will find ones about music tastes etc. Spot the opportunities.


Rachel Extance Most journalists are on Twitter. You can develop a relationship there. Also keep an eye on #journorequest on Twitter. This is where journalists sometimes ask for help.

Top tips for great press releases

Rachel Extance Here are my top tips:

  1. Do your research. Make sure you are familiar with the publication you are pitching to.
  2. Pitch to a journalist. Most journalists are on Twitter or you can ring the publication up and ask who deals with the topic or section you are interested in.
  3. Keep up with the news agenda. What’s happening? Can you offer a useful point of view?
  4. Look for ways to be helpful. There are often slots to fill which a journalist will welcome someone putting themselves forward for. Look for regular columns like ‘a day in the life of…’ or ‘a moment that changed me…’.
  5. When you outline your story make sure you cover who, what, where, why and how. If it’s an event, don’t forget when. You’d be amazed how many people don’t put the date and time.
  6. Make sure the story is clear from the start. Don’t bury it in the 3rd paragraph – or worse, the second page. (There shouldn’t be a second page.)
  7. Focus on people. If you can tell a story about a person, whether that’s you or someone you have helped, this is a great way to create an emotional connection with your subject.
  8. When is the deadline? Get in touch in good time. This could be two weeks in advance or for magazines it could be months. Work on Christmas really does start in the summer.
  9. Include a good quality picture. If you are pitching to TV/radio outline what will lend atmosphere to the piece. No-one is interested in talking heads if it can be avoided.
  10. Follow up. If you pitched about an event, whether it got coverage or not, you have a second bite by sending them pictures and a report afterwards.
  11. Blog. I saw someone the other day say they got national coverage because a researcher saw their blog. It means when the journalist is checking you out, they can get an idea of what to expect from you.

If you’d like to get more help from Rachel, contact her at Rachel Extance Communications Consultant and on Twitter @RachelExtance