How to get them to love your press release in three seconds

August 31, 2009

As a blogger I get more emails than I really (if truth be told) feel like reading, and I really do (being truthful) give promotional emails about 3 seconds. They have that long to get my attention. And even once they’ve done that, I have to like them. I need them to help me out by having the right information in them. And that’s just for a blog!

Last week I had a job writing copy from a disparate group of press releases, and it was hard work. It struck me that lots of these press releases were making the same mistakes. So I thought I’d pass on some Text Pixel wisdom about how to write a really good press release. How to get their attention and make them love you in 3 seconds.

First, and this should go without saying, you should have something to say. If you have something really interesting to say you’re halfway there.

There’s an easy test: if you really have something interesting – a story – you should be able to sum up the exciting part in a sentence or two. Do this. That’s your first sentence. If it’s a sentence an editor could use readymade for a standfirst, even better. The idea is to help the editor out as much as possible.

Above that sentence, put your headline. On one line. It’s the first thing they see, so make it pithy and informative, but not so doggedly factual that it ‘s just dull. That takes them a quarter of a second.

Then, all on one page, in short paragraphs, explain the background to your news. Was it a study, did someone say something, did you achieve something? How did it happen? Who says? Don’t just keep describing the event, the person, the product, the show. The editor does not want to regurgitate your adjectives! The editor wants to know what, who, why, and how.

Bring it to life. Any article will have to tell the story, and stories have characters. And characters speak. Make sure you include a quote, something a person says: the CEO, the person it happened to, the person who made the discovery, the artist, the hero, an expert. You’re giving the editor or journalist something to work with there.

Fit all this on one page. Your editor can’t – and won’t – read two pages in three seconds.

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On the second page, under “Notes to editors,” put a bullet-point list of all the background information you think people might need: statistics, the person’s background, where the artist studied, the organisation’s track record, the problem with the previous law. All the stuff you couldn’t put in because the main story had to fit on one page. They  may need it, and it gives them something to go on if they want to exapnd on your press release.


  • Address a cover letter to a woman to “Dear Sir.” They don’t like that.
  • Offer someone inappropriate material – for example, historical fiction when they cover poetry. Especially not consistently.
  • Include obviously copy-&-pasted information. Make sure you update every word so it looks fresh! Mistakes at this stage are often fatal.
  • Send the same thing to the same person twice.
  • Bombard the same inappropriate person with your press releases when they have never used them. I know of a political journalist who has been getting weekly press releases from a soup company for years. What for??
  • Try to be cute.

One Response to “How to get them to love your press release in three seconds”

  1. Ben said

    Nice post. The two things I always try and remember to do are 1) Fit the ‘Who, what, when, where, why?” into the first two sentences, or even the first; and 2) Assume that journalists will always slice out paragraphs from the bottom until it fits the space available (ie don’t put important stuff at the end).

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