Get free publicity with a press release

How to write and use a press release

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.

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 act or business – all for free.

how to write a press release

Here’s what we will cover

  • Identifing your pegs
  • Bolting on to bigger events and stories for more impact
  • Keeping the story concise and punchy
  • Keeping it relevant to the readers by adapting the story to fit the audience
  • Making sure your story is complete by using the 5W’s rule
  • Avoiding puffery
  • Getting the layout right with additional notes to editor & contact info

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

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 band may be playing its 1000 th 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 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.

They are:

1. Who?

2. What?

3. Why?

4. Where?

5. When?

Some people also recommend adding How? to the mix.

How the Five W’s work

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 a few years ago. 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 … ”

So What?

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.

>>>Part 2: Keeping It Relevant & Layout>>>

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You are more than welcome to use extracts from it it as long you include a link back and credit Al Best and Folk Roots List