Tips I Wish I Had Learned

Most public relations students who graduate from Arizona State’s J-school will know how to write a press release. We all know press releases are supposed to include main points about whatever it is we want media outlets to know about, but what are the media really looking for? What is going to get my release noticed over all the others?

I came across a guest post by a former professor of mine named Daryl James for the PR Practitioner. I also interned under him at the East Valley Tribune in Mesa, Ariz. I learned a lot by working there in terms of seeing how the media operates and how they weed through the hundreds of leads that come in each week. I think working in a newsroom is something every PR student should do.

James’ post gives five tips to PR professionals about what to include and what to leave out of press releases.

  1. Only include facts – James suggests bullet points containing the who, what, where, when, why and how
  2. It’s about the readers – Ask yourself, why should readers care about this?
  3. Don’t create more work for the editor – Paste the release in the body of the email and don’t use attachments
  4. Be honest – Don’t add more than there really is to the story or next time your release will get deleted without a second thought
  5. Be aware of your audience – Understand who your story is for

After reading this post I was a little upset. I had learned to write a press release in a PR class but not like this. We were taught to tellĀ a story and include all the details. I would have liked to know things like bullets are OK and that it’s not about you or your client, it’s about the readers.

If those previous five points are true, what else do the media look for? What else can be done to put your releases above the others? What can I include in my releases to make editors eager to receive them?

Considering I am graduating in May and that hundreds of press releases are deleted every week at any given news organization, I found these tips to be extremely helpful. I just wish I had known facts like this earlier on.

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15 Responses to Tips I Wish I Had Learned

  1. mlmyers says:

    A simple search into goggle about press release content and you can find hundreds of sites that tell you what certain people want in a press release. I think it is very important to know different methods of writing a press release, but I wouldn’t take any as the end all be all of press release writing. I also interned at the Republic and while I was there, I learned from three different reporters what they want in a press release, and they were all different. So I do agree that you should be aware of the different things to include or exclude in a release, but no one method will make everyone happy. This may only be possible in a smaller market where you pitch the same people, but if you can find out the style preferred to the people you pitch to, that would be your best bet. Other than that I think it is important to you the format that makes most sense to the information in the release.

  2. kparma says:

    I agree with your point. I do think it differs from editor to editor and news media to news media. I just found those tips made a lot of sense and they were things I hadn’t learned in any PR class I had taken. For as important as press releases are, I didn’t feel like I spent too much time in college learning how to write one that was effective. The most helpful tips I learned were in the newsroom.

  3. drgilpin says:

    I agree with Michelle that there is a vast range of preferences regarding style, format, timing, and content of press releases. Like any other form of communication, the point is to know your audience–not just the eventual readership or audience of the media outlet, but the preferences of the person who is going to be receiving your release and deciding, often after the briefest of glances, whether it’s worth pursuing.

    That’s one reason you probably didn’t spend a lot of time on them in your classes: no point teaching you One True Way, when that way doesn’t really exist. The other reason is that if you have good general writing skills, learning to write a release (once you’ve determined what your contacts want to see in one) is not rocket science. It’s easy enough to pick up on the job. Far more important, in my opinion, that you spend your time in college learning how to think strategically, conduct research, and in general understanding some of the more complex aspects of public relations. Those are the skills that are going to make you an attractive hire and open up a lot of real career opportunities, and they are much harder (and the stakes are higher) to pick up along the way.

  4. elwhite2 says:

    Kparma- I think your post was very interesting and enlighting. I actually didn’t know that you were allowed to include bullet points and numbers as Daryl James mentioned. In my intro to pr class, we only wrote one press release the entire semester and it was rather formal, so that was how they were all supposed to be. I do agree with Dr. Gilpin that the reason we are not really taught how to write press releases is because there is not one correct way to do it. However, they failed to mention that part.
    In response to your question about what the media wants, I think we are just going to have to analyze each situation. Our audience will play a huge role as well because it depends who you’re targeting the release to. That will determine the formality or informality of your piece of writing. I really feel that real world experience is worth more than an education in the classroom because everything I have learned about press releases has come from my internships. Does anyone agree?

  5. mgjersvi says:

    I worked for about a year with a firm called Barclay Communications here in Phoenix. I got to work with really high-end clients which meant I didn’t do a lot of the PR writing. What I did get a chance to do is read a lot of really great PR documents. I think we can learn a lot by reading. In my creative writing classes my teachers have always emphasized that a good writer has to be an avid reader. That never occured to me for PR, probably because no one sits around reading fact-sheets and backgrounders for fun.

  6. kparma says:

    Thanks for all the great advice and info. It is true that we probably learn the most from reading, analyzing and actually writing ourselves. Thanks for the good comments.

  7. Nancy Flores says:

    I once worked with a Business Wire representative when I was uploading a release to go over the wires and he suggested using bullet points. He said that the bullet points made the release easy for people to scan and see if this is of interest to them. He also suggested bolding key words (google loves bold) and breaking up longer releases into different sections. I think it is all about finding a style that fits your needs. Don’t forget to SEO your release!!

  8. Christine says:

    I also was in Daryl James’ reporting class so I was very interested to read his input on public relations.

    I have heard over and over again for the last four years that press releases get thrown out everyday and I really found these tips helpful. I never thought about putting bullet points in press releases but now I’m thinking of a more variety of ways to format press releases.

  9. maxlawrencehollister says:

    I agree that PR students should have some experience in a newsroom, so that when practicing, they know what journalists are looking for. On that note, shouldn’t everyone have to take broadcast classes too? I know nothing about broadcast journalism and sports PR deals with a lot of broadcast.

    I like mostly all of Mr. James’ points except for the bullet points. I have to be honest, but the only press releases I look at are sports related, and mostly baseball. I have never come across one with bullet points. I think an editor could take offense and it could come across as condescending.

  10. sekane says:

    I agree with many things written here. I definitely was interested in your post immediately from the title. We are always looking for tips on how to make what we create the best, whether its an article, a press release or a resume. As mlmyers mentioned, we can google these types of things to look for tips. We also can work as interns and ask journalists what makes one press release stand out. I do believe however that these tips are helpful and definitely a good starting point. I believe we learn with experience. In our writing class, our pitch letter and press release were quite formal and I see these tips as something more real and relevant to what I could be doing in the future.

  11. gbohulan says:

    I used to intern with Daryl James too! He is awesome because he really did work with PR students like us to help us pitch stories to newspapers. Another tip I learned was to pitch your press release to specific reporters. Follow the types of stories they write and mention it in your pitch letter. A good way to subject your e-mail is to write a specific place for the story you are pitching. For example, “Good community calendar item” or “Perfect AZ Living front page piece.” The most important tip I think you suggested was about being honest. You can only fluff up your event or story so much. Honesty is the best policy. Great blog post!

  12. Nicholas Smith says:

    I agree that writing a press release is something that should be given more attention in the public relations program here. I have had a couple of different internships and I have seen a number of different techniques emphasized in writing each press release, but it is hard to tell what is the most effective way to write one, and also what is considered to be proper press release edict. Being that it is such an important part of a PR practitioners job, I think that there should definitely be more of a focus and maybe a whole class on specifically what should be included in a press release and what the best way to get your release read should be.

  13. kparma says:

    Everything stated here is valid. I completely agree that we should spend more time on press releases since PR professors are alwasys saying it’s one of the most important components of our job. However, I believe that it’s something I really only learned how to do from my internships. Nothing beats the real world when it comes to writing and getting practice.

    To what someone said earlier, I do think that as PR students we should at least have to take an entry level broadcast class. I also know nothing about broadcast journalism. I also think broadcast and print students should have to take PR classes. The three professions work together all the time and I think it’s important to know how the others operate.

  14. drgilpin says:

    I absolutely agree that all Cronkite students should get at least some exposure to print, broadcast, online, and PR. The boundaries between these areas are blurring greatly, and it makes sense to create not just specialists but good generalists.

    However, it’s very difficult to manage in terms of organizing the curriculum requirements, to make sure everyone has enough classes in their specialization as well as broader coursework, not to mention gen ed classes and nonmajor electives. Now, if only we could convince everyone to stay in college an extra year, we could handle it more easily…

  15. tmpace says:

    The first press release I ever wrote was at my internship, and I thought hey now I am the master of press release, but then I got to Xu Wu’s class, and he taught a completely different format, and then I thought now I really am the master of the press release. Then I started a new internship, and they taught me a different way of writing a press release. Then I began to see no one has a clue what a press release really is. (OK that is exaggerating)

    Thank you for this post. It is always helpful to know what editors and reporters think are important.

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