Press Release Makeovers: 10 Steps to a Stronger, Firmer Pitch

Flickr Creative Commons photo by Jeff Eaton

Flickr Creative Commons photo by Jeff Eaton

In a world where news reporters are bombarded with news releases, it doesn’t take much for otherwise interesting pitches to get thrown carelessly into the ‘no’ pile.

If you want to improve your chances of getting your story covered, you have to do whatever it takes to capture the imagination of reporters and editors.

You need to be sharp and direct — and you need to be willing to stand out.

How do you do that?

I begins by avoiding these 10 common mistakes:

Mistake 1: Flat Headlines

Your headline is your first impression -- and the headline for each release should tell the reporter immediately why what you're pitching is important to his or her audience. 

Often, news release headlines are long and dry, like a college textbook, when they should be short and pack a punch, like a movie poster. 

Resist the urge to tell your entire story in the headline and devote some time to crafting a headline that aims to grab the attention of your reader.

Your primary goal for the headline is to get the reporter or editor to keep reading, not to convey every key piece of information.

Hook 'em with the headline and save the details for the release.


Mistake 2: A Long, Repetitive Lead

Like your headline, the lead of your release is a crucial ingredient in grabbing a reporter's attention. Many news releases fail to hit the mark because the lead is either way too long or repeats (sometimes verbatim) the headline.

Try to avoid both of these mistakes by writing a short, direct lead that focuses on why what you're announcing is important and does so in a way that doesn't mirror the wording in your headline. Use your next paragraph to fill in any key facts.


Mistake 3: An Overly Manufactured Quote

Most of the quotes I see in press releases read more like boilerplate than an actual quote.

Your quote isn't just there to fill space. Ideally, it should give the reporter a ready-made quote that he or she can include in a story if time is short or if they are unable to interview that official.

Check out more advice on how to stand out from your peers and inject thoughtful quotes into your releases.

Mistake 4: Massive Paragraphs

Long, multi-sentence paragraphs work well in books and term papers.

But they don't work in news releases.

Long blocks of type are hard to read online, which is why you'll notice that most news stories you read have one- or two-sentence paragraphs.

There's a simple fix for this: your return key.

If you see long blocks of type in your draft, find some places where you can break your existing paragraphs into smaller chunks and hit "return".

Your reader will thank you -- and he or she will be less likely to lose interest.

Mistake 5: Too Much Information

A reporter who decides to cover your announcement isn't likely to create a multi-part series about your new initiative. With that in mind, you don't need your release to include every detail about what you're announcing.

Instead, focus on the most important stuff and leave the rest on the cutting room floor.

If reporters are interested, they'll reach out to get additional information and conduct interviews. That is, after all, what they're paid to do.

Aim to keep it short -- no more than two pages, if possible. If you can keep it to one page, even better.

Mistake 6: Not Articulating Why Your Release Is Important

How do you keep your releases short and to the point? You start by figuring out why what you're announcing is important and then you focus your release on selling that importance.

This crucial step will help you with everything from finding the right headline, writing a tight lead, and incorporating an impactful quote.

It will also help you determine what details aren't necessary in the final release.

Mistake 7: Sloppy Copy

Your organization loses a lot of credibility if you send a release that isn't properly copy edited. Take the extra time to make sure every word is spelled correctly, every comma and semicolon is in the right place, and every sentence is written crisply.

A well-written release can help you stand out from the crowd. A sloppy one will also stand out -- but for all of the wrong reasons.

Mistake 8: Forgetting to Fact Check

What's worse than a misspelled word? An incorrect fact.

Make sure every fact included in your release has been properly verified and every number adds up.

A good reporter is going to check your facts before he or she files the story. If your statements are false or misleading, things will go south for you quickly.

Mistake 9: Leaving Out Your Contact Information

Back in my reporting days, I was always surprised by how many news releases left out a crucial piece of information: who to contact.

When you send your release, clearly identify who to contact and provide an email address and a telephone number.

If possible, make sure the number you provide is one that is monitored after business hours. Not all reporters work 9 to 5 -- and many of them are filing their stories in the evenings or on weekends.

If they need to check a fact or get more information on deadline, it's crucial for them to be able to reach someone quickly.

Mistake 10: Sending It to the Wrong Person

Of course, all of the advice above won't matter if your release never gets seen.

Before you send, make sure your media list is up to date and that you're sending your release to the appropriate reporter or editor. If possible, avoid sending to a general newsroom email address and instead find a real person.

Taking these steps won't guarantee you a placement. But they will greatly increase your odds.

Before you send your next release, take the time to avoid these pitfalls and your releases will start to get better results.