Free media release training: The dos and don’ts of writing a successful media or press release
Welcome to our free taster training pack, helping you produce winning media releases, that succeed in attracting the interest of newspapers, magazines, radio, TV and websites.
This listing of simple do’s and don’ts should help you avoid some of the common pitfalls of media releases and inspire some impressive writing.
And if you like this, you are sure to like the other media release training provided by allmediascotland.com, as part of its suite of media release publishing options.
The Dos and Don’ts of writing a successful media release
Do write the release with your intended reader at the centre of your focus.
Don’t write the release from your own perspective, because, frankly, who cares?
Do spend time crafting the opening paragraph, where the ‘game is won or lost’ when it comes to trying to engage with your intended reader.
Don’t use the opening paragraph to share what, in the ‘cold light of day’, is little more than background information.
Do use simple language; a media release is not a test of your intellectual virility, it’s a test of your story-telling skills.
Don’t make the release so long that people lose the will to give it even a cursory glance.
Do remember the common story types such as the extraordinary, the quirky, the new and David versus Goliath; and that a good fallback on trying to decide the story’s ‘top line’ is to ask: what’s the impact (or likely impact)?
Don’t begin a release with the words, ‘Despite’, or ‘Whilst’; they immediately signal some imminent, potentially off-putting convoluted logic.
Do keep detail in your opening paragraph to a (teasing) minimum.
Don’t put detail in the opening paragraph that might put people off.
Do decide whether the release is for immediate use or embargoed until some point in the future (a common style is 00:01, one minute past midnight on the date you would like the release to go ‘live’) and make clear around the top of the release.
Do provide a headline, usually a pithier version (less than ten words) of the opening paragraph.
Don’t make the opening paragraph much more than 25 words long or the headline much more than six words long.
Do mention, around the top of the release, details of the release author and the current date.
Don’t mention an organisation’s name, or the name of a person, in the opening paragraph if most folk are unlikely to recognise it.
Do keep the language of the opening paragraph as inclusive as possible; for example, saying, ‘One of the country’s leading …’, is likely to intrigue more people than naming names.
Don’t mention an acronym or piece of jargon in your opening paragraph that is likely to be known only by a few.
Do remember your release will be competing with lots of others, so it needs to do its job quickly and pretty dramatically.
Don’t forget that lots of your competition is so badly written it’s not really competition at all.
Do try to avoid that tired, dull and often spectacularly unsuccessful opening paragraph formula: someone is doing something at sometime, somewhere.
Don’t include unjustified hyperbole in your opening paragraph; the mere mention of the word, ‘exciting’, sends many a journalist into a hissy fit.
Do err towards the present tense rather than the past; it naturally injects pace to what it is you are saying.
Don’t include anything, especially in your opening paragraph, that requires a head for figures, eg 42 per cent of the 90,000 who… (better ‘almost 40,000 …’).
Do use the opening paragraph to tee up obvious Who? What? Where? When? Why? questions that require to be answered from paragraph two onwards
Don’t spend the first six words of your opening paragraph actually saying very little, and perhaps some distance still from giving any clue as to what the story really is.
Do be aware that a location/geography is important to some people and completely irrelevant to others.
Don’t give a quote a status it ill-deserves; the managing director expressing his or her delight is certainly not the story and needs to go after a good few paragraphs where the content makes clear there is good reason to be delighted.
Do turn your first attempt at an opening paragraph upside down and consider if the ordering of information works ‘better’.
Don’t forget to include contact details at the end of your release.
Do read the opening paragraph aloud; if it ‘sings’, it ‘sings’.
Don’t assume anyone has more than 15 seconds to decide whether your release is worthy of their attention.
Do remember that your release is not journalism, it’s a promotional pitch to the media.
Don’t make claims about a third party that are open to dispute and then expect the release to appear on a site like allmediascotland.com. A media release sent privately to a journalist might wish to make all sorts of claims, in the expectation that the journalist will provide the third party a right of reply. But allmediascotland.com isn’t a private conversation with a journalist, when everyone can see the contents of the release, on a site that can be viewed around the world.
Do place the information in your release in an order of hierarchy, with the least important last. That way, readers who don’t read the release all the way to the bottom won’t be missing out on much. Also, a newspaper that wishes to use the release but not all of it (say, because of a lack of space), can confidently cut from the bottom up, without the sense of the release being jeopardised.
Don’t forget to provide Notes to Editor (after the end of the release, usually marked ‘Ends’), providing some general information about who you are, why, where, when founded, etc.
Do remember your grammar, not least the correct use of the apostrophe; it’s (short for ‘it is’) versus its (possession).
Don’t forget to provide the job title of anyone you quote and that the common style is Said Mike Wilson, managing director of allmediascotland.com: “This is the common style; you’ll note the use of the colon and the speech quotes, with the second set of speech quotes outside of the sentence.”.
Do have fun sculpting with words in the opening paragraph; a good opening paragraph should make the writing of the rest of the release extremely quick and easy (because you are answering the basic Who, What, Where, When and Why? questions that you, yourself have teed up).
Don’t despair: writing an opening paragraph and the remainder of the release is a craft and practice makes perfect.