14 steps to the perfect press release

Time Out’s deputy editor, Jonny Ensall, lists the time tested do’s and don’ts – and everything in between – of press releases.

1| A good press release is a beautiful thing – A good press release is like a good piece of journalism – it creates a narrative which is easily accessible, hooks your interest and gives you all the necessary details right off the bat, plus immediate confidence in what you’re reading and the writer who produced it.

2| It can be interesting, witty, digestible, knowledgeable, reliable, friendly – But overall it should be a straightforward way of communicating information.

3| You’re one in 10,000 – Or more! Editors will have thousands of unread emails, their inbox will be scanned over for subject lines and preheaders that attract their attention. Say it in the subject line: be clear, intriguing or personal.

4| When reaching out, don’t reach out – Steer clear of cliche openers such as “I wanted to reach out to you about…”. Use a comfortable tone, if you’re sending the right piece to the right person it’ll be something you both have a mutual interest in so be natural and talk on the level.

5| Be upfront with your salient points – Put the most important details at the top or easy to find. Never send a thread, your message should always and only be in the body of the email (no editor will waste time searching through threads for the relevant information, put it in the body or it won’t be seen!)

6| Never send just an attachment – Always put something in the body!

7| Be creative – How can you talk about your event/client/company in a way that feels unique? What’s the detail that makes it a story? Don’t waste your chance to capture the readers mind.

8| But don’t go too far! – Your message should be short (no more than 500 words) and friendly, offering key details and a sell. A longer press release will be attached, repeating and expanding on those points.

9| It’s better to be over than under prepared – Have ready: Images, information, quotes, people ready to be interviewed. If your story gets snapped up, don’t be the reason it gets put on hold.

10| Time it right – As a rule of thumb: Six weeks ahead of street date for a weekly, several months for a monthly.

11| Do follow up – Unless it’s a brilliant, exclusive story always send an email first. If no response, send a friendly email a couple of days after. Or, if you know it’s a good, exclusive, cover-worthy story, and you’ve left a bit of time for it to sink in, give them a call.

12| Don’t be a pest without a cause – Avoid sending more than three emails about the same thing. Avoid sending something you know isn’t right. Avoid asking someone junior in the office to ring everyone on a list and ask them if they’ve got the email.

13| Proofread, proofread then proofread again – Your press release represents you/your event/client/company and, like articles, lose their credibility if they’re poorly worded, or full of spelling mistakes or factual errors. Having to very occasionally retract a press release is understandable, but, do it regularly and you’ll start to look bad.

14| Enjoy it! – The best relationships with PRs are the ones which feel genuine – where you don’t feel like you’re being chatted up, or given the hard sell. It’s the free exchange of info about something you might be mutually passionate about.