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Top tips for press releases

Journalists get press releases every day. These rules will help get yours in the paper.

1. Get your facts right

Number one because it is undoubtedly the most important. If you are sending some information to a journalist about an event which happens on Saturday March 12, make sure that is the date on the press release.

If you write Saturday March 11, even if the journalist spots that March 11 is a Friday they will not know whether the event takes place on Friday 11 or Saturday 12. A good journalist will check – but a rushed or less conscientious one may take the easy way out and not write about the event at all.

Should the journalist not spot the error, the public undoubtedly will, and will blame the journalist – who will feel less than happy at being made to look foolish in front of his/her readers and, most importantly, his/her boss. Result? Your chances of getting future press releases into that journalist’s newspaper are hugely diminished.

The same goes for spelling of names and accuracy when it comes to figures – anything upon which the journalist has to rely upon your having got it right.

2. Find out who to send it to

Spend a bit of time researching who writes most stories about the kind of story you’re publicising. If you’ve got a story about a local woman who’s just won a gardening prize, don’t think you can just email it to the paper and ask for it to be forwarded to the gardening correspondent. Unless it’s The Times or the Daily Mail there won’t be one. If you can’t work it out, decide whether your story fits into news, sport or features, ring the paper’s general number and ask to be put through to that desk. Then be super polite (“I wonder if you might possibly be able to help me?”) and ask for the best person to speak to. A lot of journalists want to help and they want to publicise good local stories – that’s their job.

3. Write a good intro

The intro is the first paragraph (or “par” in journalese). Journalists are trained to keep it to 25 words so see if you can too. Imagine you are telling your best friend about the story. What’s the first thing you tell them? That’s your intro. Chances are the journalist will want to write their own intro, but the job of the press release is to sell it to them – and with a good intro you’re halfway there.

4. Provide pictures and caption them

The average newspaper page has three types of stories – leads, nibs (news in briefs, also known as grout) and picture stories. Your story might not be hugely fascinating or lengthy, but if it has a good picture with it, the paper may well use it as a picture story to brighten up a dull-looking page. Equally, if it is lead-worthy, you are reducing your chances of it receiving maximum publicity by not providing images. If your photograph has people in it – and it really should – then include their names if at all possible. Obviously this doesn’t apply if the photo is of 100 people marching, but when the photo is of three young footballers or prize-winning ballerinas, then name them. And make it clear who is who – e.g. “From left to right: Peter Brown, Dawn Sutherland and Jake Morgan”.

5. Make it easy to follow it up

At the bottom of the release, give names and mobile phone numbers of people the journalist should contact should they want any further information. And make sure those numbers are correct!

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