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How to write for a journalist

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There is a question that taxes the brain of every PR executive as they prepare to write a press release.

Namely, what do I need to do to give it the best chance of being published by a journalist?

These days, there are fewer and fewer journalists employed by newspapers and consequently time is tight.

Gone are the long liquid lunches where reporters ‘entertained’ contacts, often a local councillor, a member of the CID team or a PR executive, where stories flowed as freely as the refreshments.

In these sobering times, how do you grab the attention of the journos without a face-to-face meet?

Here are some general rules which may provide an answer:

The subject matters

The subject line of the email you send may be the only piece of information the busy journalist reads so make it stand out.

Make the words count. Tell the story if you can.

If you can pique their interest then you have made it to first base. 

Write it like a news story

This may seem obvious but sometimes it pays to state the obvious.

Write the press release as if it was a news story.

Employ the principle of hitting the reader with the strongest intro.

Avoid any sales jargon unless it is a release about a sales success.

Beware of flaccid quotes – if they are not fit for purpose do not use them.

Give it what’s it worth

There can be a tendency these days to overwrite as the received wisdom is that there is no such thing as ‘too long’ when it comes to online output.

This is a fallacy.

Over-worked journalists will inevitably switch off before reaching the end of a flabby and rambling release.

This can have a very damaging effect – it can convince them you have nothing interesting to say at this juncture and even more importantly, on any future occasion. 

A picture paints a thousand words

Quite possibly so. What is without debate is that a good photograph can greatly improve the chances of a press release securing coverage.

Images have never been so important. They have always grabbed attention but these days they can add real value to a release.

The staff photographer is a rare and endangered species, so the offer of (free to use) images to improve the look of a printed page or a website article is attractive to news publishers operating with a reduced supply of new photographs.   

The value of video

What is true of photography also applies to video.

If the release is targeted at online media, an accompanying video can put it at the front of a queue of potential stories.

Once again, keep the message as short as possible.

Drone footage is good. Droning on, not so.

Pick up the phone

Call the journalist you have sent the press release to.

Do not be afraid to speak to them. They may be busier than ever but they also have more spaces to fill.

A quick chat can help build a relationship which can bear fruit further down the line.

After all, this is the communication business.

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