What Journalists Really Want From Press Releases

If you regularly send press releases to journalists but don’t get much traction, this blog post is for you. 

Is there a sure-fire way of getting our attention? 

Using comments from the world of online, print, radio, and TV, I'll take you through what makes a banger, and what makes a clanger. 

I'm going to be honest with you. And by honesty, I'm implying you may get offended. 

Up and down the newsrooms of this country, there's a fair bit of ‘sniffiness’ from us journalists about your role. I have even heard it said that those in marketing and PR are on ‘the dark side’, and 'failed journalists'. 

On a personal level, you may be astute and popular among your clients. But, on the whole, we are very wary of PR companies because a lot of them – too many – pump out press releases and fire them off willy-nilly. 

How do you attract a journalist?

Call us cynical, but our default attitude for receiving PR communications is: 'What are they trying to peddle to us?' 

We’re very aware that you are earning a crust by trying to get column inches. There is no issue with this, but the number of releases we receive a day that miss the target can be exasperating. 

I’m afraid we spend more time deleting your missives than reading them. You’re lucky if we read the full release. 

What can you do to counter this? I have five main tips. 

1 - Write elegantly

We will read your painstakingly crafted text and snort at the pun-filled language, or groan at the 'big sell', or despair at the big block of convoluted text. You're not going to get coverage because you've channeled your inner comedian or doorstep salesperson. 

Check for factual, spelling, grammar, and punctuation errors. Nothing screams ‘delete’ more than a release riddled with mistakes. 

Furthermore, we will always rewrite your press release to suit the house style of our publication, so there is no need to dazzle us with your words. Keep it plain and simple, with the most important information at the top. 

2 - Be relevant

This is the most important point of all, and I’m afraid it’s a complex one. 

Unfortunately for you, there is no 'one size fits all' press release. 

Unfortunately for us, no one from the PR world seems to notice or care. 

The fact of the matter is that the list of categories of journalists is as long as my arm. We all have different interests and requirements. 

Journalists working for red tops are a different breed from regional newspaper reporters. Website writers focus on text and images, while radio reporters are looking for voices. Public sector journalists – i.e. BBC ones – are restricted by rules on product and event promotion. 

We all have different deadlines. We all have different needs in terms of quotes, images, and guests. We all cover different geographical or topic areas. 

If this sounds like the PR communications world has to do some tailoring, then you'd be right. 

3 - Tailor your releases

Why is tailoring important? Because nothing is more frustrating, and nothing is more of a source of ridicule to us than a misfired press release. 

Take this social media post from a friend, who is the editor of a regional newspaper: 
“A recent survey...with 6,000 participants from 12 countries has revealed the Masturbation Gap between the genders is 68%.”
 Ummmmm, is that arts, sport, or community news? 

4 - What other journalists say

Off the back of the above Facebook post, I asked some of my journalist friends and colleagues what their honest opinion was of the press releases they receive from PR companies. 

A friend of mine who creates podcasts for a national newspaper had this to say: 
"I’ve taken to replying “Hello! Which one of our podcasts were you thinking this would be relevant to?” and have had a few apologies that way when they can see what they’re pitching is completely irrelevant."
 A BBC music colleague of mine said: 
"I absolutely hate it when I get carpet-bombed by music PR companies, especially when they clearly have not researched their target audience. It just clogs up my inbox and makes me not want to engage with them in future."
 A TV news reporter friend of mine, who covers the south of England, agrees with the above: 
"Had one the other week about something in Leeds that would make a great piece for a newspaper!"
 Your time would be better spent writing different versions of your press release to suit as many different categories of journalists as possible. Then, research your own mailing lists and break these down into smaller ones, identifying which type of press release to send to which journalist. 

5 - Ban the bombardment

This point is connected to the tailoring one. As tempting as it may be to fire off a flurry of press releases into the ether, hoping that if you throw enough mud, some will stick – don’t. If you think your ‘send to all’ mailing list technique is a harmless click of a button, then imagine thousands of PR firms doing the same and the journalist receiving these in bulk. 

A local newspaper editor told me: 
"We receive hundreds every week. Most of them I wonder if they've actually thought what is the news here? Or how is this relevant to the publication I'm sending this to?"
 And a colleague of mine in local radio has had enough: 
"Can't see the wood for the trees - get so many I just auto-delete as soon as they appear in my inbox!"

How do you ask a reporter to cover your story?

The relationship between PR and reporter is not one of asking, I’m afraid. It’s about handing us the goods and us making the decision. 

You can forge a good working relationship with us, and learn what sort of story we would be interested in, but you should never directly ask us to cover anything. 

The best method is to send an email with a press release attachment (in Word or a Google Doc, not PDF, as we can’t copy and paste text) and accompany that with a friendly email setting out the basics of what is in the release and offering a contact number or means of obtaining a unique quote. 

What’s the perfect email to send a journalist?

As a news journalist covering the south of England, I would click on an email that has the relevant local detail to me in the subject heading. Something like: Covid causes a 22% rise in child poverty in the Thames Valley, says NSPCC. It’s got a location relevant to me, it’s got an arresting fact, and it’s got a credible source. 

It is crucial that the main text has: 
It would be a banger if the press release comes with

What do journalists do with a press release?

 When we receive a press release that we can work with, the following will happen: 
So, there you have it. The above is an honest appraisal of the relationship between PR and reporter from a journalist’s point of view.

As you can tell, a big change needs to happen for this relationship to improve.

With the right tweaks, we will eventually land on the same page.

If you’re using press releases as part of your content promotion strategy, make sure you use the tips in this post from a real-life journalist.

For help with press release distribution, PR Fire distributes any type of content for just £50.