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How to get your press release picked up by a journalist
Author : Stephanie Joy Hubbard
Posted : 21 / 02 / 22
When you want the world to know about your event, news, product, brand or service, you’ll be aiming for press coverage. That means getting your story picked up by journalists.
The first step to achieving that is, of course, writing a great press release.
But that’s just the beginning: now you need to get strategic. What are the other steps you need to take to be successful in distributing your press release and getting that coverage?
This guide covers everything you need to know – and includes pro tips from both PR professionals and journalists on what to do to increase your odds of getting published.
Here are two fundamentals to remember:
If you haven’t yet done the writing part, take a look at this guide on how to write a press release for all the details. For now, here’s a quick overview.
Use the inverted pyramid model: who, what, when, where, why, how?
Start your press release with all the most important details of the story: that’s what‘s happening, who it is happening to, and when, where, why and how it is happening. Follow that with finer details, getting to the less critical background information at the end.
Write in the third person
Journalists need to be able to quickly copy and paste your writing. So use the third person, never the first person. For example, write: ‘Haysto launches revolutionary new mortgage product,’ rather than ‘We have launched a revolutionary new mortgage product.’
Keep it brief
Your word count should be around 400–600 words and no more than the equivalent of one side of A4.
Include short, bold quotes
Include quotes high up in the press release because they instantly bring the story to life. When you collect (or write) quotes, they’re often long and detailed – which is good! But make sure every paragraph of a quote can also stand alone, so they naturally split into short, bold soundbites. This means journalists can easily pull out the bits they prefer to use in their story.
Where possible, it can be easier to draft quotes yourself and then get them signed off by the person being quoted. That way you can focus on writing the perfect, succinct quote that sums up your story or angle.
Keep your formatting consistent
Don’t go overboard on formatting. Keep it standard and simple: make your headline bold and large, and don’t mix and match font size and colour in the body copy. Use bullet points and headings to break up the text.
Case studies may not always be relevant for your story. But if you’re writing about a product or service, get a case study together for your press release. Journalists like case studies because they bring people into the story – and because they know their readers want to hear about how real people are interacting with the products or services. Talking about people will always have a much greater impact than including figures alone.
Journalists love data. Support your press release with statistics if you can, as it’s a strong selling point – as long as it’s fresh data. Don’t use data that’s already been in the public domain. Journalists are looking for NEW news, and that’s especially true when it comes to data points.
Some journalists won’t include links as a rule. This can simply be because they’re trying to keep the reader on their publication site rather than direct traffic elsewhere. If you do include links in your release, increase your odds of getting them included by checking that they add value to the journalist’s article. For example, you may include a link that leads to something interactive and engaging.
Let’s lay the foundation with some basic (but critical) rules for sending your press release.
When it comes to the distribution of your press release, it pays to have a process and to put the planning in before you get down to actually emailing it out.
First, you need to identify the suitable publications and the suitable journalists at that publication. This all comes down to good old-fashioned research.
Journalists are unlikely to cover a story outside their usual domain. There’s no point, for example, emailing someone who writes on arts and culture with a press release about IT. Be targeted when you compile your list of potential journalists to contact – and only send your release to relevant people.
Do your research into publications that seem like a good fit: what kind of things do they typically cover? Look at the author name on stories similar to yours. What do specific writers typically write about?
And don’t stop there. Search Twitter to see who’s talking about your particular subject or who references it in their bio. Are any of them journalists you could approach? Check their bio and feed (and, failing those, turn to Google) to track down who they write for.
Pro tip: Always research the writing of individual journalists you want to approach. As well as what they write about, make a few notes on how they write: the techniques and the style they use, their tone of voice. Tweak your release to mirror each journalist, so it’s easy for them to use your copy. If it fits their usual style, they’re much more likely to want to publish it.
Work out what kinds of publications to approach in terms of which trade, local and national publications are relevant for your story.
A trade magazine, or trade journal, is a publication (printed or online) whose target audience is people who work in a particular trade or industry. Sometimes you hear this referred to as the ‘trade press’. For example, there are many local (and national) property publications that only publish stories about property prices, mortgages, housing and investments because this is their ‘trade’.
A local publication mainly publishes stories that affect a particular area, like the Leicester Mercury, the Manchester Evening News or the London Evening Standard.
A national publication is one that is published in hard copy nationally and covers stories about the entire country (and beyond). In the UK, this includes the Guardian, The Mirror and the Daily Telegraph.
It’s a good idea to distribute your press release to a variety of publications from trade, local and national press, based on your topic and angle.
For example, if you have a new mortgage product, you can approach the property editor of a national publication with that story since it’s relevant for the entire country. But if you have a case study of a couple in Manchester who benefitted from that new mortgage product, you can approach local news (and trade) publications too.
Pro tip: Don’t fall into the trap of only approaching national publications. Sometimes local press has more impact because of the increased relevance and proximity to your subject matter.
Once you’ve identified the relevant trade, local and national press publications for your story, you need to find out who at those publications you should be contacting. You’re going to create a press list of names and emails.
Look at the publication’s ‘Contact us’ page to identify the most relevant journalist for your story. Again, a lot of this is common sense: if your press release is property related, you’ll get the details of the property writers and editor (rather than, say, the fashion writer).
You’ll usually find contact pages via the footer navigation of a website, but note that the information they give can vary. Some contact pages will list a more generic ‘desk’ email (like the ‘editorial desk’), rather than specific journalists’ details. In this case, choose the most relevant desk for your story.
Here are a few examples of contact pages:
It’s worth checking journalists’ social media profiles for contact details too.
Use a spreadsheet to keep up-to-date contact details in easy reach. (Make it a collaborative sheet if you want to share it with others in your team.) Create headings for publication, journalist name, email and phone number, plus a notes section for recording journalists’ specific preferences.
Be careful to keep the details current: journalists can change roles quite often. Double-check the information if you haven’t used it in a while.
If PR is a big part of an ongoing project, you might want to consider a paid-for monitoring and distribution service. This will speed up the process for you and help you manage your media campaigns on a bigger scale.
Media-monitoring companies like Cision or Kantar give you access to up-to-date lists of which journalists are writing about which topics and provide you with contact details. Services like these allow you to see who’s opened your release and how long they spent reading it, as well as who didn’t open it. They can also provide you with industry insights, track brand mentions and help you analyse your results.
However, these services do generally cost around £1,000 a month (or more). So if the budget is tight or you’re distributing press releases on an ad hoc rather than systematic basis, they might not be worth it.
If PR is part of your ongoing project plan, it can be beneficial to build a relationship with a particular journalist if you’re going to contact them often with new material.
A good relationship with a journalist is built on mutual benefit. Journalists are too busy for mere pleasantries and chit-chat, as a rule. But if you consistently provide value for them – by sending engaging stories that will appeal to their audience – they’ll be more open to hearing from you. And they’ll be more likely to open your emails and read your press releases.
Get to know what stories they prefer by tracking what they publish and what they don’t from what you send. This will help you understand how to choose and position your press releases for them.
Understanding how busy journalists are is also vital when you communicate with them, pitch your story, write your subject line and when you’re trying to build long-term relationships. They also get a lot of pitches, so yours has to stand out.
It’s worth noting that if you’re from a very big organisation, journalists are more likely to think they can get stories or insights from you in the long term. So they’ll probably be more inclined to build a relationship with you than if you’re from a small company.
If PR is a small part of your role or you’re doing it on an ad hoc basis, don’t try to build relationships with journalists – it could actually turn them off. See the process as a professional transaction.
Pro tip: To make your communication with journalists easier, it might help to learn press lingo so you can understand any jargon and speak their language.
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Generally, when it comes to distributing a press release, email is best. However, you may experiment with other forms of approach, such as social media.
Different writers have different preferences. Some won’t mind being approached on social media, while others will dislike it and won’t respond.
When it comes to approaching or pitching a story on social media, do your research and use your judgement on whether you think it’s appropriate. Be careful not to annoy your target with small stories you’re not 100% confident they’ll want.
Pro tip: Some journalists will note their preferred approach to being contacted in their bio or in a pinned tweet (and may include their contact details too). Be sure to check their profile and feed.
You can use Twitter direct messages to make initial contact with journalists. This is safest when you’re from an organisation they can’t afford to ignore, or if you can effectively tie your message into something they’re really interested in right now. That could be something that’s currently in the news or that they have been tweeting about. But don’t copy and paste an entire press release into a direct message.
Pro tips: Contacting via social media can be easier with journalists from trade publications and local press because they like to know who the new players are and what’s current. They generally care more about building relationships. Whoever you’re contacting, always be humble and professional on social media. Avoid chit-chat: they haven’t got time for it.
An exclusive is a story you’re giving to only ONE publication, at least initially. You might decide to do this if one particular publication is perfect for your story, and with the exclusive they’ll push it out on their channels as a priority.
Since giving one publication the exclusive story means they get to publish before anyone else, it’s a great way to build a relationship and trust with a particular journalist and publication.
If you’re giving an exclusive, make sure this is the first thing the journalist sees when you send the press release. Start your subject line with the word ‘EXCLUSIVE’, followed by the title of the story.
If you share a story or press release ‘under embargo’, it means you’re noting a later date at which the story is OK to release. (Otherwise, your press release will be ‘for immediate release’, meaning the journalist can publish the story straight away.)
You might distribute a press release under embargo for practical reasons. This could be that you’re waiting for sign-off from someone quoted or you want to align the release with a relevant event, like National Women’s Day. You don’t want to frustrate your journalist though, so make sure it’s really clear when they can publish the article and why the embargo is in place.
Pro tip: Don’t send your release to other publications at the same time, saying you’ve given the exclusive to another publication. It’s not good for your future relationship with those contacts. Instead, wait till the exclusive has been published, then send.
Timing when you send your press release really matters – mainly because journalists are busy and have congested inboxes.
There’s no one perfect time to send a press release, but there are things to consider to time it the best you can. For example, Mondays are often the busiest and most hectic day of the week. So avoid sending a press release on Friday afternoons or Monday mornings.
Tuesday to Thursday is often a calmer time for journalists. But avoid emailing first thing in the morning when their inboxes are likely very full and late in the afternoon when your email is likely to be one of many and therefore less visible.
With a trade publication, try to find out when they ‘put it to bed’ – that is, when the editors have signed off all copy and the publication is either sent to print or pushed live online. You can do this by asking journalists directly in your outreach email. Make sure your release reaches them at least a couple of days ahead of that deadline.
If your news is timely and you want it out as soon as possible, find out if the trade publication has a daily bulletin. Many trade publications publish a daily, lunchtime bulletin in which they email all subscribers the news that has come in that morning. Here, you should aim to get your press release to them by 10.30am or 11.00am that day for immediate release.
With the national press, avoid Monday mornings because it’s generally the busiest time of the week. Journalists are often in editorial meetings first thing Monday morning.
Having said that, if your story is particularly juicy and timely, they may be able to be flexible for you. But the story has to be something they’ll have no doubt will help them sell the publication or attract readers online.
How you email your press release will play a key part in whether it’s picked up. You have the briefest opportunity to grab a journalist’s attention when your email pops up in their inbox. There are also a few etiquette points to be aware of to give you the maximum chance of getting that press coverage.
Your subject line needs to be to the point and should clearly express what the story is about. Start it with ‘PITCH:’ followed by the headline of the press release.
Remember that if the subject line is long, only the first few words will be visible. So edit down your press release title and choose these words very carefully. As a general rule, try to get the full subject title down to as few words as you can. But always make sure the first few actually say (or hint at) something.
For example, ‘PITCH: Ofcom top reason for failing schools is lack of diversity’ could become ‘PITCH: Ofcom fails schools for lack of diversity’, saving 16 characters.
Check the character limit at which subject lines get cut off on the email provider the recipient is using. Then you’ll know exactly how many characters you have to grab their attention. You can use an online character counter to check how many your subject line has.
Pro tip: Avoid being too ‘creative’ with the subject line – for example, using puns or clickbait (that is, where the subject line suggests one story, but the reality is different). This sort of thing can backfire and irritate your target.
Speaking at BrightonSEO‘s annual search-marketing conference, Metro UK Deputy News Editor Sian Elvin noted some particularly off-putting subject lines that she’s received in email pitches. These are good examples of what not to do:
‘BOO! Oh sorry, didn’t mean to scare you!’ – This is intended to pique interest but doesn’t actually communicate what the press release is about. That’s frustrating and feels like a waste of time.
‘OAR-some challenge’ – Puns may not be relevant for all publications. And if journalists want to include a pun, they’ll prefer to think of their own.
Add a short covering note at the top of the email. Keep it brief, professional and to the point: what are you sending them? Don’t ask how the journalist is (unless you know them personally). And include your phone number so they can call you if they want more information quickly.
Covering note template
Copy and paste this example of a covering note and edit it to work for you:
Hi [first name of journalist]
Are you interested in this pitch about [precise details of the press release (noting the angle that should intrigue or entice them and their readers)]?
Let me know if you’d like any more information.
[Your full name]
[Your phone number]
Don’t send your press release as an attachment. Always copy and paste it into the body of the email.
In particular, never attach a PDF file because they’re difficult to copy and paste from. Make sure all the relevant information – including quotes, case studies, business information and statistics – is within the email body.
Good images sell news. But journalists hate poor quality images because they can’t use them.
So, if you include an image with your release, a good rule of thumb is to make sure your JPEG file is at least 1MB. This should ensure it’s high enough resolution for digital or print. (More information about the kinds of photos that are appropriate for publishing in this article.)
A good image is worth an investment – consider hiring a freelance photographer to really make your press release stand out. However, don’t object if the publication insists on using their own photography. They may simply have a different style.
Following up after you’ve sent your release is important, and you should factor it into your overall PR outreach process. Because journalists and their inboxes are so busy, they might miss your story. So if you haven’t heard back, chase them.
You can do this by sending a follow-up email. You can also try calling them if you know them well enough or are confident they will want to run the story.
Pitching or following up on a press release is sometimes called ‘selling in’. This is a term that PR professionals use for the art of essentially selling their stories to journalists. Rather than simply distributing the press release, PR professionals will try to grab the busy journalists’ attention by calling them to really ‘sell’ the story.
Good salespeople know what the value is for the customer. It’s the same with PR: you need to know what the value is for the journalists you’re pitching to. How will this story help them do their job better? Why will their audience love this story? Knowing the answers to these questions is vital for any press release to succeed.
Generally, calling with a press release is not an accepted way to pitch a story or to follow up, and email is best. However, if you already have a relationship with the journalist, are from a big company, or you’re certain they will be interested and highly likely to run your story, it’s probably OK to call. Use your best judgement.
Pro tip: Before you pick up the phone, create a ‘Lines to take’ (LTT) document. This should be your guide for the phone conversation. The LTT should contain the key information about the story: the who, what, when, where, why and how?
Here are some tips for calling journalists:
If you’ve sent your press release, followed up and attempted to sell in the story, and you’ve had no response from a journalist, you can assume they’re not interested.
It’s very common not to receive an answer to your press release emails.
Don’t be disheartened by this – it may be that it just wasn’t right for that journalist at that time. They don’t need to tell you why, so the best thing to do is note on your press contact list that you didn’t get a response from them and move on.
Don’t ask for feedback. It’s unlikely you’ll get it and yours might be just another annoying email in their inbox. The right time to find out what works for a particular journalist is when you’re in conversation with them.
Making a note can help you spot a pattern if they continually don’t reply – perhaps they’ve moved on from that publication or are just not interested in your stories. Either way, it’s useful to know who’s NOT responding, so you don’t waste your time.
Sending out press releases is, of course, one tactic you’re using to help you achieve your goals. To maximise your chances of success with those goals, it’s worth thinking about how your PR outreach fits into the context of your wider communications plan or campaign.
You might be considering other channels to get your news out. This is no small topic area. Indeed, communication, marketing, advertising and campaign planning are each massive topics requiring many people and varied expertise.
But when you think about your overall communications plan, it can be useful to use the OASIS planning structure used by the Government Civil Service:
This is an excellent framework that helps break down the different stages of planning a successful communications campaign, the elements you need to consider and the people you need to bring in.
The idea is to support your press outreach efforts and make sure as many people see your key messages as possible. To do this, you need to consider and plan how you’ll support the media coverage on your own channels. For example, how will you maximise reach (how many people see the coverage) on channels like your social media, blog, podcast, website and emails?
Plan how you’ll amplify the press coverage on your own channels. For example:
It’s an especially good idea to support your press release with social media posts and a blog post. If your press release includes case studies, you could create short, snappy social media posts that show a simple graphic with an image of the people from the case studies.
If the story relates to a new product, you might have a series of social posts introducing the products with photographs, animations or short videos. You might also have a new dedicated landing page or blog post on your site for the new product launch. In an example like this, you could have included a link to this page in your press release.
Pro tip: If you’re posting on social – especially if it’s timely news you’re sharing – make sure someone is constantly and consistently replying to comments, retweeting and generally amplifying your news further. Social is, of course, great for interacting with customers, but it’s also great for public relations because you can engage with journalists and publications. Don’t let an inaccurate claim about you go unanswered, and get involved with relevant, trending conversations.
There’s no doubt that getting press coverage can be challenging – but there are many steps you can take to help you get your stories out there.
I hope you find this article helpful, actionable and insightful. Keep this guide handy, work through the steps, keep learning as you go, and your successes (and coverage) will start to pile up. Good luck!
And if you’d like us to create a tailored PR-writing course for your team, just get in touch.
Image credit: TOMMYFOTOHOUSE / Shutterstock
Stephanie is a senior content consultant who advises clients on all areas of their digital content – from social media and influencers to big creative campaigns. Her background is in social media and marketing, having previously been head of marketing for fashion brand American Apparel, as well as working for start-up social media app HeyHub.
Stephanie shares her expertise in making an impact online as a guest author on the Emphasis blog.
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