Every brass band could have a marketing officer, or, at the very least, someone who is good with words and can turn their hand to preparing a page of text from time to time.
In this digital age it is even more important to have someone in your organisation who can craft a quality sentence, with correct and concise grammar, and exemplify your band’s exploits in your chosen media as often as possible.
Whether your band sends press releases to the media, sticks them on your website or simply uses them to ensure a consistent message across your social media outlets, a well-written press release is still one of the most useful communication tools.
First of all, it’s important to understand that although organisations use press releases to promote their goods and services, they’re NOT adverts. Journalists are very quick to spot organisations who dress something up as news in order to get free advertising.
Press releases should be short, factual news stories written in the third person and given to the media to encourage them to feature the story in their publications or programmes.
They can also be published on your own band’s website and in magazines or newsletters. In these instances, the writing style is ‘sometimes’ changed from the third to the first person (but, if in doubt, don’t).
Here’s a Step-by-step guide to the main ingredients when writing a press release:
1. Make sure your story is newsworthy
You need to have something new and important to say. You need to find a newsworthy angle.
Ask yourself, why would people be interested in this information now? What’s new or different? What’s happened to make it newsworthy?
2. Target a particular media sector
You should always write a press release with a target audience in mind. With press releases, rather than writing ‘directly’ for that target audience, you should write for the editor/journalist/broadcaster and tailor them to the readership/viewers/listeners of that publication/programme.
The main elements of each tailored press release might be relatively similar, but you’d write a different headline, opening paragraph and possibly quote for each media group and/or editor.
3. Answer the five W questions
Every press release should answer the five W questions:
4. Structure the press release
Armed with answers from the W questions, you can now structure your press release using the most interesting and important information first before moving on to the less important information.
The journalists who’ll receive your press release won’t have time to plough through a load of extraneous information, they simply want to know whether or not your information is of interest to their audience.
A short, clear headline tells the media what the story is about:
- Paragraph 1: sums up the entire story in one or two sentences
- Paragraph 2: puts the story in context – why it’s important
- Paragraph 3: presents details – who’s involved, how it came about, etc.
- Paragraph 4: includes a relevant quote to add information, credibility and/or opinion
- Paragraph 5: show where people can find more details, buy product, get involved, etc.
5. Write an interesting headline
The headline is crucial. Please don’t underestimate this; press release headlines not only tell the reader what the story is about, they are your sales pitch to the media.
The journalist receiving your press release will use your headlines to determine whether the story is even worth reading. If it doesn’t grab their attention, they’ll probably delete the press release without even looking it.
Avoid being cryptic or clever. Leave the final resulting news story headline to the media’s own headline writers; they will invariably come up with one of their own to suit the needs of their publication.
Ideally, you want your headline to say ‘someone/something does something worthwhile’.
6. Write in the third person
As you are not writing to your target audience directly, you need to write your press release in the third person. So “ABC cornet player has signed with XYZ band” rather than “We’ve signed a deal with…”
Also, you are not writing the story that might appear in the paper. You are writing it from your band’s point of view.
7. Summarise the story in the opening paragraph
The opening paragraph complements the headline by giving a fuller explanation of what the story is about. The skill here is in getting all the key information in without saying too much too soon. A good opening paragraph should be able to stand alone.
8. Put the story into context
If you think of the first paragraph as ‘who is doing/has done what’, the second and third paragraphs go on to give you more detail and explain the ‘why and how’ behind the ‘who and what’.
9. Stick to one story per press release
If your press release has gone onto a second page, you’ve probably got two or more stories. (Or you’ve padded it out with irrelevant, self congratulatory quotes from ‘important’ people you’ve been told have to be included). A press release is generally a maximum of 1 page of 12pt text; remember again the poor journalist who has to read this, if they get bored, they’ll discard it. The best press releases are 500 words or less and still contain all the relevant information.
Discipline yourself to recognise when one story ends and another one begins. And don’t weave a weaker story into your strong one. You’ll simply dilute the good one.
If you must add extra information, put it in ‘notes to editors’ at the end of the release.
10. Include a quotation
Often, too many quotes are put into press releases simply to acknowledge the presence of the MD, guest, sponsor, etc. There’s nothing wrong with having endorsements, just make sure they say something worthwhile.
Quotes need to do one or more of the following:
- provide useful information/details not included elsewhere in the release
- explain why a particular product/service/partnership is of benefit to people
- give credibility to an unknown product/service/partnership
- express an opinion (ideally different or controversial) on an important issue
- not sound as if they’ve been written by the PR department/consultancy
11. Make your press release easy to use
After crafting your press release into good word processing software that will check your spelling AND grammar, paste it directly into an email so that its recipient can read and use the information without having to open up an attachment.
Your email should begin with a brief salutation to your specific addressee and introduce your press release by clearly separating the text from anything else on the email page.
The press release should end with similar separation before concluding with ‘editor’s notes’ as suggested above.
12: INCLUDE A PICTURE!
You’ve heard it many times before; ‘a picture is worth a thousand words.’ Pictures sell stories and editors want to break up their publications with relevant images rather than having a bland looking page of text.
As with your text, make sure you spend time presenting a good quality and relevant picture. Tip: create and save photographs throughout the year so that you have one when you need one.