Whether you’re organising a festival or shouting about your show, keep these no-nos in mind before emailing arts editors
Press releases are a presentation of facts, written for journalists in the hope it gets published. They are an opportunity for brands, businesses and arts organisations to reach their target audience through the media. They aim to tell the world about your interesting stories, anything from an arts product launch to a new appointment or award.
As the press release is seen as less important with the explosion of social media and the digital revolution transforming media as we know it, they can still be very effective at securing positive media coverage and are a great way to boost your profile and attract new customers or audience members.
Press releases can be written by yourself, someone within your company or an external supplier such as a PR agency or freelancer, and there are many common mistakes people make when drafting one. Here are my top 10 and how you can avoid making them yourself.
The title isn’t working
The title of your press release is the first thing a journalist will see, so make sure it’s concise, enticing and gives a good overview of your story. Make your title something that will encourage the journalist to keep reading. Avoid lengthy, detailed titles that go on and on and on… Keep it punchy. If you must use puns, make sure they are witty and avoid using clichés at all times.
It’s written in the first person
If you read any news story online or in your local newspaper, you’ll notice everything is written in the third person – unless we’re talking about quotes from actual people, of course. There should never be any “We did this” or “I think that” written in the body of a good press release – you have to imagine that someone else is telling your story at all times. A good tip is to pick up any newspaper and see how stories are written; you’ll notice everything that third person voice , as though the journalist is telling the reader about someone or something else.
You’re not providing enough information
Don’t make the assumption that a journalist will know everything about you, so make sure you include all the facts. Try to add a summary in your first paragraph, including where your arts organisation is based, the company name and the angle of the story. You wouldn’t believe the amount of times I’ve had to look up where a company is based on Google, just so I can add it to their story on Creative Boom. Some journalists won’t be as patient, so make sure you add all the information.
You’re forgetting to add proper punctuation
If you’re going to write a press release it’s essential you use proper punctuation throughout. Journalists are time and resource poor these days, so make their job as easy and as hassle-free as possible by providing ‘ready to publish’ copy. That way they don’t have to waste too much time double checking everything you’ve written. By supplying first-class copy, it will also gain you a solid reputation as someone who is reliable and provides quality press releases at all times – someone they’ll want to publish stories for again in the future.
There’s lifted copy from an internal newsletter or website
Copy written specifically for your own arts website or company newsletter will not work for a press release – it’s likely to be written in the first person, be too self-promotional and won’t have a journalist in mind. Don’t be lazy by providing something that you’ve already used internally. Start from scratch and write your news story specifically for the newspaper, e-zine or magazine you’ll be targeting. Aim to mimic their own style of writing.
It’s not making the most of quotes
Once you’ve established an angle for your story, you should always provide one or two quotes from yourself or a spokesperson involved in the performance, project or event. But whatever you do, don’t let these quotes go to waste. They are the only thing journalists can’t change, so make the most of them by throwing in some strong key messages. Sure, the journalist might not use them, but don’t repeat what has already been said elsewhere in the press release – use quotes as an opportunity to really sell yourself and your company. Keep them positive, upbeat and to the point.
There are too many CAPS
Something that really bugs journalists is the use of CAPS to emphasise certain names or words throughout a press release. For example, “CREATIVE BOOM is an online magazine for the creative industries” – it looks odd, a little sneaky and means the journalist has to go back through the entire release and change everything to lowercase. Avoid CAPS because you don’t need to highlight your company’s name; it will be quite obvious without.
It’s too short
Short isn’t always sweet. Although you never want to waffle when drafting a press release, don’t make the mistake of not providing enough content. More than anything, a journalist will want to get all the facts so make sure you include as much information as possible. You can still be concise and stay on track but don’t forget to include every little detail. If in doubt, consider the golden rule of Who, What, Where, When Why and How – ask yourself if you’ve answered all these questions before sending the release.
Your copy is too promotional
When you’ve completed your press release, sit back and read it through. Does it scream “Please buy tickets to our show!?” or have you given a nice rounded overview of what the production or performance is? You see, although press releases are promotional, they are not advertisements – they are a presentation of facts, so keep it factual and use objective copy at all times.
There’s too much over-hyped copy (exclamation mark!)
Copy that is littered with exclamation marks and wild claims about your exhibition, event or service screams spam and will only end up in a journalists spam folder. Avoid unnecessary adjectives because it will only read like an advertisement and that’s something you’ll want to avoid.
Those are just a few of the common mistakes people make when writing a press release. If you’ve got any of your own top tips, stories or ideas then please share them by commenting below. I always appreciate your positive input, so we can help as many other arts professionals and creatives as possible.
This content was originally published by Creative Boom
Katy Cowan runs the Creative Boom website voluntarily – she is a trained journalist, writer and PR professional. Follow her and Creative Boom on Twitter @Creative_Boom