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I'm not a big fan of the press release as a method of reaching out to journalists for the first time, but they remain the staple diet of most PR campaigns.
I receive a lot of press releases, some more relevant than others, but I'd be lying if I said I read them all. I don't. Many emailed press releases aren't even opened, largely because the subject line doesn't inspire me to look at them.
So what can you do to make your press release more effective? What will make writers more inclined to open and read them?
Nothing makes me open a press release more. This is a guaranteed winner. If you want a journalist to read your news then send the release, and then two minutes later send it again with 'RECALL' as the prefix to the headline. It's a brilliant way of making writers have a look at whatever it was you wanted to recall. It will work regardless as to whether or not you actually needed to recall the email (something that doesn't in any sense work!).
Adding the 'embargo' prefix to your subject line suggests that you're sending the news early. Journalists like that, but increasingly the request to hold back news is ignored. Michael Arrington has openly said he's no longer interested in respecting embargoes on the basis that lots of other publishers break them. But I bet he is more likely to read releases with the 'embargo' label.
This helps but make sure the news is exclusive if you label it as such. Journalists hate being told a story is exclusive only to read about it elsewhere. That's going to seriously harm your chances next time around and damage your credibility.
Great timing works wonders. Hang your news on the back of some other bigger meme. Support ongoing stories and weave your news into the discussion. Just make sure it's relevant and contextual.
Email clients have a limited amount of visible space so be sure to write shorter - rather than longer - headlines to avoid them being chopped in half.
DO THE NANOCONTENT THING
Following on from the above point, it is best to front load keywords and the most important messages in your headline. The first 11 characters of a headline / subject line are incredibly important in persuading the reader to read on. For more on nanocontent see my A-Z of online copywriting article.
Be cool with those exclamation marks!!! They won't make writers read your release no matter how excited you get!!!!!!
We all hate jargon. I used to be a technology reporter and most of the time spent looking at press releases involved translating them into plain English, to make sense of whether or not there was actually anything worth writing about. Tech companies are among the worst offenders, when it comes to adding meaningless words to press releases. Sometimes headlines contain far too much junk, so the next time you want to add 'leading Pan-European technology heavyweight' before your client's company name then think again. Check out this article to see some of the more obnoxious and pointless words used in press releases. They're a real turn off.
Writers love stats, because they can spin them any which way they want, and often they can be used in related stories. So if your news contains *new* facts and figures then make sure your headline reflects that.
Journalists are allergic to typos. We all make mistakes but there's no excuse for sloppy headlines.
DEATH BY CAPS LOCK
IT'S SHOUTING, OK? It also reduces readability, looks spammy, and can negatively affect email deliverability. Never capitalise headlines.
Probably the best way of getting attention is to form relationships with journalists in advance of sending news. Simply put, writers are more likely to read your news if they know you. It could be that you've met them offline, or talked to them over the phone, or maybe you helped them previously in some way. Forging relationships is a smart move before blasting out news.