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The anatomy of a press release

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Travel industry writer Philip Cooke reveals his top tips for constructing a press release.

Philip Cooke Put yourself in the editor’s seat
You might be the author of the press release, but it’s the editor who controls its destiny. Editors want to be helpful, but they run businesses, not charities for PR companies and they are only interested in material that is topical, timely, reliable, well-written and, above all else, of real interest to their readers.

Expect to be scanned
Magazines are not read like novels, but scanned for material that might be of interest to the reader. In Western cultures, this process starts at the top and goes down and across the page. Both the human eye and the Search Engine scanner will first ‘read’ and evaluate the headline or subject line, then the first paragraph.  

Man bites dog
This isn’t just a way of attracting the reader’s attention, it’s how to construct a headline that will work. It attracts attention as the ‘subject - active - verb - object’ structure puts your target audience’s or client’s name, at the start of the ‘is this of interest to me?’ evaluation process.

The all-important first para
Imagine you are talking with friends in a pub and you want to make a point that will capture their attention and make them think you know what you are talking about - that’s what your first paragraph should sound like, and you only get one chance.

Structure and content
Kipling wrote that the ‘six honest serving men who taught him all he knew,’ were ‘What and Why and When and How and Where and Who’. A great guide, but perhaps not in the best order for a press release. Try ‘who (did) what:  where (and) when: how (and) why. Always write in the active voice, using short paragraphs.

Quotes are important because they provide your press release with the kind of peer-to-peer corroboration and credibility that will bring it to life.
Don’t forget the photo
The human brain responds more quickly and powerfully to visual data than it does to verbal data.  

Sleep on it
If there’s no-one to second or third-read it, always sleep on it.

One at a time
Don’t send your release out via the blind cc box. Instead, build a database of individually named editorial contacts and send it out one at a time.

This was first published in the January issue of CN. Any comments? Email Zoe Vernor

22 Jan 15

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