School of hard knocks
For those who have already mastered the basics of writing a media release, here is the advanced school of hard knocks, but be warned it's not for the faint-hearted.
You'll need a strong stomach to digest this! It’s not a perfect recipe, just a few ingredients from the life school of journalism, which are easier to swallow if you’ve been lucky enough to have your copy battered around a newsroom.
So scull some yoghurt and prepare yourself to digest a crash course in the school of hard knocks for media releases!
Avoid clichés, metaphors, alliteration and exclamations: See above!
You’re not a poet, don’t you know it: A gold star for your English essay at high school does not make you the world’s best writer - even if you have potentially made the world’s best play, movie, project, event, exhibition! Don’t try and wax lyrical and befuddle them with your fancy terms and industry speak. Remember - KISS (Keep it Simple Stupid) - write for the reader.
CAPITALS SUCK: It’s not uncommon to see EVENTS and NAMES in CAPITALS in media releases. Not only is this SHOUTING on the internet but even if intended for print, someone has to change it to lower case. It’s just putting your media release one step closer to the too-hard-basket.
Sponsors are a yawn: Of course your sponsors are important, if not essential. But the truth is, in a heavily commercial environment, it’s simply a turn-off to the reader, and journalists. If the sponsorship is practically vital to the project - IE kids given mobile phones to film an event - you might have a genuine reason to slip it in higher, but otherwise save it for the further information at the end.
Don’t Cry Wolf: Before you even start – do you actually have a media worthy story? Or is it just an event listing that with some clever marketing words, cool pictures and videos will probably get more coverage than trying to pretend it’s something bigger? Consider saving the media release for the big one.
Cooking by committee: Too many cooks in the kitchen spoil the broth, turning a simple and vibrant flavour into a confusing mess, time consuming and hair pulling exercise. Identify from the beginning who is the head chef. Who will sign-off on the release, and therefore take responsibility for its content.
Journalists are VIPS: No not really, but they are busy. Even if they want to, it can be really difficult to find the time to engage with your project. So make it as easy as possible, keep your information clear and try to respond quickly and concisely. Never over promise, always over deliver.
Clever clogs: Sally Woodfield says “Consider writing several versions – one for national media, another for specialist media and another for local media. The idea behind a media release is to spark interest from media. There may be occasions where you have a superb angle, but you want to keep it out of the press release because you are pitching it to a specific media organisation.”
Editor’s note - This is clever and effective! But make sure your core information is the same. It’s not uncommon to receive multiple releases on one event, but some of the key information changes! Congratulations – you’ve just joined the too-hard-basket.
Don't lie: It's not uncommon to hyperbole in media releases 'this is the best show ever'. As much as this shouldn't make the cut in published articles, it sometimes does, so why not put your best foot forward. But be careful not to lie - if it's not 'the first website ever for cooking', don't say it is. You will be found out!
If in doubt leave it out: If you've questioned yourself whether or not that paragraph full of industry speak or putting in a new sentence after the team has signed it off is the right thing to do, then it probably isn't.
Listen to your inner editor/critic.
Learn from your mistakes: You will make them. If one media release gets a better result than others - go back and see if you can spot the reasons why. If journalists re-write your media release, pay attention to what they leave in and what ends up on the cutting room floor.
* * * Graduation * * *
If you can stomach the above you're on your way to graduating from the school of hard knocks, the rest has to be learnt on the job. Remember it's far less painful to taste the words of your inner critic than swallow the public ones.