Journalists are busy people who are looking for any excuse to set fire to your media release. It’s a sad story but that’s where most of them go.

And if you continue to send through terrible media releases, you’ll soon be popped on a journalist’s spam list: permanently consigning your pitches to the media graveyard.

And yet so many PR agency and in-house comms teams continue to churn out terrible releases that are destined for the e-trash can.

What they are usually doing wrong is making four grievous errors. We outline them below and show you how to remedy those mistakes.

Lack of creativity

Most web articles written about media releases start by emphasizing the importance of getting the headline or lede right as the first step to a strong media release. Wrong.

Of course the headline and lede are both critical elements of an impactful media release, but the first and most important step to take before you even write a media release is the creative process.

Creative process you ask? That’s right. You want to create a story that engages the reader and intersects with the news cycle, not a media release that is self-referential and simply lists facts about your service or product.

Facts aren’t automatically interesting. They don’t arrange themselves, otherwise everyone’s media releases would be exactly the same. We construct our media releases and we need to inject them with creativity.

For example, if we’re writing a media release for a franchise that wants to sell more computers we could talk at length about quadcore or CPUs, or we could call on parents to buy their daughters computers for Xmas to encourage careers in STEM.

Both media releases’ ultimate aim is to sell computers, but one is marketing, the other is a story. The media run stories, not marketing.

Just say a media releases’ aim is to sell computers. One way is marketing, the other way is a story.

Poor headline and lede

Think of a media release like a 30 second elevator pitch and that you’re selling an idea to a producer. You’ve got the ear (or eye) of this busy person, but you have limited time to engage them. That’s why you need a strong headline and lede!

The lede should include the who, what, where, and when of your story, but also what’s interesting or important about it from a news point of view.

What’s at stake if something does or does not happen? Will the town burn down if emergency services aren’t funded properly?

Encapsulate what the story is early, make it urgent, interesting, local, or innovative and unique. Think about whether you’d read it if you were a member of the public or in that industry.

It’s the idea, stupid. Remove the sludge

This is a stylistic matter but important. Journalism is all about efficiency and clean storytelling. Stacking a release with superlatives is irritating, especially if they aren’t apt, deserved, or are boastful. Remove such words from your release.

It’s the ideas which sell your story, not the adjectives. Make sure the reader can understand the idea without tripping over waffle words or superlatives and get to the heart of the story. Sludge words take us away from the idea and are often stuffed into a release when not enough work has been done on the idea.

Most of the world’s great writers don’t use long strings of obscure words, they write clean copy. Foreign policy writers, short story writers like John Cheever and Raymond Carver, speechwriters. Go and read them and you’ll see the idea is key to engaging storytelling. A media release should tell a story.

Bespoke pitching, not scattergun

Once you’re ready to pitch, do not, we repeat, DO NOT spray your release across the known media universe.

You might thing pitching your story to all and sundry is great, but when you’re sending a release about a medical vaccine to a food journalist, or vice versa, you’re going to quickly end up on both journalist’s spam lists and miss out on engaging them on a story that may actually be of interest to them.

Know who you’re pitching to, their beat, their bugbears, and their interests. Build a media list that’s appropriate to the story you’re pitching.

Go through the best fit journalists one at a time and offer them the yarn, as an exclusive if need be. Embargoed releases are fine for stories that you are confident will have mass appeal, but if not, shop your story around one journalist and platform at a time.

Tony Nicholls

Tony Nicholls

Founder and Director of Good Talent Media

Tony Nicholls is an accomplished journalist who has held roles for more than ten years with the ABC, SBS and Network Ten, covering thousands of news stories across Victoria, Australia and in the international media.


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