Alex Singleton

How to structure a press release properly

THE CONVENTIONAL way a news story is written is using a structure called the “inverted pyramid”. This is also how effective press releases are written. So what is this upside-down pyramid? Well, it just means that the weighty, most important information is at the top, and the lighter, less important facts are underneath. It allows the journalist to stop reading part-way through and still understand what the story is about.

Traditionally, a press release incorporates the who, what, when, where and why of the story. That is:

  • Who is it about?
  • What happened?
  • When did it take place?
  • Where did it occur?
  • Why did it happen?

Let’s look at a good press release from Dyson, which follows this design. The headline explains substance of the story:

Dyson doubles number of UK engineers

It starts with the when, who and what. The who and what should always be in the first sentence:

From April 2010, Dyson is doubling its UK engineering team from 350 to 700. Bucking the trend, Dyson is increasing research and development investment and recruiting during recession.

Next we get the where, with more of the what:

The new engineers, many from university, will work at Dyson’s Wiltshire laboratories, where machines are conceived, researched and designed. New positions include graduate design engineers, mechanical engineers and acoustic engineers.

Later one, we get the why:

James Dyson said: “I am extremely proud of the new technology developed by our engineers in Malmesbury. It is vital that Dyson – and the UK – continues to invest in the nation’s engineering talent if we are to stay ahead.” If you follow that sort of structure, you’re on the right path.

Posted By: Alex Singleton, On: July 31st, 2015, In Categories: Media relations

The case for length in press releases

IT IS certainly true that some press releases ought to be short. But many – if not most – should be long. After all, if a story is so unimportant that the PR representative cannot find more than a couple of hundred words to say about it, should it be issued in the first place?

Short press releases often go hand-in-hand with ideas that lack any weight. The most effective media operators routinely issue press releases that, in the old days of paper, would have taken up two to four pages of one-and-a-half-spaced text.

For example, I took a random Apple press release advertising a new product from its website: it came to 1,296 words. Even a new staff appointment press release from BP taken at random came to 726 words.

People say to me: why would a journalist want to wade through 900 words, when it could be condensed into 300? That’s a good question. But think of what happens on the first two occasions when a journalist is likely to read your release. The first is when it appears in her inbox. If she is busy, she will not want to read the whole release, just ascertain whether it is a potential story.

Journalists are used to skim reading. As part of their job, they tend to read every issue of all the publications relevant to their brief.

Of course, they would have no time to write themselves if they read every word of every article. Instead, they get used to reading the headlines and the first sentences or first paragraphs. And so they will try to do the same with your press release.

The question is this: is your story understandable from the headline and first sentence? The length of the rest of it, at this point, is irrelevant. The second occasion she will read your release, she will make a proper decision about whether to write about your story. She will read the full thing and try to assess whether it “stands up” and is as interesting as she suspected.

If you have only written 300 words, you will struggle to sell it to her. She will think: “How will I write a 450-word news story about this? There isn’t much to it.”

This post is based on an extract from The PR Masterclass (out now from Wiley)

Posted By: Alex Singleton, On: July 30th, 2015, In Categories: Media relations

‘Chartered Practitioner’ hasn’t reached critical mass, but a director-level replacement is needed

DESPITE a huge push over the past couple of years, the CIPR’s Chartered PR Practitioner status for senior practitioners has failed to reach more than around 50 people. It’s something that has failed to excite those in the business world in senior corporate communication roles. (Personally, I decided to study for the CIPR’s Diploma in Crisis Communication, which involves writing a much longer piece of work and has the benefit of sounding good on the CV.)

Now it seems likely that the Chartered PR Practitioner label is to be fundamentally shifted towards being a more junior status.

Its biggest difficulty in its current guise is that the name just doesn’t imply senior, years-of-experience status. Indeed, to an outsider, being a Chartered PR Practitioner doesn’t sound different to being a Member of a Chartered Institute. Indeed, in other professions, the Chartered status is something that newer professionals can gain, rather than those who have years of experience. For example, a member (MRICS) of the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors is by definition a Chartered Surveyor, not after decades of experience.

So a move to make the Chartered PR Practitioner correspond more closely with what happens in other professions would be an understandable move – as long as two things happen. Firstly, those who’ve spent the cash and put in an extensive amount of time to become Chartered Practitioners need to be compensated in some way – perhaps with a new “gong” in addition to retaining Chartered Practitioner status. People should be given the option of a refund.

Secondly, there does need to be something aimed at a experienced practitioners which helps them show their level of competence. Some form of Advanced Diploma in Directing Corporate Communication, for example. We should be very wary of watering down the Chartered Practitioner status and not replacing it with something else.

Posted By: Alex Singleton, On: July 29th, 2015, In Categories: CIPR

Recognising diversity is good for brands, says Aviva’s Group Brand Director

Posted By: Alex Singleton, On: July 28th, 2015, In Categories: Diversity

To work with newspaper letters pages requires PR practitioners to understand their ethos

Letters

THE LETTERS PAGE can be one of the most-read parts of a publication. That’s because readers see it as their page – one where they get to express their opinions. It is, therefore, a valuable property for public relations consultants.

The problem for PR people is that letters editors of newspapers prefer letters from normal readers, and most of the letters sent by PR flacks are worthless. But there are still plenty of letters published in the press from companies and charities, and if you can avoid sending a letter that sounds like a press release, you have a good chance of getting published.

For a letter to be printed, the writer needs to get into the spirit of a letters page. It needs to be written as you would speak, not how a committee of jargon-lovers would write it. A letter saying that the government’s criteria for approving drugs on the NHS is harming drug companies’ profits is a selfinterested letter. Letters editors are going to wonder how much the readers will care.

The letter would be much more appealing if it said that “your readers who are concerned about getting the best treatment” should be worried that increased government rationing is going to stop them getting the latest drugs.

This is basically the same point, but from a more reader-friendly direction.

Infuriatingly, many letters sent by bad PR companies seem to be no more than an attempt to tick boxes on their to-do lists, rather than a genuine attempt to get a letter printed. They read like recycled press releases – and probably are.

So it is vital to write the letter with the aim of informing readers, rather than as an attempt to get free publicity. Writing the letter simply to get the chief executive’s name in print is a bad motivation, because you will most likely write a bad letter. However, genuinely trying to help out the readers will lead to good publicity.

The lack of naked self-interest is why charities do very well at getting their letters printed, whereas companies are often less successful, unless they are responding to a City story referencing them.

This post is based on an extract from The PR Masterclass (out now from Wiley)

Posted By: Alex Singleton, On: July 27th, 2015, In Categories: Media relations