Start-up foodies tell me that press releases are something that they find tricky, and that’s often because they don’t totally understand their purpose or format. If you’re thinking, “Yep, that’s me too!” then you’ve come to the right place. Let’s have a quick Q&A session just between the two of us to get you up to speed.

What is a press release?

In a nutshell, a press release is a document that contains the summary of an interesting story or angle built on top of the basic information about the person/product it’s featuring. A journalist scanning this will quickly assess whether the story contained is something of interest to their readers.

Will a journalist print my press release exactly as I’ve written it?

It depends on what coverage you’re looking for. Local, regional and trade press are often short on time and staff, so well-written press releases may be printed pretty much word for word to save time and add fresh content.

Journalists at national titles might read them (although a short, well-written email is usually a much better way to approach them) and if it’s a story of interest, it’s likely they’ll want to do their own research and interviews on the topic.

I think my story is really interesting, but journalists are ignoring me!

Ok, it’s time for some tough talk, (grab a smoothie and a comfy chair).

I totally understand that being shortlisted for an award, changing your packaging or getting stocked in your local farm shop is exciting news for you. But the harsh truth is, why would anyone else care if they don’t know anything about you or your business?

You might get some leeway with your press releases at small-scale industry titles and local papers that are always on the lookout for new content, but keep your expectations realistic when it comes to the nationals.

Local news tends to be a bit ‘softer’ in nature than national and they’re interested in community angles and human interest stories. How can you apply this thinking to the news you want to share?

So how do I make my story interesting?

Press releases need a ‘hook’ and great timing – it needs to be something that’s immediately interesting to the journalist.

It could be that it’s brand new innovation, something that could affect a huge amount of people or a topic that people are constantly talking about. That could include things like:

* New law coming into force that affects food and drink businesses
* A sudden crisis or hot topic – think vegetable shortage, the war on sugar, food wastage
* Latest report – health of the nation, changing consumer tastes (veganism, keto, sugar-free etc.), new benefits of a particular food
* Something that will instantly divide opinion: “I coat my energy balls in cricket powder.”
* An unusual or unexpected ingredient you’ve discovered that makes your product taste amazing.

Journalists are always looking for things that are new, on trend and they want to be the first to write about it. This is why planning your content is really important so if you need help with that, check out 11 PR Tips for Small Business Foodies.

Another easy tip? READ the type of stories that are already being published in the place you want to be featured. If you’re looking at local press for example, what are the angles they’ve already used with other businesses?

They all have a headline image which is (usually) supplied by the sender of the article that demonstrates the story.

Also, make note of the content in the article so you can see exactly how in-depth they go into the story so you can write yours in a similar way. It’s probable that there was slightly more info supplied in the press release and they’ve picked out the most relevant bits, so don’t just copy it word for word in length!

Hmm, should I even bother writing a press release at all?

Maybe, but only after you’ve researched the publication you want to get into. Don’t just send out generic press releases to everyone. Look at the type of topics they already publish, and decide if yours is a good fit.

This is where you’ll find the places that are interested in the smaller stories you’re more likely to have at the start of your business. Building relationships with these journalists are just as valuable as those who work at bigger titles (and as they move around a lot, it might end up being an easy way to get into a national article in the future).

Let’s not forget, your time is as precious as theirs, so don’t waste it sweating over writing a press release that no one else is interested in!

I haven’t got time to look at every place I want to send my press release to…

In that case, don’t send your press releases to the places you haven’t looked at. If you don’t know in advance the type of things they publish then you are wasting your own valuable time.

Spend an hour one week researching your local press.

Spend an hour the next week looking at industry press.

Once you find the titles that specialise in food and drink businesses, have a quick look at their website or magazine, make a note of what they publish and then move on to the next one. You only need to do this work once as you’ll quickly create a database full of useful info and a list of places to pitch to.

If you’re looking at local papers, most of them have a submission form to fill in online that asks for your text and any low res images. Occasionally, you may instead find the name of the editor and deputy in the contact details so you can email them directly, but most local papers are now part of a larger group who like to use the same systems, so it’s rare to find that these days.

Any other quick tips that could help?

During your research, check and see if they have a forward features list available to download as this will detail which topics they’ll be talking about during the whole year, as well as giving you the deadline dates for submission. This could give you a great hook for your story if it’s a topic they are going to be discussing anyway, read more about why ‘A forward features list is your new PR BFF‘.

Who should I send my press release to?

You’ll pick up email addresses of the right people as you’re looking at each publication – check to see if a particular journo writes the food and drink section or if it’s a small team, there may only be contact details for an editor either at the front or back of a magazine or in the contact us section – but if you’re in a hurry, pick up the phone and ask! Yes, I know this might sound outrageous in a world of emails and texting but you told me you’re short on time, and this is where an old school method can work best!

Many local news sites also have a form on their contact page to submit your story and image, so you may just need to copy and paste the info from your press release in this case unless it allows you to upload a document.

How long should my press release be?

There’s no right or wrong answer but if you were in a busy journalist’s shoes, getting bombarded with hundreds of press releases every day, would you rather read 350 words or 1,000 words? Basically, one side of A4 should be enough to sum up your story and provide any company details. Much more than this is probably waffle on your part. Don’t forget, if they need more information, they’ll ask for it.

If journalists are so busy, how do I know if they’ve even read my press release?

The simple answer is… you don’t. Sending press releases is only one of many PR strategies, and there are other things you can do apart from this that might be more successful.

So how can I increase my chances of them reading it?

To give yourself the best chance of it even being clicked on, make sure your subject header is clear and you explain concisely what your story is about. This can make or break you as it will only take them a few seconds to decide whether to even open your email.

To make it easy, I’d suggest the following format in the subject line:

Press Release: UK’s First Cricket-Based Protein Smoothie Bar to Open in Hertfordshire in March

While it might be tempting to add wordplay into the title like: ‘Smoothie Bar Owner Hopes She Doesn’t Hear Crickets at Her Opening’, this makes no sense to a busy journalist who knows nothing about the story.

So what’s the next step?

If you do strike it lucky and they open your email, your first line or two will also influence how far down the journalist reads. You should sum up the facts of the story in up to 20 words for the first line, and include as many ‘who, what, when, where, why’ aspects as you can. Here’s an example:

The UK’s first cricket-based protein smoothie bar will open its doors on 31st March in the market square of Hitchin town centre.

Don’t use jargon or language a reader won’t instantly understand, write it for anyone who knows nothing about your business.

Do I need to have quotes in there?

As well as adding a short paragraph of more detail about the event (in this case), I’d always recommend having a couple of quotes as it fleshes out the story with more detail and people. Don’t make the mistake of quoting something you’ve already said in the press release – it’s not adding any new information or value to the reader. Instead, look to add extra opinions or insight to the story, with a real sounding person saying it! Here’s one using my smoothie bar story as an example:

Charlotte Moore, founder of The Smoothie Bar said: “Although I was squeamish at first, I tried crickets during a trip to Thailand and they tasted really good. When I got back home and started to research their health benefits, I realised that cricket protein powder is a great alternative to whey as there’s no strong taste and they’re just as high in protein.”

Should I send the press release with photos?

This is a good idea if you have them but don’t send huge attachments – there’s nothing that will turn a journalist off quicker than you jamming up their inbox with a 10mb file! Instead, paste your press release in the body of the email and include a low res image (if you have something specific to the story), or a dropbox link to a folder with the image. If they need high res (usually only for published magazines), they will ask for one if they’re interested.

I’m bound to hear back from journalists now, aren’t I?

It’s another bit of tough love but in many cases, you won’t.

Don’t take it personally – this happens to all of us, no matter how long we’ve been writing them! You can give them a gentle nudge with a call or email a few days later just in case they missed it during a busy time, but if you’re still getting no response after a couple of follow-ups, assume they’re not interested and move on.

Take a look at what you’ve written, see if you can improve it and approach the next contact. Remember, every publication is different so you should tailor your pitch specifically for them. That doesn’t mean rewriting the whole piece, but it does mean tweaking it for the best possible chance to get published.

Final food for thought…

Press releases are just a tiny part of your outreach PR strategy and like everything else, the more you write, the better you’ll get at it. Building up press contacts takes time and perseverance but if you continue to send well-written press releases and emails to them, you’ll form relationships that could eventually lead to them approaching you for content in the future.