Demystifying the press release: How to submit your stories to the Herts Ad

How do you ensure your press releases are picked up by Herts Ad reporters?

How do you ensure your press releases are picked up by Herts Ad reporters? - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Press release: I do news for a living but even I shudder at those two words.

And no offence, but some of the ones I read would make a nice alternative to a lavender pillow spray and a hot chocolate. 

You might call it s-nooze? S-news?! At times like this, I need an editor. Anyway...I digress...

Local news isn't always toe-curling but it is never without meaning to many and it always matters. 

But how does one go about getting their tale, tragedy or trailblazing charity event 'out there'? 

As the 11th Doctor Who said "We are all stories...just make it a good one, eh?" I would like to say the same about your press releases... Make them good. Please. Here is a handy checklist to help you know how: 

First things first: Do you have a story to tell?

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In Ricky Gervais' After Life a news reporter jests with his colleague about being sick of writing about things like Lionel Richie shaped potatoes. But perhaps he's too quick to dismiss the fact that this is obviously something his readers are interested in, at least in that particular newspaper. Think about your subject and ask whether it's the sort of story you'd chat to your mates about at work. If you'd be embarrassed to bring it up for fear of blank stares then perhaps our readers would feel the same...

Is it on our patch?!

Doesn't matter how brilliant a story is, if it isn't happening within St Albans district we will not be publishing it. And yes, we know the title Herts Advertiser implies that we cover the whole county. Sorry about that. We don't.

Is it succinct?

We'd love to be able to spend half an hour chatting away to you about your story, but unfortunately time and resources restrict the amount of direct conversations we can have, meaning we rely on receiving comprehensive emails explaining exactly what your story entails.

Have you put in the who, where, when, why and what?

It might sound obvious, but start off with the basics: It's no good burying the actual story half-way through your email as it's likely to get lost and if you haven't captured our attention and imagination in the first paragraph you're in danger of becoming a victim of the dreaded Delete button.

Is your language simple and clear? 

Write in short sentences, using non-flowery language, avoiding jargon. Explain what an organisation or initiative is so we don't have to Google it. 

Have you written in the third person? 

This means saying "A charity bike ride has been organised by dad-of-three Tom Smith" with only quotes saying "I". Such as Tom said: "I am so excited to be able to make a difference to The Poorliest Donkey Society."

Have you written factually without opinion?

Never editorialise - by which we mean don't include your opinion in the form of adjectives. There is no need for "this fantastic organisation", "hard-working novelist" or "mouth-watering recipe".  A good press release provides us with the relevant information to shape a story. If we want opinion, we can ask experts in the field or you can include it in your quote, if applicable. 

Are you sending it in time but not too far after the event?  

Nobody wants to read about something that happened three weeks ago, that's not news, it's history. Likewise, if your scarecrow competition is in six months time and is all about the photos, is it the right time to email it now?

Have you given us the full details?

Please include full names, ages if possible, and where they come from. Having to ask a PR where exactly in Hertfordshire somebody lives, only to discover it's Tring or Ware and therefore off-patch, is time-wasting and annoying.

Have you included an engaging and relevant photo, attached as a JPEG?

A photo in a Word document is not able to be extracted and used in our system at a decent resolution.  While we are on the subject of photos, we are not lovers of headshots and cannot use images with flowers or a border or a slogan or anything that looks like a poster. 

The basic reason for both of these is that we want our paper to look eye-catching and a paper full of headshots would be a bit too Linked-In for our community vibe. 

If your story is about a child, have you got permission from their parent?

You need to obtain parental consent if a child is involved in a story, so if it isn't your kid, make sure to ask.

Finally, have you included your contact details?

Can you include both phone number and email - so you can easily confirm any facts at short notice? Journalists work very fast with tight turnarounds and need to be able to get hold of any extra information quickly.

Ultimately, once we receive your press release we'll work our creative magic on it to ensure it's suitable for publication, so don't stress too much about copying our house style.

We don't want this to be a daunting experience for you, so hopefully these tips should make it less stressful. We really do want to hear from you, and look forward to being able to share your stories with our readers!