Here are some examples of the first few words of press releases/pitches which lost my attention and led me to press delete. Literally within 2 seconds. Which is how long you have to catch someone’s attention before they think: do I need to know/deal with this NOW? Nope, OK, in the bin.

“My name is John. I am a WordPress Developer representing a fast growing and well established IT company…” Nope, don’t need that.

“The new bestseller everyone is talking about…” They’re not. You wish.

“Sarah, secure your spot & SAVE 15% off parking at Luton Airport…” Despite the personalisation, I still don’t need that (side note: the parking charges are astronomical at Luton Airport).

“I wanted to reach out to remind you that we’re offering up to 20% off our Dedicated Leased Line packages* for a limited time!” I don’t know what that is (so it’s irrelevant to me and badly targeted).

And here are some that led me to, at least, read on to the next sentence:

“Joanna Lumley LOVES These Trainers!…” OK, I’ll have a look. Yes, they’re quite nice. I don’t need trainers at the moment though. Wonder if they come in different colours? Oh, yes, they do…

“I am getting in touch to see if you were planning to pull pieces together ahead of World Gin Day…” OK, I don’t like gin but I am always up for a free sample to give to my daughters, who can taste it for me.

“The National Archives’ Media Team is hosting an on-site press event…” Let’s see what this is about because it might be a nice little day out, cup of tea, chat to other journalists about something that may be interesting, or feed in to other projects that I am working on.

“Pleased to share that we now represent a new restaurant in…” Well, I like doing restaurant reviews, as I have done for many years as a member of the Guild of Food Writers, so let’s see if this restaurant is nearby, or in Timbuktu… PS I have a slight bugbear about starting sentences without the pronoun (ie it would better to write, “I AM pleased to share…”). Also, ditch the ‘share’ ie, “We now represent a new restaurant etc”.

“How much do you care about your lifespan?” OK I am intrigued. 2nd sentence: “Who doesn’t want to live a healthy, happy life? Make some lifestyle changes today!” Now, I am semi-interested in health (not enough to go to the gym, obvs) so I did read on for a few sentences – it was a meal delivery service (which I have actually subscribed to in the past, but which I stopped because it was too garlicky, too cauliflowery and to beansy – and it didn’t agree with my digestion, if you get my meaning). Anyway the point is, the press release was written in such a way that I read on.

So, my point is: press release writing is an art, just like writing a news story, or a column/opinion piece, and some publicists aren’t getting it right. I always think of the former BBC Newsnight presenter, Jeremy Paxman, who used to pace around in his office all day thinking of the “killer question” to grill his guests with that night. I also think about myself, scripting any kind of news story or speech I am making. I almost hold my breath thinking of the Topline – the most interesting, attention-grabbing ‘hook’ or line that will make people want to listen. I also think about a colleague who recently started his speech with, “I’m going to tell you about the day I killed my daughter…….. almost.” It was about a boating accident that was a near-miss (it all turned out OK in the end).


My point is: grab attention with something that will be intriguing, useful and relevant to your audience – or at the very least – not irrelevant or boring.

I teach news writing and press release writing as one of the courses I run – get in touch if interested. 1/2 day or one day courses 🙂

Sarah Lockett

Sarah Lockett is a former BBC News / Sky News anchor who currently presents a variety of content for corporate clients and delivers media training.
She has presented on BBC News and Sky News, plus reported for Channel Four News, 5 News, Reuters and others.
She now hosts webinars and conferences, chairs corporate/academic panel discussions, hosts award ceremonies and events. She writes, presents and produces training videos, as well as voiceovers (both factual and drama/comedy). She has written two books and is also working as an actor.

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