History repeats itself
I was never much of a history buff and I can barely remember who won the Battle of Hastings, let alone who repealed the corn laws or invented the spinning jenny. What I do remember, though, was the rubric for essay writing, which entailed the five Ws: Who, When, What, Why and With what result. The theory was that if you covered all those, you had probably got all the bones of information down on paper and were at least guaranteed a “Good Effort” from your teacher.
It’s often said you should apply the same logic to a press release. Get all the basics down and the journalist can make an informed decision about whether it merits more attention.
The five Ws are not all equal though, at least not in a journalistic pitch.
Most releases are very good on the WHO. This is because they are frequently written with the client in mind. They are a kind of billet doux, full of flattery and praise aimed at massaging the client’s ego. The client always thinks they are the heart of the story, and it takes a brave PR to disabuse them of that notion. So you do what you want, but bear in mind most journalists ignore this bit.
The WHEN is pretty obvious. I mean, it’s now, isn’t it? Why else would you be sending out a release? It doesn’t much matter if it is “today” or “this week”. We assume a currency.
The WHAT is clearly central and usually makes up the bulk of the release. Quite right too as it won’t be much of release if you don’t make clear what information it is that you are releasing (although, God knows, I’ve seen enough that don’t).
But it’s the WHY you should pour most of your energies into, and here too many releases sell themselves short. This is where you have the chance to sell your story, to make it stand out and persuade the journalist not just that it’s something worth covering, but that they’d be a fool to ignore. Why this? Why now? That’s what you need to tell us.
Which just leaves the WITH WHAT RESULT. Well, you can ignore that one. What do you think this is? A history text book?