Meet our new press release expert

We’ve signed PR copywriter Tom Clarke as our new subject matter expert for press releases and media pitches. Tom spent years at a leading PR wire handling thousands of press releases, which gave him a unique view of what works and what doesn’t. Here’s an introduction.

I’ve spent my whole career around press releases.

The young me might well have been appalled at that statement. I started out as a journalism student dreaming those hackneyed dreams of front page leaders and reporting back from war-zones in a flak jacket with missiles whistling overhead. But it was not to be. I fell into corporate PR to make ends meet and never really left.

I think it’s a path well-travelled. The so-called “glamour” of the newsroom quickly dissolves when you realise only a lucky few make it to the top of the greasy pole. Most journalists are as underpaid, overworked and as beset by internal discontent as any in the commercial sector.

My first job was at the news distribution provider PR Newswire (now part of global PR solutions behemoth Cision). I started in the year 2000, and everything was Britpop and Nokias and Tony Blair. I left 16 years later. It felt like the blink of an eye. Content was still king, but it had gone digital. Nokia had gone all but bust, Blair was a war-mongering pariah and Britpop existed only in the dusty CD racks of balding fortysomethings like me.

In my time at PR Newswire I read thousands of press releases – some brilliant, some terrible, most distinctly ordinary. I’ve gained useful insights into what sometimes works and what doesn’t.

My role was geared towards the relationships we nurtured with the various national new agencies around Europe. From the AFP in France, through the German DPA to our very own Press Association. My primary function was to help clients understand how to secure smooth passage through these unique and prestigious channels so their press releases arrived at the mass media unadulterated and sprinkled with credibility and authenticity.

For our clients, PR agencies, corporates of all sizes – even entrepreneurial one-man-bands – the message was clear: to be taken seriously by media, you have to understand what they are looking for. What makes them tick. What turns them off. What might elevate a single message above the rest.

There are a lot of clichés about clashes and impasses: Old hacks despairing at the twittering of consumer PR or the banality of corporate product launches. In my experience, most of them are nonsense.

News outlets are stretched and under-resourced. They have never been hungrier for content. There is so much noise – so much clutter and junk – that a quality press release can actually brighten a journo’s day.

At PR Newswire, we used to bring the two worlds together at our “Meet the Media” events, where journalist speakers got to engage with PR audiences over the topics of the day and buckets of adequate red wine. It was not always sunshine and bonhomie, but it was usually respectful and enlightening. It certainly helped demystify the media for PR people, and that is half the battle.

People might tell you that writing a great press release is very difficult, and they would be right. But writing a good one can be easy if you follow a few basic rules. If you want to know them, I’m running my first online press release workshop on April 11th, from Henshall Centre. Join me and learn to make your press releases more effective.

Follow Tom on Twitter: tjcclarkepr

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