What do I mean by the smartphone test?
This is simply a test of whether a journalist would want to read or would instantly delete your press release if it popped up in their inbox.
Nowadays, a press release doesn’t first arrive on a journalist’s desk as a hard copy, which they’ll scan-read, then either put on a pile to be followed up, or “spiked”.
Nowadays, they arrive by email.
And a journalist may receive hundreds within just a few minutes.
So, they’ll be judging them by the subject line and the few opening lines they can read, whether that’s on a their phone, or on their email server.
That means your press release has to grab the journalist’s attention within the 2-3 seconds that it takes to decide whether it is worth reading on or they should just delete it.
And that means your headline and your introduction are vital.
In my PRCA course, Writing Effective Press Releases, we discuss the smartphone test in detail and headlines and introductions are a key focus.
My top seven “what not to dos” for press release subject-lines and introductions
1. Don’t just write “press release” in the subject line
2. Don’t make your subject “For immediate release”
3. Unless you know the journalist personally or you’re sending a targeted or exclusive pitch, don’t bother including a nice note of introduction – just dive straight in.
4. Don’t put the body of your release in an attachment – who has time to open it?
5. Don’t fill the first few lines of your email with long and intricate details of your embargo. While you have to make it clear, three-four words maximum is all you need
6. Don’t fill your introduction with legalese, long titles or complex information about who you are collaborating with for this latest initiative
7. Avoid starting either your headline or introduction with the name of a person or the organisation – start with the most interesting, active, positive words possible
And five things you should do
1. Do make your subject line intriguing, sexy (in a journalistic, not literal sense), or very clear (some topics just need a “does what it says on the tin” type of subject line)
2. Do keep the subject line short – 5-6 words absolute tops
3. Do encapsulate the most interesting aspect of your story in the introduction. This may not necessarily be the most important aspect, or the central core of the story
4. Do make your introduction short, using as many active words as possible
5. Do aim to answer the who, what, where, when and why questions which journalists will always ask
Press releases have always been an important way for businesses and organisations to promote themselves and their campaigns.
The danger of ignoring the way journalists read press releases now is that too many good stories may end up in the trash folder, rather than on the front page.