How to write the perfect press release
Successful press release writing.
In days gone by, journalists enjoyed making paper planes from badly written and poorly targeted press releases. In the 21st Century, they have the power of the delete button. Even in a world dominated by digital and social media, press releases have their place. In fact, they still offer far more return than any paid-for promotion. You might consider a glossy colour advert in a national newspaper for £20,000. A press release writer will write you a release that journalists will want to publish, written in the style that the publication is looking for, that will cost around £150 – £200. That’s not just good sense, that’s good business. A press release also has the ‘credibility factor’. A journalist has chosen to publish your story because they know that it will interest their readers. Readers trust the news section to be independent. Your big bold advert is in there because you paid for it to be in there – usually through the nose.
What is a press release?
Before you write a press release, you need to understand what it is, and what it isn’t. Also known as a news release, a press release is a brief document that shares something newsworthy with the press and other media outlets.
Why would you need to issue a press release?
There is any number of reasons why you might want to write and issue a press release.
- garners attention and awareness
- helps build relationships with journalists
- improves your search engine optimisation (SEO)
- manage your brand, reputation and image
Is your press release newsworthy?
Firstly, be objective and cynical about your release. If you were an editor, would you publish it? Is it genuinely news or do you simply want to get your name in print? What might be exciting to you might not be to the editor and their readers. Use the TRUTH acronym to decide whether your press release newsworthy.
T – Is the story TOPICAL or TIMELY?
Has what you’re writing about just happened or about to happen? Don’t just regurgitate something that happened a few weeks ago. Editors want to know about things that have happened or will happen within 48 hours. If the release is about something topical, do you have expert knowledge or a unique point of view about it?
R – Is the press release RELEVANT to the readers?
The more people it interests, the more newsworthy it makes your press release, so it needs to be relevant, important or interesting to the publication’s readers. Ask yourself, ho does the story affect and how does it impact on them.
U – Is there anything UNUSUAL about your story?
A good story is one that people haven’t seen before or that you are able to offer a different perspective on. Ask yourself, what is the unusual aspect of this story, is it different to the norm, how does it differ.
T – is there any TRAGEDY, TROUBLE OR TENSION involved in the story?
It’s a strange fact of life that bad news sells more newspapers and gets more clicks. But if you’re responsible for an organisation’s reputation, you won’t want to be sending out press releases highlighting it. Instead, is there an angle you can approach the story with a positive spin?
H – Where is the HUMAN interest in your press release?
Remember, news is created by people for people, so try to put people, not products or services, at the heart of your story. Getting a celebrity involved attracts media attention, especially if accompanied by a photo. So ask yourself, who is involved, have they done something extraordinary, and how are they associated with your organisation?
Who is your audience? Target the relevant media at the right time.
As with every piece of copy, a press release should be written with a target audience in mind. However, with a press release, you are not writing directly for that target audience. You are writing for the journalist and tailor the content towards their readership or listeners.
So, it’s essential to research the press and media that you’ll be targeting. This will enable you to tailor your story to suit. For any news story, there are many layers that can be used to target press and media. If a company launches a product or service, there might be mileage in targeting any, or all, of the following:
- local press (the area in which the company is based)
- specialist press (your business sector)
- specialist press (read by people who will benefit from the news in the release)
- consumer press (if there is a more mainstream benefit)
- national press (if there is significant impact or change)
If you’re targeting different types of publication, speak the reader’s language – write variations of the same release. What’s great for the local paper won’t be for a trade magazine. While the bulk of each tailored press release might be similar, you should write a different headline, opening paragraph and quote.
You must find out when their copy deadline is so that you can submit your press release on time and indicate at the top of the release whether it is for immediate release or under embargo. It can be frustrating for journalists to receive a press release the day after you’ve gone to press.
The five W’s of a press release.
If you think that your story is newsworthy, then you should start off by asking yourself the five W’s. This will help you better plan your release.
Who has done something? Who does your news affect or benefit?
What has happened or is happening? What have they done?
Why did they or are they doing it? Why is it important?
Where did it happen or will it be happening?
When did it happen or will it be happening?
Press release structure.
Format and structure are vital to a press release. Armed with answers to the W questions, you should now structure your press release using the classic inverted pyramid template. This enables you to present the most important information first. Journalists like it if you make their job easy. They don’t have time to plough through why the world needs a new widget or how it was developed. They simply want to know whether or not your new widget is of interest to their audience.
Give the press release a powerful title.
As is often the case in copywriting, the headline is crucial. It not only tells the reader what the story is about, it’s also your sales pitch to journalists. Journalists use headlines to determine whether a press release is even worth reading. If it doesn’t grab their attention immediately, they’ll probably bin it – opportunity lost. So, it’s vital that the headline captures the journalist’s attention and encourage them to read on. But don’t labour too much over what it might look like in print – most journalists/editors will change the title anyway if the release is to be used.
Don’t try to be cryptic or clever. The media don’t have time (a busy news desk receives hundreds of press releases per day) to work out what you mean. And even if they do love your clever headline, they can’t/won’t use it. Ideally, you want your headline to say, ‘somebody does something worthwhile’, ‘somebody helps overcome major problem’ or ‘major problem solved by someone’.
Summarise your story in the opening paragraph.
The opening paragraph should complement the headline by giving a fuller explanation of what the story is about. The skill is to get all the key information in without saying too much too soon. A good opening paragraph should be able to stand alone. Think of it almost like a radio news bulletin.
Use the second paragraph to put the story into context.
If you think of the first paragraph as ‘who is doing what’ or ‘what’s happened/happening now’, the second and third paragraphs should go on to provide more detail and explain the ‘why and how’ behind the ‘who and what’.
Keep your press release short and simple.
However complex the subject may be, if the copy sounds confusing, it probably is. So, find an easier way to say it, keeping your language simple and succinct. Where possible avoid excessive use of jargon, abbreviations, acronyms, clichés, buzzwords, hype and unnecessarily long words or fancy terminology. If your press release has gone onto a second A4 page, you’ve probably padded it out with irrelevant information or self-congratulatory quotes from ‘important’ people that you’ve been told to include. By doing so, you simply dilute the story. If you must add extra information. Put it in an additional section at the end called ‘notes’.
Write a decent quote
A quote is the one part of a press release that a journalist can’t alter. If they feel that it adds to the story, they’ll include. If they don’t, they’ll leave it out. A quote is a great opportunity to add additional information to the release but make sure that the person being quoted h(preferably a CEO, director, partner, sponsor, client etc) has something worthwhile to say – include important information that hasn’t already been mentioned, express an opinion or explain who will benefit from the product or service. If their quote starts with ‘We are delighted…’, start again.
How to end a press release.
Signal the end of the press release with the word ‘Ends’ in bold. After that, write ‘For further information, please contact…’ and list your details or those of an appointed person. Provide a mobile number and an email address. So that journalists are able to make contact out of office hours. The more accessible you are, the better. If any further information needs to be included such as background information on the company or the people referred to in the release or that photos are available, these should be listed numerically in a section at the foot of the page called ‘Notes to the editor’.
Review, review, review.
Review your press release several times. Check for consistency, spelling and grammar. Tighten it up, taking out any waffle and make sure it flows. If you’ve got time, leave it for a while and come back with a fresh eye.
Press release images.
Only issue a photograph with your press release if there’s scope for it and you have a professional photographer handy. An out-of-focus, out-of-context, grainy or wonky photo doesn’t stand a chance. Make sure that it’s interesting and not one of those ‘handing a big cheque over’ types of photos. Be creative and make sure that you take several different photographs of people, places, products and services to cater to the different publications. Each photo must always have a caption, explaining who or what is in the photo, and other information such as where, why and when. Don’t send images with the email as it will clog up the journalist’s email and they won’t thank you. You can either upload them to your website and include a ‘Note to editors’ at the foot of the press release where it can be downloaded from or you can add that images are available on request.
Distributing your press release.
These days, press releases are generally issued via email. In the subject line, you should type ‘Press Release:’ and then the title of the press release. As many media organisations have blocks on attachments, so the entire press release should be pasted into the body of the email after you’ve written a short cover note introducing yourself and the reason you’re writing to them. If you have time, follow-up the important publications with a phone call to ensure they’ve received and asking if they’d like a photograph.
So, to summarise how to write the perfect press release…
- Try to use one side of A4 to get your points across quickly
- Avoid waffle and lengthy explanations
- Use 1.5 line spacing with wide margins to allow the journalist to make notes
- Write from a third-person point of view
- Short, punchy headline (10 words or less) to engage the journalist
- Sentences of no more than 25 words
- First paragraph sums up the entire story in one or two sentences
- Second paragraph puts the story in context – why it’s important
- Third paragraph presents details – who’s involved, how it came about, etc
- Fourth paragraph includes a relevant quote to add details, credibility and opinion
- Fifth paragraph is a ‘note the editor’, explaining where to find more details
- Read through the release and see where anything can be cut.
- Check the spelling and grammar. And then check it again.
About the author
Tom Rigby has been a freelance copywriter for over 20 years, during which time he has helped businesses and brands find their voice, tell their story and spread their message through copy that engages, informs, persuades, motivates, challenges, provokes and entertains.