Press releases are one of the easiest ways to engage journalists and get your news story published. But when it comes to writing a press release that firstly piques their interest and secondly makes the cut to publication; so many people get it wrong.
Knowing how to write a press release can be an excellent addition to a marketer’s skillset. It’s not an easy task, though. If you are used to creating other inbound-type pieces for the web, you might think that press releases are challenging to write.
They come with their own sets of formatting rules, language, and audience, but that’s the beauty of this medium; you just need to familiarise yourself with the basics, and then you’re free to get creative.
In this Guide, you’ll learn how to write and format press releases in a way that gets you media coverage and attention from customers. Plus, you’ll also gain an in-depth understanding of how to use certain press release features to your advantage.
So, let’s start at the beginning. What is a press release?
A press release (also known as a news release) is a brief document that shares something newsworthy you have done with the press and other media outlets. It is generally emailed with a cover note giving the top line details to the journalist and should ideally be no longer than one single sided A4 page.
When do you Need a Press Release?
Ideally, a press release is needed whenever you want to share a story that is newsworthy. But how do you decide if your content is newsworthy?
For content to be considered newsworthy, there are a few factors that you need to take into consideration:
- Impact – is someone going to be affected by this information?
- Immediacy – is this urgent news?
- Recognition – is this about something well-known?
Most successful press releases satisfy at least two of those three criteria.
Journalists love anything exclusive. They also happen to love data. Giving them exclusive data in a media release is a good way of offering both.
Your press release headline is the first thing anyone’s going to see, so you have to make sure it consisely communicates the essence of the story and captures attention.
The goal of your press release headline should be to get in, impress the journalist, and get out.
The three core tenets of writing a press release headline are:
- Use action verbs
- Be direct
- Be comprehensive
The Format – The Five W’s
Now that you have established that you have something newsworthy to talk about, you must tell your story in a fluid and constructive way.
Who, What, Where, Why and When – are the central five questions to answer!
- Who: Who’s involved in the news story? Which person or company is involved and/or who will be impacted by the news?
- What: What’s happening? What’s it about?
- When: When did this story or event happen? When is it going to happen?
- Where: Where did this story or event take place / which area or community will be interested in this news?
- Why: Why is this information relevant to a reader of these media outlets?
Writing press releases for different audiences
The most important thing to think about when writing a press release is the target audience. The readers of a niche magazine or website will be very different to those that read the local newspaper. You should write different versions of your release for the different audiences you are targeting.
When thinking about the audience, consider what knowledge they have about your company or product, and the type of language they will understand. The language used to describe production processes, for example, might be relevant for a specialist engineering audience, but not for the general public.
How long should a press release be?
The answer is, as few paragraphs as you need to get your points across. Avoid waffle and lengthy explanation. Keep the copy as tight as possible.
You need to get all the key information into the first paragraph of a press release. The test of success is whether the story can be understood in its entirety just by reading the first paragraph.
The second paragraph expands on the first, giving a bit more detail. Often, the third paragraph provides a quote. The fourth paragraph outlines final information, such as other products in development, for example.
Before you hit send!
Timing – for immediate release or embargo?
Clearly state at the top of the release whether this news is for immediate release or under embargo, and if so, give the relevant date and time of the embargo. Remember that it can be frustrating for journalists to receive information under embargo that cannot be published straight away. An embargo does not mean that journalists can’t contact you about your story. It just means that you are asking them not to publish it before a particular date.
Give the press release a title
The job of the press release title is to grab attention and encourage the journalist to read more. Don’t waste time stressing over what title will look like in print – most journalists/editors will change the title to suit their readership.
How to end the press release
Signal the end of the press release with the word “Ends” in bold. After “Ends”, write “For further information, please contact” and list your details or those of an appointed person with the competency to handle media enquiries. Do give a mobile number if you can, so that journalists can contact you easily. The more accessible you are, the better.
If any further information is needed, these can go in a “Notes to editors” section under the contact information. Examples might include background information on the company (called a boilerplate), or a note saying that photos are available, on request. It’s helpful to number these points, to make your press release as clean as possible.
How to send a press release to journalists
Generally, you should send a press release by email. It’s wise to make your subject line attention-grabbing. Any press release sent by email should be pasted into the email rather than sent as an attachment – this may see your email flagged as spam.
Journalists receive a lot of emails, so you may want to follow up press releases with a call to check they’ve seen it.
Should I supply images with my press release?
If you have photographs to use with your press release, then supply them. If you read the news during the week, you’ll find that many stories appear as just a photograph with caption. It’s a great way to get your message across and can be quite striking.
Avoid head-and-shoulders shots – think more creatively. Be careful with branding, as shots that have large logos in the background can be a huge turn off. Photos that may be reproduced in black and white also need careful thought to get the tones right.
It’s a good idea to include in your press release, under ‘Note to editors’, that additional photos are available on request, rather than sending lots of attachments with your press release. Clogging up inboxes won’t win you any friends, and attachments may be flagged as spam. Alternatively use a link to download – but note, some media outlets can restrict what sites a journalist can download from.
Always include a caption with photographs. If people are included, state “Left to right…” then list the people in the shot and any further detail that’s relevant (i.e., where, when, etc). The caption should also be embedded in the image file, wherever possible. If you do not have the capability to embed captions, your photographer may be able to assist.
Press Release for Digital Media
The good news? This tactic isn’t dead — but it has changed. Let’s consider how much it’s changed in order to drive better results for your business and improved message pickup.
- Purpose: Releases serve more purposes today than they ever have before. They provide valuable SEO for your website, serve as a primary source of information for your stakeholders, and help align your internal teams on critical messages — all while advising the media of important changes and events at your company.
- Content: No more boring, text-only content on the latest corporate announcements. The press release today can be an engaging, multimedia experience. This is where you can make a journalist’s job easy and increase your chances of getting coverage by including great B-roll footage, embeddable video, vox pops and compelling, high-resolution images with your release.
- The 24-hour news cycle is real: It’s very real and consists of multiple channels, both digital and print. You must be ready for the pick-up if you get it – so make sure your spokesperson is available and prepped to respond to follow-up inquiries once you post your release.
The more content you include and the richer the story you tell, the better your chances of getting coverage.
- Watch what’s trending
- Keep the content newsworthy
- Not everything is a news release – always consider things like a blog post, social post, or an email blast.
- Capture the whole story in the headline/subhead
- Quality and accuracy are essential
- Offer a new perspective or data that others haven’t covered yet
Would you like some additional help setting up your press release?
If you need help to shape your message and how to get your points to the media.
- You will receive a one-hour consultation with our experienced client consultant.
- Upon completion of our press release brief, our team will write a professional press release for you and advise you on appropriate accompanying images.
- We will offer guidance on timing for issue and your approach to media.
Get in touch if you want to discuss further!