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How do I write a press release?

Press releases are a great way to achieve press coverage, but to be most effective they should be personalised and focused on the right press, written properly and sent effectively.  How?  Here are some thoughts…

Perhaps the greatest failing of most PR campaigns and press releases is the belief that they are about something newsworthy. Sadly this is often not the case. Before writing a release, read, watch, listen to and understand your target press. Find out if your story is something the journalists, broadcasters and editors will really be interested in.

Most importantly, to be taken seriously you story must actually be of interest to the media’s target audience.  As with so many other forms of marketing, try to ignore the features and focus on the benefits.

A couple of thoughts on topics that might be of interest

  1. New products and services – if your release demonstrates something unique that is of real benefit to the end user.

  2. New client wins, new staff and new ventures – but generally only in tightly focused industry press.

  3. Statistics – as long as they are backed up by thorough research

The structure of a release

So now you know what you want to say … How do you say it?

A press release needs to be short, punchy and convey the maximum amount of information in the shortest time possible. It is effectively a sales pitch designed to catch the journalists’ attention.  However, unlike any other sales pitch you have a headline in which to achieve their interest.

The basic structure of a release is likely to be:

1.    Date 2.    Headline 3.    Opening paragraph 4.    Details of the story, including quotations 5.    “Ends” 6.    Notes to Editors / Boilerplate

Whilst the quotations can usually be inserted throughout the story’s details – this is the most basic format.   Remember:  A release is like an inverted pyramid.  You need to give the whole story in the first sentence, working your way down through the details as it progresses.

In more detail. ..

Date – the date the release is sent, including a time. Alternatively a future date, at which point the story can be published, this is usually made clear by the use of the word embargoed.

Headline – the most important part to any release. It needs to be eye catching, tell the story and interest the journalist from the start. If necessary re-write the headline 20-30 times until you have something that works for you.  Use the most interesting statistic, the products greatest benefit, the name of an internationally known brand. Anything that will make journalists take notice. You are looking for that elusive “hook”.   Ideally the headline should also be short enough to fit an e-mail title bar.  In fact, with the dominance of status updates and twitter 100 characters is a limit to aim for (the other 40 are likely to be taken up with links, names and hashtags).

Opening paragraph – Once the headline has interested the journalists you need to tell the story in the opening paragraph. This needs to be short and relevant to the readers and their audience.   Yes this does mean that if you are sending the story to different news outlets, you will probably need to write several versions.  Throwaway your ego and focus on what will interest them. If it is the benefit to the end user or the exciting statistics, make that the story not you or your company name. That can come later.

Details of the story – Now you have them interested give them the details – succinctly and simply. Don’t embellish the truth just tell the facts. Write no more than a couple of paragraphs and include a couple of quotes.  If the press are interested and want more they will ask for it.   Where possible include quotes from two angles, perhaps you and someone else involved in the story.  Please, please, avoid banal uninteresting statements such as “we are delighted”. Of course you are but the press does not care! They want to know what the new product will do, how it will benefit your clients, you, the future of the world …

“Ends” – Use the word “Ends” at the foot of the release’s body to ensure the reader knows there is nothing missing. Anything following that point will be supporting material.

Notes to Editors – This section, sometimes called a boilerplate, follows the release and gives some details about the companies involved. They should be short and include the basic information a journalist needs to understand that you are a credible source.

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