A complete guide to writing an effective press release

A complete guide to writing an effective press release

There are some clear rules when it comes to writing press releases - covering everything from the news angle to structure. Debbie Leven of The PR Coach offers a complete guide to writing press releases that get results

Is your story newsworthy?

Before you write and issue a press release, ask "Is there news value in this story? Too often businesses write press releases about topics that are not newsworthy. Fact: if the journalist does not consider it your release newsworthy and engaging, it won't get coverage.

There are key elements that journalists looks for in a press release - the human interest angle is key. Can you show that your news has an impact on people?

Once you have decided that you have a story to tell, you need to understand the rules for writing a press release. These are designed to make it as easy as possible for journalists to use your material.

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What should go into a press release?

To write an effective press release, answer the following questions:

  • Who? Who are the key players - your company, anyone else involved with the product? Who does your news affect/who does it benefit?
  • What? What is new?
  • Why? Why is this news important - what does it tell people that they need to know?
  • Where? Where is this happening?
  • When? What is the timing of this? Does this add significance?
  • How? How did this come about?

It's then a matter of putting the details together into short punchy sentences. That sounds simple but can be quite challenging.

If you don't get the words right first time, keep trying. Most press releases go through several drafts. It's essential that you get across the key points and benefits.

It is not uncommon for press releases to be written up and reported without any follow-up with the sender - so make sure your release contains all the key details needed. One point to bear in mind is that editors edit from the bottom of a press release up - so ensure the most important points are at the top.

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 and 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.

Writing tips for press releases

A writing style with sentences that are 25 words in length or fewer helps make your press release punchy.

A good press release should take a factual tone and be short and concise, giving the journalist the essence of the story. They will get in touch if they want more information. If you get the news content right and write to the publication's style, you give yourself a good chance of getting your story across.

With press releases for broadcast media, the same rules apply in terms of writing and presentation. It is not uncommon to be invited for interview and find that, particularly in live interview situations, the interviewer has only read the first paragraph of the release or scanned it in the 30 seconds before the interview.

How to structure a press release

Timing - for immediate release or embargo?

Indicate at the top of the release whether it is for immediate release or under embargo, and if so, give the relevant date. 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. 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 "Notes to editors" under the contact information. Examples might include background information on the company (called a boilerplate), or a note saying that photos are available. It's helpful to number these points, to make your press release as clean as possible.

Who should I send a press release to?

It's essential to research the press and media you will be targeting with your press release. Get hold of back copies and tune in to relevant radio and TV programmes. This will enable you to tailor your story to suit.

For any news story, there are many angles that can be used. If a business launches a new product, there might be mileage in targeting any, or all, of the following:

  • local press (the area in which the company is based);
  • specialist press (the company's 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 a significant impact or change).

When you do your research, identify working patterns and deadlines. Many weekly local papers, for example, have a Tuesday deadline for Thursday publication. So, you might be wise not to issue a time-sensitive press release to that audience on a Wednesday.

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 photos are available on request, rather than sending them as an attachment with your press release. Clogging up inboxes won't win you any friends, and attachments may be flagged as spam.

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 (ie where, when, etc).

Written by Debbie Leven of The PR Coach.

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