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How to write a press release

Press releases are a popular and a cost-effective way of bringing attention to a story or an event, so it’s well worth the time it takes to get it right.

It was pointed out to me recently, when discussing the journalist Johann Hari and the subject of plagiarism, that press releases are probably the only time when you would want someone to cleave to your exact words and regurgitate every sentence unaltered. The truth is, churnalism aside, the more a publication sticks to your press release, the better for you because your story is brought in its entirety, to a new audience. It means that you’ve done your job well, you’ve written a press release that has gone unchanged into the media publication of your choice. But there are no guarantees, just some sensible steps to take to ensure that you craft a press release that stands a better chance against all the rest, of getting noticed and therefore, being used.

1. What’s the story?

The first challenge is finding and understanding the news value of your story. A good starting point is to simply ask yourself, what makes what I want to say interesting? And why is it worth bringing to the attention of a specific audience? Hopefully, you’ll come up with some good answers. Maybe it’s the first time that something has ever been done. Or, it could be that you have a particular product that is new to the market. The answers will be myriad, what’s important is that you have a clear idea of what your story is, because that clarity is the best starting point you can have for writing your press release. It’s worth bearing in mind too that these are the kind of questions that a good journalist will ask before picking up your press release and choosing to run with it.

If the answers don’t come easily, try to look behind the story and think about what makes it interesting to you.  If you can answer that, it might help you to understand why it would be of interest to others.

2. Create a good headline.

Look at the headlines in the newspapers you read and articles you’re drawn to. What sort of headlines are they? You’ll find that they tend to be short and succinct and so yours should be too. Don’t try to be overly clever; it isn’t easy to pull off and when it falls flat, your press release could become memorable for all the wrong reasons. Far better to go for something that catches the essence of what your story is about and making your headline relevant, simple and descriptive.

3. Use the five W’s: who, what, where, when and why

Make sure that your press release covers the five w’s: the who what, where, when and why of your story. It won’t be complete until it does so revise your draft release as many times as is necessary to ensure that the five w’s are covered.

4. Use the inverted pyramid

This is a simple way of organising your story so that the most important information is given first. It could be that not all of your press release will be used and when it comes to cutting, editors often cut from the bottom up. Putting the most important points of your story early on in your press release will make it less likely that they will be missed out come the time of publication. It also saves the editor from having to do any rewriting and they’re likely to appreciate your press release all the more because of it.

5. Think about style and language

The most important thing to remember when it comes to style and language is clarity. You want your press release to be ‘noticed and picked up’ by journalists and the best way of ensuring that is to make it abundantly clear from the start what your story is about and to say it with such clarity, that the journalist keeps on reading.

Adding too much information, using overly technical language, and writing that is dull and boring will make it less likely that your press release will be read, let alone used. And avoid exaggerating. Yes, you might think your product is the best on the market but if you say it that way, it will come across as too pushy and sound more like a sales pitch, making it less interesting in the eyes of an editor. In fact, make your press release sound too much like an advertorial and it’ll either get binned or you’ll get billed. Editors aren’t minded to give away free advertising.

6. Keep it short

How long your press release should be depends on the story but on the whole, aim to keep it short. Use the ‘Notes to Editors’ section to add any additional information that you think will help to explain more about the story, the background and facts.

7. Final checks

Read it through, checking spelling and grammar, and making sure that all the basics like contact details and quotes, are accurate. If there are photographs that you think will enhance your story, make that clear in the notes to editors as well as who they can contact to get hold of them.

At this point, you’re all set and ready to dispatch your press release to the journalist and publications that you think might be interested in carrying your story. How will you know if it’s worked: the subject of your release will start to show up in a few news outlets and you’ll get a call or two asking for more information.

Good luck, although if you follow these pointers, you won’t need it.

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