A press release, also known as a news release, is a written statement distributed to the media. A fundamental tool of PR work, a well-written, well-distributed and well-timed press release is not difficult or expensive to produce, yet can be effective for publicizing a scheduled event or calling attention to a range of issues: personnel promotions, awards, news products and services, sales accomplishments, etc.
The key to writing an effective press release is getting it read and the information published. With these objectives in mind, the most important elements of writing the press-release are clear and engaging content, and following a standard press release format.
Content of Your Press Release
When writing content, make a list of key points in your news story. Use these key tips to write effective content:
Write news, not advertisement
The purpose of a press release is to inform the world of your news item. Do not use your press release to try and make a sale. A good press release answers the 5Ws and the H (who, what, where, why, when and how), providing the media with useful information about your organization, product, service or event. Your tone should be neutral and objective. Avoid directly addressing the consumer or your target audience. Always write in third person. The use of “I,” “we” and “you” outside of a direct quotation is a flag that your copy is an advertisement rather than a news release. If your press release reads like an advertisement, rewrite it.
Make it newsworthy
Illustrate why anyone should care about your news. Avoid clichés like “great customer service,” “leader in the industry,” or “best value for your money”. Focus on the news aspects that are unique or unusual. Using real life examples can powerfully communicate the benefits of using your product or service.
If you are reporting a corporate milestone, make sure that you connect your success or failures to one or more events. If your company has experienced significant growth, tell the world what you did right. Show the cause and effect.
Write for the media
Develop a story as you would like to have it told. Speak the truth, but avoid all fluff and embellishments. Evade the question mark, as it screams exaggeration, and may make your credibility questionable. Occasionally your press release may be run with little or no modification. The closer you write a press release to the way the editors will actually publish it, the greater the chance they will choose your story over the next one on their piles.
Use an active voice
Writing verbs in an active voice brings your press release to life. Instead of writing, “A new location has been opened by the company” use “The company opened a new location.” Also, use strong verbs to condense and strengthen sentences that will attract attention and interest in your story. Some strong verbs include: emerge, expose, deliver, impact, launch and transform. Your press release is more likely to be read if written in this style.
Correct grammar usage
It is imperative to follow the rules of grammar and style. Grammar and style errors affect your credibility. Editors will definitely reject a press release with excessive errors.
Not everyone will understand jargon, which is terminology used specifically in a distinct profession. The best way to communicate your news is to speak plainly, using ordinary language with the general reader in mind.
Use mixed case
NEVER SUBMIT A PRESS RELEASE IN ALL UPPER CASE LETTERS. This is very bad form. Your release will most likely be ignored by journalists.
Do not use HTML
Never embed HTML or other markup languages in your press release. Not everyone uses the same software, so when the press release is sent via email, HTML tags may not translate consistently on all computer platforms. If sending the press release via email, you are better off writing in a standard font.
Companies are very protective about their reputation. Before including information or quotes from employees or affiliates of other companies or organizations, make sure you have their written permission. This includes adding a company’s ticker symbol (stock symbol). Any dispute resolution will favor the other company, meaning that your press release may get pulled.
Take the time to do it right. Write, print, proof read. Rewrite and revise again. It often helps to have someone else look it over to catch little mistakes that you may have missed.
Follow a Standard Press Release Format
How you present your news is just as important as its content. The standard press release is 300 to 500 words long. Make sure to include the company’s name in the headline, summary paragraph and first paragraph.
The first line of your press release should read “FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE” in the left hand margin.
Even though this seems like the first step, you should actually write the headline after you write the full press release by extracting the most important keywords to reveal an announcement. Ideally it should be under 80 characters, and definitely no more than 170. Capitalize every word except for prepositions and articles of three characters or less. Make the words bold and slightly bigger than the rest of text. (Remember, however, if you’re sending the press release via email, forget the special formatting or HTML, and just use a standard font.)
The summary paragraph is your introductory paragraph. In one to four sentences, it should be a slightly longer synopsis of the news in the headline. Some distribution points only receive your headline, summary and link to your press release. Failing to include a summary paragraph inhibits the effectiveness of your press release. Write this paragraph in italics using standard capitalization and punctuation. (Again, if sending in email, just use standard font and formatting.)
Begin this paragraph with the city and date which the press release originated. Start strong. In 25 words or less, the first sentence in this paragraph should tell the story. The rest of your press release should provide the detail. You have a matter of seconds to grab your readers’ attention. Do not assume that your reader has read your headline or summary paragraph.
Detail the news in the following paragraphs in descending order of importance. Make sure to keep all paragraphs short, no more than three or four sentences each.
This paragraph should include a quote from you, or the CEO.
This paragraph should include a quote from any other party involved, such as a customer or partner. Make sure to get the quote approved and released by the party to avoid possibly having to issue a retraction.
Add any other information about why the announcement is significant to the audience. It is typical to restate and summarize the key points in this paragraph.
This paragraph should have a short company history or “boilerplate,” and describe your company, products, service and mission. If you are filing a joint press release, include a boilerplate for both companies.
Add contact information:
- Media/PR Contact Person
- Official Company Name
- Telephone & FAX Numbers with proper country/city codes and extension numbers
- Mobile Phone Number (optional)
- Timings of availability
- Email Addresses (use name(at)webaddress.com to prevent spam)
- Website Address
Lastly, list three number signs, “###”, to signal the end of your press release.
If you follow these steps, you can write a respectable press release. However, writing a good press release is half the battle. You still have to find a careful selection of recipients, and make sure you have a good timing of release. If you are on a tight budget and have abundant free time, you may choose to write your press release yourself. However, a professional company that writes press releases will save you a lot of time, and can provide an enhanced press release that will certainly be taken seriously, and have a greater chance of being published.