Want to improve your chances of getting your story heard? And know the kind of information to include? And how to present a press release for a busy newsroom? Here’s all you need to put together a compelling press release. Plus a template to help get you started.
- 1 What is a press release?
- 2 What to consider before you start writing
- 3 What to include in your press release
- 4 Press release template
- 5 And finally…
What is a press release?
A press or news release is simply a statement prepared for distributing information to the media. It could contain details of an event you are organising, such as a new appointment or an award, or perhaps an invitation to attend a photocall.
A well-written release may be the key to getting your story published. Getting published is like receiving an endorsement of your work, your message and you. It gives you credibility and raises your profile. And remember, sending out a press release is far cheaper than paying for an advert.
The purpose of a press release is to give journalists information that’s useful, accurate and interesting. Useful, accurate and interesting, it’s that easy.
It’s an informal arrangement between you and the newsrooms you approach. You simply offer an interesting news item. Written in third person, your press release seeks to demonstrate to a journalist that your message is newsworthy.
Press releases are an essential part of online marketing and digital communication. They are usually sent via website or by email. They can also be part of a full press kit with photographs, accompanied by a covering letter. However, these days not many people use the post.
Writing your first release can be daunting. Few people understand how it should be structured. But, there are basic elements which should be common to all of them.
You may decide to hire a journalist or other expert to do this task on your behalf. Even so, to evaluate the success of a press release, you will need to know what should go into a good press release .
How a press release is used
Because the media have a powerful voice, they shape the lives and opinions of millions of people. Which type of publication (newspaper, local radio, TV, magazine) you approach, will influence your chances of getting published.
Local newspapers and radio stations are hungry for good news stories. So, they are likely to welcome your initiative. Regional television companies will be looking for the strongest stories with the most outstanding pictures. Trade and other specialist magazines may be good targets because their circulations are relatively small and their articles are more focused.
Before you start writing, take time to study these media and try to spot the stories that have come from a press release. You will also notice that newspapers and magazines vary from each other in style and content. Write your press release with their needs and readers in mind.
It’s much harder to get your release published in national newspapers and consumer publications. They have high circulation figures and a wider range of interests. Remember too that your press release will be one of a huge number of releases a newsroom receives each day. If it stands out as interesting, relevant and newsworthy, you will have a better chance of publication.
Why do you want to issue a press release?
- Introduce a new product or service
- Publicise a future event, anniversary or milestone
- Advertise an open day, seminar or conference
- Announce a new appointment
- Put the record straight or protest
- Update your target audience on a matter
- Build awareness of your organisation
- Publicise a new discovery or scientific breakthrough
- Appeal for donations
- Call for volunteers
Be clear what you are trying to achieve. Make sure you are approaching the press for the right reasons.
What to consider before you start writing
Is the information newsworthy?
What do you want to say? Think carefully what your main message is. Can you explain it in a simple and clear way? Highlight the most interesting part of the story or event you want to publicise.
Ask yourself these questions:
- Is this something that people need or want to know?
- What is unique about this story?
- Is it a first, is it the only event held like it in your region?
- Can you explain it in a simple and clear way?
- Will it affect many people?
- In short, is it newsworthy?
Not everything is news. In my article on News Values, you can discover how journalists decide which stories to publish. Before you approach a journalist, or even begin to write, remind yourself what is newsworthy.
Who will be interested?
Know your target audience. Which newspapers, journals, radio stations or television companies will best broadcast your message? Be clear who your readers or listeners are, which publications they are likely to read, which broadcasters they listen to.
The readers of a niche magazine or website will be very different to those that read the local newspaper. Write different versions of your release for the different audiences you are targeting. 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 instance, might be relevant for a specialist engineering audience, but not for the general public.
Having established the best news outlets, take a look at each of them and analyse the style of articles and, where appropriate, the pictures they use. The closer you can match their style, the more likely your article will be used.
When to send out your information
Be timely. Pick the right moment to make your announcement.
You may want to hold back your press release from publication until a later time. For instance, you could provide some advanced information before making an important announcement at a press conference. You might want to send out a preview of a product ahead of its release date, or send out a copy of a presidential speech several hours in advance. If so, you need to mark your release as ’embargoed’.
The embargo requests news organisations to refrain from publishing the story until a specified time and date. This has the added advantage of stimulating interest and giving sufficient time for journalists to prepare their stories. But be careful. What you say in advance could also reduce your impact.
You can embargo your whole press release, or just a part of it, and you can specify the precise time when you want the story to be made public. Just add the words: ‘Embargoed until…’ before your specified date and time. Editors are not duty bound to observe an embargo, but on many occasions they will.
If you want your story to be reported straight away, include the words: ‘For immediate release’.
Tone and structure of text
- Arouse your reader’s interest. News is about exciting or unusual events. Always place the most interesting fact in your opening paragraph. These may be the only words that get read. Newsdesks are inundated with press releases. So, make sure yours catches the editor’s eye or it may go straight into the paper shredder.
- Keep to the facts and be scrupulously accurate. Present only information that is true, correct and doesn’t embellish anything that is to be communicated. Ensure your sources are quoted accurately.
- Make sure your text is grammatically correct. Remove any errors or spelling mistakes. Take special care to ensure the correct spelling of names – both of people and organisations.
- Be succinct and remove cliches. Avoid unnecessary fancy language, such as ‘state of the art’, ‘cutting-edge’, ‘revolutionary’. Overused idioms have long since lost their impact.
- Keep your text precise and punchy. Use plain English.
- Be objective. Okay, that’s almost impossible to do, but refrain from using over-hyped claims that might be seen as being unreasonably biased.
- Be original. If you’re promoting your tenth anniversary, all well and good. But if it’s your 27th annual event, you may need something fresher and more exciting to attract attention.
- Try to be topical. If that impossible, incorporate your message with a more recent news event that everyone is talking about.
Getting the facts straight
Journalists are taught that there are six basic questions that must be answered for a story to be complete – the five Ws and one H, who, what, when, where why and how. So you need to bear this in mind when you start writing your press release.
If you are writing a about an event you want to publicise, say what it is, and where and when it is taking place. You also need to explain who you are and why you have organised the event.
When you have written your press release, check that you have answered these questions:
- Who – are the key players? Who does your news affect and who does it benefit?
- What – is it about? What is new?
- When – will it happen?
- Where – will it happen?
- How – will it take place?
- Why – is it happening? Why is this important?
Rudyard Kipling’s knew this when he wrote the following poem in his Just So Stories in 1902.
I keep six honest serving men They taught me all I knew; Their names are What and Why and When And How and Where and Who.
These six honest serving men pose the questions you need to answer. Arrange them in the right order. Then start describing the facts of your story clearly in the body of your text.
And finally, there are a couple of check questions you should ask yourself before you send out your release:
Why should an editor want to publish it? And why would anyone want to read it? Journalists refer to a broadly agreed set of criteria or news values which enable them to spot a newsworthy story.
Facts and figures
Journalists love facts and figures, particularly if they’re relevant to their particular concern. Wherever possible, use crucial facts, such as how many people are taking part, to substantiate your story.
Quotes from people involved in your event or campaign will really help liven up your release, but make sure they are concise and relevant to the story. They add colour and an authoritative voice to your release.
A good quote will support rather than simply repeat text of your release.
There’s a good chance it will be included in a published article, so do check their accuracy with the person quoted. Never be tempted to make up a quote and attribute it to someone without their permission.
What to include in your press release
Adding photos to a press release
If you have pictures to use with your press release, supply them. Not only are the press looking for original stories, they are also on the alert for good pictures.
From the moment you decide to approach the media, ask yourself how intriguing and eye-catching your story will be. Will the action make a good photo? Will you convey your message in a compelling way? Can you take a picture in advance of the occasion? With a little thought and help you can easily improve your news photos.
Although it is not essential, you could include photos of people, or your colleagues with your release. A good crowd may help. This will remind the press that your project is alive, not just words on a piece of paper. It might also encourage photographers and television crews to come to your event, especially if there are obvious visual draws.
Choose your background wisely. Pictures that have large logos in the background can be a huge turn off. Avoid head-and-shoulders shots. Try to think more creatively.
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, such as “where” and “when”.
If you are planning a spectacular event, decide if you want to stage a photocall. Local newspapers are working with tight budgets, but they may be prepared to send out a press photographer if the opportunity warrants it.
A good picture is worth a thousand words. A bad picture is worse than no picture at all.
Always give the email and contact number of the relevant PR or business contact. You may wish to add a postal address. These details can be placed after the main text of your press release.
It may be helpful to send additional information to editors so they can flesh out the story.
You may have useful facts about the people mentioned or quoted in your release. These can be presented on another page entitled Notes to Editor.
Notes to editor
It’s good practice to add a “Notes to editor” section at the end of your press release. This contains information that’s useful for the media, but doesn’t need to be included in the actual story:
- A short biography of the people mentioned in the press release
- What additional assets are available, for instance, photographs, videos and interviews
- Plans for events, such as a press conference, its location, arrival time and who will be available for interview
- A brief overview, sometimes called a “boilerplate”, with background information about the organisation that features in your press release
The word “boilerplate” refers to writing that has been used before many times with only very small changes. Crucial facts about an organisation can make all the difference in many contexts. Who you are, why you’re different, what you offer and how to find your website. As a result, it’s good practice to keep a standard boilerplate text on file.
Why boilerplate? Well, the word comes from the steel industry. It refers to strong steel sheets that are rolled out again and again. But, when it comes to writing press releases, beware of hackneyed and unoriginal boilerplate. Take it up a notch. Make sure it’s fresh and interesting and point out the unique advantages your organisation offers.
Press release template
This template is available in two versions:
You may find the following additional information a useful guide as you build your press release.
What you should include
- Identify the document. Simply put the words ‘PRESS RELEASE’ at the top, in caps, centred and bold type.
- Say who you are and where you come from. Place your organisation’s name prominently in the opening section
- Date of release. Mark clearly the time and date when you want your release to be published.
- Have an an eye-catching headline headline that tells the story and grabs attention. Keep it short and simple using no more than ten words, in bold type. Make sure it conveys the key point raised in your opening paragraph. Craft your opening paragraph to contain the gist of your announcement.
- The body of your text. This expands your opening paragraph and explains your new product, discovery, event or latest initiative. Make sure the paragraphs are cohesive and each flows well from the previous one. Keep the paragraphs no longer than three or four sentences. 400-500 words should be sufficient. Aim for a total length of an A4 page. And certainly no more than two.
- Use quotes. A quote from an expert or someone involved in your event will add credibility. A professional voice is critical and will take you far.
- Wrap up your text with a compelling last paragraph. This should provide the vital facts about your event, product or service, and who to contact.
- You may wish to add Notes for editor. This provides additional background information about you, your organisation, and your product or service.
- Finally, make sure you provide your contact details: name, email, mobile and landline phone number and website address.
What you should avoid
Resist the temptation to use gimmicks. Avoid so called “hype flags” in your press releases. Exclamation marks, hyperbole, or describing your product as AMAZING, using upper case characters to create emphasis — all challenge the credibility of your news announcement.
Use pronouns sparingly and thoughtfully. Steer clear of them unless they appear within a quotation from a spokesperson from your company or organisation. Direct address, such as “you,” “I,” “we,” works well in conversation and advertising, but cosying up has no place in a news report. Keep the tone objective and factual.
Don’t Beat Around the Bush. Make your point clearly and remove any words, phrases and approaches that don’t help to clarify your point immediately.
Get rid of jargon. Jargon makes your press release difficult to understand and inaccessible for many readers. Cut it out wherever possible.
Steer clear of acronyms. They can confuse. Is a PC a personal computer or a police constable?
- Proofread and edit carefully. Check your text for mistakes and costly errors. Most people need a second pair of eyes but, if you’re on your own, try reading your words out aloud, or come back to it a day later. You’ll be surprised how many errors you’ve failed to spot first time round.
- Spacing. It is good practice to use double spacing and wide margins. This helps the journalist to make notes and presents your story clearly
- Send out your press release several days in advance, but not too early. It may get lost in the pile.
- Availability. Do make yourself available once your press release reaches its destination. If you are in a meeting, leave a recorded message on your mobile phone saying when you will be able to return calls and provide further information.