When you type “How to write a press release” into Google, it spits out thousands of results. And no wonder. If you’re looking to get media coverage for your business, being able to write an effective press release is an essential skill. But how long should a press release be? And what kind of information should you include? There are some clear rules when it comes to writing press releases — covering everything from news angles to structure. All of them you will find in our complete guide to writing press releases that get results.
Step 1: What angle should I focus on in the press release? & which journalists should I target?
Before you get to the actual writing – the most important thing to think about when writing a press release is the target audience. Remember the angle that will interest the readers of a specialist magazine will be very different from those that read the local newspaper. In fact, you should write different versions of your release for the different audiences you are targeting.
There are key elements that journalists and influencers look for in a story. What should you do for your communication to hit the mark? Find out what a few journalists have to say about their expectations of a professional press release.
“When I receive a press release from someone who has no idea what is covered in the publication I work for, it often ends up in the trash bin.”
Step 2: Press release structure
Some claim that the press release is dead. They say it’s boring, targeted to a wrong group of people or just way too promotional. But is it always the case? Before we dispel some of these myths, let’s start with defining what a ‘press release’ is and what it really does.
The whole idea behind the press release is communication. It can be written, recorded or even shown – the form doesn’t matter as long as it’s effective. It is a tool made to announce something that is newsworthy in the most objective way possible. The whole purpose of a press release is to get coverage and get noticed by a target audience.
To be able to write an effective press release, it is necessary to first understand its structure:
Heading – in order to have a fish you need to catch it first
First things first, the press release needs to have a catchy heading to be successful. It’s the first thing people will read and based on that, they will make their decision whether they want to read the whole thing or not. Try to keep it short – it’s easier to read, it looks more appealing and as long as it’s no more than 110 characters – people might tweet about it. Make it fresh, newsworthy and interesting – the decision-making process takes about 3 seconds so your heading must catch the viewers’ attention.
Lead – answer the five W’s briefly, but hold to your readers’ attention
The second most important part of your press release is the lead. That’s exactly where the impatient ones will find the answers to the most important questions. Answering the five W’s is crucial – say what the news is about, who is involved, when and where it happened and why it is that important. When writing this part make sure you follow the “miniskirt rule”, meaning your lead should be long enough to cover the essentials, but short enough to keep it interesting. Don’t waste the journalist’s time – you have to pique their curiosity, not give them all the details at once.
Source – prove your trustworthiness
If you’re basing your press release on external sources, make sure to cite them. That way you will become more credible in the eyes of your audience. It’s crucial to make sure whatever you’re linking to is legitimate, and not fake news.
I don’t recommend displaying the whole URL unless you’re citing your sources at the bottom of your press releases. Use anchor text to make your links look natural.
Details – it’s all about the details
Give your readers the essential details. And by details, I mean the basic information that is necessary to figure out why this press release is newsworthy. You don’t want to write a novel, just give a brief explanation and get the reporters excited about something they’ll write about.
Quotes – show the perspective of others
Quotes are fun and people like them. Why? They always bring another perspective to the text and make it more diverse. Quotes will make your release interesting and definitively more readable.
Additional data – ask yourself “is there anything else I need to add?”
If so, this is the time to do so, but remember – don’t over do it. Remember, sometimes less is more, and that’s definitively the case when it comes to press releases.
Contact details – don’t forget about it
Add your contact details so journalists will know how to reach you, and you’re almost done. It is important because journalists might want to interview you or ask some additional questions. If you forget about this part, the chances of getting your release published are slim to none, so always double-check it.
Boilerplate – introduce yourself
Having a boilerplate in your press release is crucial. If you caught the journalists’ attention and they kept on reading until this place, most likely they want to know more about you. The boilerplate is exactly the place where they will find any additional info about your company or you. Make it fun and interesting – it works as your business card, and you want to present yourself well.
Double-check – did you forget anything?
Double-check your release before hitting ‘send’:
- Does it contain all of the above-mentioned elements?
- Is it newsworthy?
- Is it between 200 – 400 words?
- Is the heading catchy?
- Is it objective and not promotional?
If the answer to all of those questions is YES, you have a great chance that your release will go viral. Just remember to send it to the right journalists and preferably – at the right time.
Step 3: Choose the right format
Now that you’ve covered the press release structure, let’s focus more on its format. Because when it comes to a press release, it’s the same as with great food or an amazing gift – even if it’s outstanding but given in lousy packaging, it loses its value. In the end, most of us are stimulated visually, and that’s why the first impression really counts.
There are innumerable ways of sending a press release, but I’ll put aside faxes, snail mail or messenger pigeons and only focus on those most commonly used ones.
Sending out press releases in a PDF file was very popular a few years back. Although it looks the same on each device, it is rather problematic – it’s heavy and journalists don’t really like this form. Since many companies still issue releases in this format, it is treated somehow as a standard – but it’s not a smart move to get used to something that is just too problematic for readers.
– It’s compatible with nearly every device
– It’s heavy, and I can assure you, there is no journalist who likes having their mailbox blocked – it’s annoying, and it lowers your success rate
– It’s hard to copy – even if a journalist doesn’t want to edit too much, they still have to go through all the hassle of copying or rewriting. When you send a file that is hard to edit, you’re sending a clear message that you don’t respect their time – not what you want to achieve, right?
– It’s difficult to measure – you don’t know how many people actually read it
2. Plain text
Sending out plain text is definitely safe. But it’s also extremely vanilla. The whole idea of a press release is that it will be so interesting/innovative/worth sharing that journalists will want to write about it. If the release looks just like all the others they read that day, most likely it won’t be remembered.
– Easy to copy and edit
– It’s light and doesn’t block the mailbox – definitely more journalist-friendly
– It looks boring, doesn’t encourage reading
– There is a chance it will look bad on some devices
– Similarly to PDF – it’s hard to find out who saw the press release
3. Interactive press release
It’s the newest form of a press release. Although journalists may be a little bit hesitant in the beginning, they will definitely remember it. This is the user-friendliest form – easy to copy, easy to download and difficult not to notice. If you’re unfamiliar with this type of press release, check out these examples and you’ll quickly understand their PR potential.
– Easy to copy and edit thanks to a special button that lets you copy plain text
– Looks good on every device
– Interactive – possible to add social media sharing buttons and drag-and-drop various elements
– It’s possible to control each press release and see exactly who saw it thanks to the analytical panel
– Easy download of all attachments with one click
– Your readers will always have the most up-to-date version (no more having to follow-up saying you forgot to add something important – or worse, that you made a mistake)
– Some journalists may not be used to it yet which can be both an advantage and a disadvantage – they might be confused when seeing it for the first time, but they might also love it.
When writing a press release keep in mind that times are changing and something that could ‘wow’ a journalist a few years back, won’t impress him today. Think about what will be a trend next year and apply it now. Remember – you snooze, you lose.
Step 4: Avoid common mistakes
1) Your story isn’t newsworthy
First things first. Is your story actually a story? Is it new or interesting? Will people outside your organization really care about it? If the answer to these questions is yes, then you might be onto something. If it’s not new, not interesting and you’re not sure if anyone will really care, it might be a good idea to come up with something else.
2) Your headline sucks
Once you’ve landed on the story, a killer, pun-laden headline is the place to start, right? Wrong. Media, not PR practitioners, write the headlines, so focus more on the facts and leave the creative stuff to the men and women who get paid to do it. This isn’t my personal opinion, but one formed from many years talking to the press around the UK who often name a silly headline as one of their big press release bugbears. Make it interesting and to the point.
3) You’re beating around the bush
Nail the story in the first few sentences – get the facts out quickly and succinctly and the chances of a press release making it from an inbox to an editorial meeting will increase dramatically. Journalists are pushed for time more than ever before, so the importance of communicating the bones of the story in the first few lines of a press release is vital. Chances are, they’re not going to have time to read the whole thing, so the quicker you get to the point, the better.
4) Your quotes don’t come off as authentic
Whether it’s a young person talking about how happy they are to have secured an apprenticeship or a CEO analyzing the latest financial results, it’s a wise idea to make the people quoted in a press release sound real. For example, the said young person is unlikely to use words you’d need a dictionary to understand, so remember to have your story feel authentic. Just try to make sure they’re not ‘delighted’, even if they are.
5) You never get third-party endorsements
I’m a big believer in this. While it’s great for brands to communicate their own key messages, an endorsement from a third party will add more weight to the story. Seek comments from sources like analysts, industry experts or partner organizations, and the story becomes more newsworthy
6) You rarely use links
Probably commonplace these days but still worth mentioning – putting links in press releases is a good idea. URLs to client websites, product images, third parties and more will not only help the media quickly access all the information for the story but will also help everyone involved with SEO if the story is used online. After all, everyone wants to be further up the Google rankings…
Step 5: Get inspired by press release examples
Congratulations! You’ve made it through our guide. By now, you should have all the necessary knowledge to create a press release. However, if you’re still feeling a bit unsure, check out our press release examples page and get inspired by what other brands are doing.