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 a winning press release is an essential skill.
But what should a press release include? How to end a press release? And what about the press release format? Luckily, we have all the answers.
There are specific guidelines for writing a press release—covering everything from news angles to press release structure. All of them you will find in our complete guide to writing press releases that get attention (and results!), along with expert comments.
Ready to start writing killer press releases?
Writing a press release – checklist
- Choose the angle that matters for your target audience.
- Start with a well-thought-out headline.
- Pay attention to a lead paragraph.
- Cover the essentials in a few body paragraphs.
- Consider adding quotes.
- Include contact details.
- End your press release with a boilerplate.
- Decide how to format your press release.
- Make sure to double-check everything.
Guidelines for writing a press release
Step 1: Target audience
Before you get to the actual press release writing—the most important thing to start with is choosing the angle that matters for your target audience.
Remember that the angle (a perspective that story will take, in other words) which will interest the readers of a specialist magazine will be very different from the local newspaper. In fact, you should write different versions of your release for the different audiences you are targeting.
Keep in mind that you’re not only targeting the potential readers, but also journalists. If you don’t do your research and target the wrong journalists, writing killer press releases won’t get you anywhere.
Step 2: Press release structure
In order to be able to write a winning press release, it’s also necessary to understand the press release structure.
By following a standard press release structure, you’re ensuring that a journalist knows how to find what they’re looking for in your release, and allowing them to quickly determine if they want to cover your announcement. It also shows them that you’re a seasoned PR pro who knows the ins and outs of a press release, and signals that you’re likely easy to work with.
– Cassie Scher, Nahigian Strategies
Here’s what a press release should include:
Headline: in order to have a fish you need to catch it first
First things first, your press release needs to have a catchy headline in order 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. This way, it’s easier to read, it looks more appealing and as long as it’s no more than 110 characters—people might even tweet about it. Make it fresh, newsworthy, and interesting, as the whole decision-making process takes about 3 seconds.
Lead: answer the five W’s briefly, but hold to your readers’ attention
The second most important part of writing a press release is to craft the lead. That’s exactly where the impatient ones will find the answers to the most important questions, including the five W’s: what the news is about, who is involved, when and where it happened, and why it is 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 essential to make sure whatever you’re linking to is legitimate, and not fake news.
We 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 more natural.
Essentials: the beauty is in the details
Give your readers the essential details. And by details, we 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.
My biggest tip for press release writing is to focus on how your product or service helps others. Because when it helps people, it helps journalists. Reporters are always focused on their readers and what they will be interested in. Sending in a press release that is totally focused on you isn’t going to cut it.
– Sandra Coffey, Media Publicity Mentor
Quotes: show the perspective of others
Press release quotes are always welcome. Why? They bring another perspective to the text and make it more diverse. Quotes can easily make your text more interesting and more readable, which should be good enough reasons to include them in your press release.
Additional data: is there anything else you need to add?
If so, this is the time to do it—without actually overdoing it. Remember, sometimes less is more, and that’s definitely the case when it comes to writing a good press release.
A photograph speaks a thousand words. I like to include at least one or two photographs with my press releases. In the old days, we just wrote and tried to wordsmith the perfect release as a news article with no visual content. Today, I would not dare send a release out without some visual anchor inside the press release.
– David Rudolph, D. Ericson & Associates Public Relations
Contact details: introduce yourself
Don’t forget to add contact details so journalists will know how to reach you, or anyone else worth contacting. It’s important because they might want to ask some additional questions about the story. If you forget about this part, the chances of getting your release published are basically slim to none.
Boilerplate: the perfect way to end a press release
In case you’re asking yourself how to end a press release, here’s your answer: have a boilerplate. 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.
Now, it’s time to double-check everything.
- 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: Press release format
Now that we’ve covered the press release structure, let’s focus on press release format. When it comes to press releases, it’s actually 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.
How to format a press release, then? There are numerous ways of distributing a press release, but we’ll put aside faxes, snail mail, or messenger pigeons for now, and only focus on those most commonly used ones. So, here they are—press release formats that you might want to consider:
Sending out press releases in PDF files was very popular a few years back. Although they look the same on each device, they are rather problematic – they’re heavy, sometimes difficult to copy information from, and journalists don’t really seem to 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 there’s no journalist who likes having their mailbox blocked (it’s pretty annoying, and it lowers your success rate)
- It’s hard to copy. Even if a journalist doesn’t want to edit it 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 (which is not what you want to achieve, right?)
- It’s difficult to measure—you don’t know how many people actually have read it
2. Plain text
The next press release format to take into account is plain text. It’s definitely a safe choice, but it’s also extremely vanilla. The whole idea of a good 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 other emails 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, which definitely makes it more journalist-friendly
- It looks boring and doesn’t encourage reading
- There is a chance that it will look bad on some devices
- Similarly to PDFs, it’s hard to find out who actually saw the press release
3. Interactive press release
It’s most likely the newest press release format on the market. Although journalists may be a little bit hesitant in the beginning, they are definitely going to remember it. This also happens to be the user-friendliest form—it’s easy to copy, easy to download, and difficult to forget. If you’re unfamiliar with this type of press release writing, check out these press release 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: it’s 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 at their disposal (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 at the same time)
When writing a killer press release, keep in mind that times are changing and something that could ‘wow’ a journalist a few years back, won’t impress them today. Think about what will be a trend next year and apply it now. Remember—you snooze, you lose.
Step 4: Common mistakes when writing a press release
1) The story isn’t actually 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.
Reserve press releases only for the most timely and newsworthy announcements about your client or company. So often business leaders and PR pros get ‘release happy’ and mistakenly believe that if they’re not sending releases at a regular cadence, their media outreach is going stagnant. This simply isn’t the case.
– Robyn Ware, Principal, Robyn Ware PR
2) 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.
It is 2020 and I still get exceedingly long press releases that resemble a book’s chapter. A bad book’s chapter with an excess of self-promoting adjectives. Anyone who works in media is always running against the clock with deadlines, so the best piece of advice I could give is to always remember to include the most newsworthy information at the very beginning of your press release. If you leave it to the very end, chances are that the journalist will not read that far, and a good story will be overlooked.
– Marcio Delgado, Journalist, Digital Consultant and Producer
3) Press release 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. Here you can find more press release mistakes, in case you’re interested.
Step 5: Press release examples
Congratulations! By now, you should have all the necessary knowledge to write a good press release. If you need some more guidance, we have a few press release examples for you to draw inspiration from:
- 13 Free Press Release Templates & Examples for Any Occasion
- 3 New Product Press Release Examples & Template to Get Your Product Launch Seen
- 3 Event Press Release Examples & Tips From Journalists
We hope this helps. Till the next time!
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in June 2016 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.