Press releases are a cornerstone of any public relations strategy. You could even go so far as to say you can’t do effective public relations without them. Press releases are the standard, universal medium for getting your message out and the expected format for media platforms that may be interested in covering the news that you’re sharing.
By following a standard press release format, you’re ensuring that a journalist knows how to find what they’re looking for in your release, and allow 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
The people you’ll send your press releases to read a lot of them, so any mistakes, quirks, missing parts, or extreme deviations from the norm will stand out immediately. Getting your press release layout and design right isn’t hard but, if you’re just starting out, it can be useful to walk through the basics of what’s expected.
Let’s go through the boxes you need to tick when formatting a press release so you can make just the right impression on media contacts and provide them with everything they need to take your conversation to the next level.
The standard press release format
There is a standard, expected format for press releases. While you might get creative and unconventional when it comes to the content, the format where you present it needs to follow the rules. This is not the time to get experimental—remember that you’re writing for an audience that is used to a particular format because it works.
Also, deviating too much from a format that your media audience expects doesn’t arouse curiosity in them, it makes them move on to the next press release. Don’t fool yourself into thinking that reinventing the press release is a good way to get attention!
These are the elements of a standard press release:
No surprises here. Your headline needs to communicate the essence of what follows at a glance. Recipients of your press release are going to scan the headline in a fraction of a second, so this is the place to make your point. Convincing media contacts that your message is newsworthy can be a challenge when you have a limited number of characters to work with, so focus on the main takeaway.
Pro tip: Don’t use all capital letters or exclamation points in your headline. A reasonable font size and bolding, combined with the fact that it’s the header, make it obvious to the reader that your news is somehow important.
Subheader / Lead
This is optional but recommended since it gives you a chance to pack some extra information right at the top. As a de facto extension of your headline, use your subheader or lead to expand on what makes your announcement worth the time and attention of media contacts.
As you write your subheader or lead, think of which aspects of your announcement are most likely to impress, inform or spark curiosity about the details. If your header is the high-impact message limited to just a few words, your subheader is an opportunity to expand on it with the top one or two ways that it’s important or consequential.
Pro tip: Your header and subheader are not the places for mysterious, “read more to see…” references to what’s in your press release. Don’t make readers “work” by teasing what’s further down the page. Stick with the facts and use the time and attention the reader gives you to convey the most information possible.
Typically at the introduction of the main body of text, the dateline communicates basic info like the date and location of the announcement. Bold this information and separate it from the first sentence of the body with a dash.
Be sure to change and update the dateline with any changes or updates in the press release itself.
Pro tip: Sure, the dateline is a very small piece of the press release but it’s simply part of the expected format. Don’t overlook this standard press release format element just because it’s just a handful of characters!
Here’s where all the who-what-when-where-why basics get covered. Never forget that you’re trying to get media contacts interested in learning more, so the newsworthy angle should always be a priority.
Use a strong opening sentence, which will likely be a paraphrase of your headline. Remember that journalists will think in terms of “How is this relevant to my audience”, so the body of your press release is where you answer that along with the top-level details that help them to start imagining what their story about you could look like.
There’s nothing wrong with adding a second paragraph, as long as all the information you include helps to meet the goal of explaining why your announcement is worthy of media coverage. The focus is always on how your message is interesting, valuable, relevant, etc. to those who might read about it, not how media coverage would be good for you.
Don’t let the length of the body of your press release push the total length beyond a single page. If you push things to a second page, there is a 100% chance there is some fat to cut out on page one.
Pro tip: This is a press release, not a copy for an advertisement. Stay away from salesy language and remember that you’re trying to ignite interest in a story, not a product or service.
Another optional but recommended component of your press release layout quotes help to add a touch of credibility or detail to your announcement. Depending on the context, quotes can help to illustrate how much of a breakthrough you’re announcing, how important your news is for the industry, how unique or game-changing it is, etc.
Again, the same rule applies—be sure that the information in any quote you use helps media contacts create a more complete conception of the story they could write about your announcement. Everything is about helping to facilitate the path from your press release to press coverage.
Pro tip: If possible, use a quote from the most high-profile, credible source associated with your organization. Also, the rule about avoiding salesly language applies to quotes as well.
The last paragraph of your press release will include a basic but flattering description of your company. This is the press release equivalent of the “About Us” section on your website. Keep it short, keep it complimentary by mentioning your position in the industry, awards, etc. and provide a link to your website.
Like the press release generally, keep your company info section limited to the most essential, high-level kind of information and use later follow-ups to expand on the details. This is no time for the complete history of your company!
Pro tip: This boilerplate section of your press release can contain information you might be tempted to include elsewhere, like the subheader or the body. If you are “California’s leading supplier of building supplies” or “The Southwest’s largest medical research facility” or whatever, say that in your Company Info section instead of repeating it. This will free up space in those other sections for additional information.
Your company’s or organization’s logo is part of any professional press release. Search online and you’ll find that there’s plenty of disagreement of where exactly it should appear on the page but top-middle and bottom-middle are the two leading contenders. You can decide based on what you think looks best.
Pro tip: Use a full-color logo and keep it down to a fairly small size. Remember, the logo is there for brand identity purposes, not to steal the show.
Media contact information
You’ve put all this effort and planning into your press release because you want to generate interest among media contacts, so be sure that you make it easy for them to get in touch. This info will depend on who your contact is, of course—the person writing the press release, a Marketing or PR representative, an outside agency, etc.
A simple “[Brand name] is happy to share more information…” or “Please direct all media inquiries to…” or some similar call to action is sufficient to make it clear that this is the person who will handle replies from the media.
Pro tip: A phone number and an email address is all the contact information you need to share for anyone responsible for handling replies to your press release. While you may have reached out to media contacts via their social media, you want their replies to go through your phone or email.
More help with press release writing
The great thing about press releases is that they follow a general structure that allows you to just switch out the details when moving from one to another. That means that you can use templates that have been optimized for various contexts and purposes. If you don’t feel like reinventing the wheel with every new press release you write, there are lots of online resources to help.
Prowly offers a wide range of press release templates for every occasion. Start browsing a library of templates that will give you a shortcut to getting started.
On the other hand, if you want to apply your own ideas towards making a new design, there is a lot of inspiration out there to spark your imagination and get the creative juices flowing. Check out these great examples of press release formatting and see where they take you.
Who knows, maybe you’ll be the next to contribute a winning press release template?
Cover photo by J. Kelly Brito