A complete guide to writing an effective press release

There are some clear rules when it comes to writing press releases – covering everything from the news angle to structure. Debbie Leven of The PR Coach offers a complete guide to writing press releases that get results

Is your story newsworthy?

Before you write and issue a press release[1], ask “Is there news value in this story? Too often businesses write press releases about topics that are not newsworthy[2]. Fact: if the journalist does not consider it your release newsworthy and engaging, it won’t get coverage.

There are key elements that journalists looks for in a press release – the human interest angle is key. Can you show that your news has an impact on people?

Once you have decided that you have a story to tell, you need to understand the rules for writing a press release. These are designed to make it as easy as possible for journalists[3] to use your material.

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What should go into a press release?

To write an effective press release[5], answer the following questions:

  • Who? Who are the key players – your company, anyone else involved with the product? Who does your news affect/who does it benefit?
  • What? What is new?
  • Why? Why is this news important – what does it tell people that they need to know?
  • Where? Where is this happening?
  • When? What is the timing of this? Does this add significance?
  • How? How did this come about?

It’s then a matter of putting the details together into short punchy sentences. That sounds simple but can be quite challenging.

If you don’t get the words right first time, keep trying. Most press releases go through several drafts. It’s essential that you get across the key points and benefits.

It is not uncommon for press releases to be written up and reported without any follow-up with the sender – so make sure your release contains all the key details needed. One point to bear in mind is that editors edit from the bottom of a press release up – so ensure the most important points are at the top.

Writing press releases for different audiences

The most important thing to think about when writing a press release is the target audience[6]. The readers of a niche magazine or website will be very different to those that read the local newspaper. You should write different versions of your release for the different audiences you are targeting.

When thinking about the audience, 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 example, might be relevant for a specialist engineering audience, but not for the general public.

How long should a press release be?

The answer is, as few paragraphs as you need to get your points across. Avoid waffle and lengthy explanation. Keep the copy as tight as possible[7].

You need to get all the key information into the first paragraph of a press release. The test of success is whether the story can be understood in its entirety just by reading the first paragraph.

The second paragraph expands on the first, giving a bit more detail. Often, the third paragraph provides a quote. The fourth paragraph outlines final information, such as other products in development, for example.

Writing tips for press releases

A writing style[8] with sentences that are 25 words in length or fewer helps make your press release punchy.

A good press release should take a factual tone and be short and concise, giving the journalist the essence of the story. They will get in touch if they want more information. If you get the news content right and write to the publication’s style, you give yourself a good chance of getting your story across.

With press releases for broadcast media[9], the same rules apply in terms of writing and presentation. It is not uncommon to be invited for interview and find that, particularly in live interview situations, the interviewer has only read the first paragraph of the release or scanned it in the 30 seconds before the interview.

How to structure a press release

Timing – for immediate release or embargo?

Indicate at the top of the release whether it is for immediate release or under embargo, and if so, give the relevant date. Remember that it can be frustrating for journalists to receive information under embargo that cannot be published straight away. An embargo does not mean that journalists can’t contact you about your story. It just means that you are asking them not to publish it before a particular date.

Give the press release a title

The job of the press release title is to grab attention and encourage the journalist to read more. Don’t waste time stressing over what title will look like in print – most journalists/editors will change the title to suit their readership.

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