It’s nearly impossible to check your email or scroll through your Facebook feed without being bombarded by the latest articles, covering everything from politics to lifestyle to Elon Musk’s latest innovation.
And while folks have long claimed that print is a dying industry, it’s obvious that news itself isn’t going anywhere. In a world that consumes more than any other generation, we have to ask, where is this all coming from?
The latest stories getting blasted to you in an email newsletter or being being littered through your Facebook feed (looking at you, oversharing aunt), just may start from something as simple as a press release.
You read that correctly — press releases remain an invaluable part of a company’s integrated marketing communication strategy. As straightforward or formulaic as they may seem, when written thoughtfully, they are ripe with opportunity.
A single, carefully considered document can earn attention from media outlets far and wide. This does more than simply increase exposure to new audiences. It also adds a layer of legitimacy to your brand, increasing credibility in the eyes of your potential customers.
Some brands, in their eagerness to embrace newer digital strategies, have started to overlook press releases, considering them “outdated.” This couldn’t be further from the truth! Now more than ever, audiences are skeptical and overwhelmed. They’re desperate to figure out whomst to trust. Using a press release to align yourself with credible media partners can be the deciding factor that earns their attention.
The thought of putting together a press release sounds easy — but don’t be fooled by their perceived simplicity. There are actually a lot of moving pieces and concepts to understand. To get the best results for your efforts, you’ll need to understand:
- The elements of a press release
- The different types of releases (and when to use each)
- Press release writing best practices and tips
- How to secure placement with influential media outlets
- And more!
It may sound like a lot, but the following chapters break down the process step by step. By the time you’re done reading, you’ll have the skills you need to write your press release, distribute it to the media, and optimize its success. Now, let’s get started.
Misconceptions abound regarding exactly what press releases are and how they work. Before we get any further, let’s clear up the confusion.
Press Release Definition
Companies distribute press releases for a variety of reasons – everything from promoting upcoming events and announcing new hires, to celebrating awards and major acquisitions. We’ll go in-depth about the different types of press releases in the next chapter.
Although press releases are varied in their purposes, they all share a few key elements:
- They’re prepared statements
- They’re meant to pique the interest of journalists and media outlets
- They’re designed to share a message with the public
With a basic understanding of what press releases can accomplish, we can look at the formal definition.
Press Release [noun]: An official statement released by organizations that reports events, changes in circumstances, or anything else ostensibly newsworthy.
Okay — that may fly as a response on your business school exam, but what does it mean in practical terms?
Press releases enable you to prepare a message once, distribute it, and, hopefully, intrigue journalists enough to cover it publicly. If everything goes well, media outlets do some marketing for you and expose your brand to a wider audience. Distributing press releases regularly keeps your brand in the public eye.
Press releases also help brands boost their credibility. Consumers tend to trust the publications they know and consume regularly, which is why a public relations professional will tell you there’s nothing quite like that coveted Forbes or New York Times feature. By having your brand associated with trusted media outlets, it becomes more credible itself.
How Press Releases Work: PR Professionals and the Newswire
So we’ve covered the basic goal of a press release — but how do press releases achieve their purpose? Who is the mastermind behind a release, and how does it get into the hands of the media?
To understand this, let’s get into the gritty details about how press releases work and how they are distributed via the newswires.
How PR Professionals Use Press Releases
Public relations (or “PR”) professionals distribute press releases in practically every industry. Working on behalf of the organizations that hire them or as the representative of the companies they work for, these pros leverage their expertise to maximize the publicity of every release.
While it’s possible for organizations to approach journalists and media outlets themselves (a tactic most often utilized by small businesses or companies with limited resources), most would feel more comfortable utilizing a PR professional. PR pros have a lot experience knowing which outlets to target for the biggest rewards, and how to best approach them to acquire media coverage.
Additionally, PR professionals have developed relationships with individual journalists in various industries. Many of them pay to access press release distribution services; publishing content there can expose it to a broader audience.
Newswires are services that distribute press releases to wide networks of journalists, bloggers, and other members of the media.
While PR professionals contact individual media contacts directly whenever they have a press release that’s a great fit, they’ll often post on newswires because those services give them the advantage of scale. Think of it like a company posting a job on a site like Indeed.com – while the recruiter may also reach out to individual candidates, posting on a job board is an easy way to increase your applicant pool. Similarly, newswires give PR pros access to journalists they’ve never interacted with before and may not find otherwise.
Journalists scour the newswires because they offer commodities always in demand: fresh content and story ideas. Because both PR professionals and the media benefit from these services, access can be very expensive.
News wires have certainly evolved since their beginning in the 1950s. Today, PR professionals have their choice of distribution services based on their specific goals and needs. This article is a great resource to investigate different newswires and determine which will best work for your business.
Now that you understand what press releases are and who uses them, let’s talk about why to use a press release.
One of the biggest benefits is that press releases are a cost-effective way to distribute information quickly. Your PR department or agency can prepare one statement and easily distribute it to a network of media members desperate for content.
Some popular industry sites and publications, like Forbes and the Huffington Post, are updated with articles as often as 50 times a day. It’s entirely possible to post a press release on a newswire in the morning, only to have a journalist write and publish a story about it that afternoon!
When a publication writes a story about your press release, its audience becomes your audience. You may have plenty of customers, but most aren’t finding your blog, YouTube videos, or podcasts. Appearing in media they do consume – whether it’s Forbes or their local morning news on TV – puts you on their radar and gives you an opportunity to connect. The same goes for busy investors or other businesses who might be interested in working with you.
Also consider the increase in brand awareness. Media outlets have hundreds of thousands (or even millions) of people in their audiences. Even if only a tiny portion discovers your company through them, it can mean a significant bump in brand recognition.
And with brand recognition comes credibility. It has taken decades for media outlets to foster a sense of trust in their audiences. Any organization associated with them reaps some of the benefit.
Finally, appearing in a media outlet can make your otherwise time-sensitive press release a bit more “evergreen.” If an article written about the press release focuses on the bigger picture, the impact is longer lasting than it would have been with the release alone. Additionally, being featured on a popular site means there will be hyperlinks back to your company website, making it easier for you to rank higher in search engines such as Google.
Here’s a list of the typical types of press releases, along with some examples:
Event Press Releases and How to Write One
An event press release is used to promote a newsworthy event that a company is hosting, attending, or sponsoring.
The idea is to raise awareness among the general public. That means covering the “five W’s” of journalism (who, what, when, where, and why) is extremely important. If your organization is trying to get members of the media and/or a broader audience to attend, your timing is just as important. You want to make sure to give people plenty of notice so they can plan accordingly.
What are the “five W’s” of journalism?
What: What is the newsworthy event your story is covering?
Who: Who does it involve? Who are key players?
Where: Where is this story coming from? In a press release, this information will first be included in your dateline, with more details potentially included throughout your body paragraphs.
When: When is this newsworthy event going to take place, or when did it happen?
Why: Why is this important? The why in a press release is what will compel reporters and media outlets to want to dig in further.
New Hire Press Release
Companies use a new hire press release to announce important changes in leadership. Typically focused on high-level executives, this type of press release summarizes their professional accomplishments and offers biographical information. A photo of the new hire is common.
If your company just hired a well-known executive from a top competitor, for instance, that’s a credibility boost – and a good sign for investors.
You can also adapt a similar press release format whenever you’ve promoted someone to a key executive position from within.
Award Press Release
An award press release gives you the chance to publicly celebrate your success.
Industry awards and accolades are common, but, unless they’re as deeply immersed in the space as you are, it’s unlikely that your audience will ever hear about them. Distributing a press release clues them in — and positions you as an industry leader.
Feature/Product Press Release
Even mega corporations like Apple, with legions of fan blogs, forums, and podcasts, continue to use press releases whenever they launch a new product or upgrade.
Why? Because these press releases offer just enough details to intrigue journalists. The resulting flurry of media coverage turns the upcoming launch into a spectacle we all get caught up in and allows them to control the narrative surrounding it.
Companies who focus on the benefits behind these new features or products (instead of dry technical specifications) motivate the media to pick up their story and run with it. Timing is critical. Because you can’t sustain that high interest forever, you’ll often see these shortly before a launch.
Rebranding Press Release
A rebranding press release is commonly used to supplement a broader rebranding strategy. Organizations understand that their customers have gotten used to a certain identity. They don’t want them to get confused during the transition.
Whatever prompts this – a merger, acquisition, change in product direction – a rebranding press release gives companies a succinct way to explain the decision.
Rebranding press releases typically specify what exactly will change (logo, audience served, etc.), as well as attempt to excite the audience about the change.
Partnership Press Release
You’ve been negotiating that new partnership deal for months. Releasing a press release is the perfect way to announce the news once it’s finally official.
Each partner has built relationships with distinct audiences. A press release that appeals to both communities will get everyone on the same page. Additionally, with a partnership press release, both brands can leverage one another’s audience to secure more exposure.
A partnership press release also gives the companies a chance to explain why the decision was made. While it can be a great sign for investors, it goes beyond strictly financial. It also gets customers excited about the new features, services, or experience they’ll get access to.
Charitable Initiative Press Release
The modern business is no longer all about profit. Charitable initiatives are commonplace. Unfortunately, the vast majority of their audiences never finds out about the good being done.
A charitable initiative press release is the perfect opportunity to show customers that you care about more than the bottom line. Not to mention, news outlets love to feature feel-good stories that balance out the onslaught of negative coverage.
While this may seem like a great opportunity to brag about yourself, tread cautiously. The most effective press releases highlight the company’s values and rally others around a good cause.
Press Release Format
We’ve covered the situations where press releases can work effectively – as well as the benefits that make them worth the effort.
So what makes a press release stand out among the others? What is the difference between a press release that gets picked up, versus the one that gets ignored?
It all starts with an understanding of the key press release elements. Knowing what to say – and how to say it – will help you secure the attention of influential media outlets.
Press Release Format
- Release Date
- Media Embargo
- Release Title
- Body Paragraph
- Contact Information
Elements of a Press Release Template
1. Release Date
The first element (and arguably, one of the most important) of your press release is the release date. This gives media outlets your timeline — basically, when you plan to make the information public.
Press releases focus on newsworthy items, so timing is everything. Some release dates indicate “for immediate release,” signaling to media outlets that you’re ready to publicize the information right away.
But what about every PR professional’s nightmare? Secretly planning a new product launch, only to have an eager journalist spill the beans a bit too early. To prevent this, you can adjust your release date to “embargoed until [date].” This prohibits media outlets from sharing your press release until the date you specify.
What is a media embargo?
A media embargo is issued when a company (the source of news) distributes newsworthy information to media publications before it is released to the general public. The embargo is a requirement from the company that prohibits the outlets from publishing the news until a certain date or set condition is met.
Getting your press releases prepared early, and embargoing them until a later date, makes it easy to coordinate the big reveal. It also gives media outlets time to prepare in-depth coverage or seek more information instead of scrambling.
Whether to release now or embargo until later depends on the specific situation. There probably isn’t good reason to delay news about your latest charity initiative. On the other hand, keeping your new CMO hire under wraps until the contract is signed makes a lot of sense.
Think of your title like a headline in a major newspaper. The idea is to communicate the major point of your press release and intrigue the reader enough to want to find out more.
There’s an art to writing great titles, mastered only after enough practice. When in doubt, brainstorm several options to choose from and poll your team to see which is the most compelling.
Short and sweet is ideal. Your title shouldn’t be much longer than a tweet. Our suggestion? Aim for 170 characters or less.
Here are a few examples you can use for inspiration:
Think of the subheading as your title’s more interesting brother. It expresses a similar, but slightly more in-depth, message.
This isn’t the time to reveal every last detail. Your goal is to add a bit more context and peak curiosity leading into the heart of the release — 350 characters should be more than enough.
A great title gets people to read the subheading, but a great subheading gets them to the body paragraphs: the bulk of your press release.
Your subheading should inform and intrigue, but it more than likely won’t be the deciding factor on whether or not the media covers your release. That’s what the body paragraphs are for.
The dateline is the starting point of your first body paragraph. Dates and locations should be written in bold, with the location spelled out in all capital letters.
The Associated Press (AP) style guide is favored among media outlets, so its rules govern here. Watch out for locations in particular. Some of the largest cities are standalone, which means you don’t need to specify a state afterward. Think CHICAGO or SAN FRANCISCO. Others require a state abbreviation, like SACRAMENTO, Calif. or MEMPHIS, Tenn.
5. Body Paragraphs
Your body paragraphs are the bulk of your press release and when you get into the details — the professional background of your new executive hire, the new features your new product offers, and more.
Remember the five Ws from journalism: who, what, when, where, and why. The best press releases include all five, and then some, with plenty of time devoted to the why. It’s the why that will excite the media and increase your chances of coverage.
You can incorporate images, quotes, and hyperlinks throughout your body paragraphs to make them more compelling. Let’s tackle those next.
Images break up walls of text, add visual flair, and generally make your release a bit more interesting. You know the cliche “a picture’s worth a thousand words”? While that may not be entirely true, an image allows you to elaborate on your story in a unique way.
Most organizations understand that images are powerful and decide to include them in their press releases. Unfortunately, too many forget that to be powerful, it must be relevant.
Let’s be honest — nobody wants a press release with a stock image. First and foremost, can you say ‘boring’? But it could even backfire if you’re dealing with media outlets that have received release after release. Using a stock image almost ensures your press release will blend in with the rest.
Relevant images, however, will catch the eye and amplify the message you’re conveying. For example, let’s say your rebranded logo is ready, or you have a great headshot of your new executive hire. If that’s the case, definitely include the visual.
Finally, if your press release will be distributed online, tagging images with proper keywords will increase your visibility. Someone Googling “new Chicago apartments,” for instance, just might land on the image of your groundbreaking development next to Wrigley Field.
All the elements so far have been objective. Like any great news story, press releases focus on the facts. It’s who, what, when, and so on — pretty formulaic.
Quotes are the one area of your press releases where you can add some emotional appeal. They’re your opportunity to put the facts into a context that gets readers excited!
There’s no one better to do it than the people who have worked tirelessly preparing your latest product launch, partnership deal, or charitable initiative. Including a short statement from a key person will help convey your sense of excitement.
Here are a few examples so you can see how quotes can be used:
- “907 Market Street is a high quality asset located in the heart of Market East, the fastest growing neighborhood in Philadelphia’s burgeoning City Center district.” – Joe Sitt, CEO of Thor Equities (event/general news)
- “His leadership skills, combined with deep working knowledge of the communities we serve are tremendous assets to HNTB clients.” – Art Hadnett, HNTB West Division president (new hire)
- “We are pleased to partner with Carahsoft to help government agencies solve their most difficult data, compliance and cybersecurity challenges.” – Eric Bednash, CEO and co-founder, RackTop Systems (partnership)
While media coverage is important, the ultimate goal of your release is to drive brand awareness. Ideally, your press release is just the starting point for a lasting relationship. By including opportunities for interaction, you’re taking an extra step to ensure you won’t be forgotten about.
Think of hyperlinks as a method to continue the relationship. By linking back to relevant pages on your website, your reader can start to build that relationship with a click of their mouse. It also gives media outlets easy avenues for more information and research.
Just make sure to play by the rules, and be mindful about not including more links than the newswires allow. Don’t add links just to add links — point them to useful pages that are relevant to the story and give the reader supplemental information.
- Awards, honors, and recognitions
- Impressive metrics (number of customers, employees, capital raised, etc.)
- Link to your website
- Stock symbols (if publicly traded on an exchange)
- Audience your products/services serve
- Unique positioning or advantage over competitors
- What your company does
- Your company tagline, slogan, or catchphrase
Unlike other elements in your press release, you only have to write your boilerplate once. You’ll reuse it in every release to remain consistent with your messaging. However, be sure to regularly update numbers, like revenue, employee count, etc., to remain current.