How to write an effective press release
What is a press release?
A press release is a standardised way organisations communicate their news to journalists. It should be newsworthy, objective and relevant to your target audience.
Releases should ideally be not much longer than a single A4 page, two at the most.
News and language
News includes what is happening now and what is about to happen, for example the launch of a new product or service, a new appointment, an event, new research or the implications of a new piece of legislation.
When considering your news, ask yourself ‘why should people care about this, would anyone outside my organisation be interested in the story?’
Then think about your key messages, making sure you answer ‘who, what, where, when and why’. Write in plain English – avoid using jargon, acronyms or terminology that the man in the street may not understand. Also, steer clear of vague, nonsensical terms (e.g. nearly unique, end-to-end solution) and superlatives.
Always double check your spelling and grammar.
Date and embargoes
Note the date at the top of the press release and don’t use embargoes unless they are really necessary.
Journalists receive thousands of stories every day, so they generally only have time to skim-read the contents of their inbox. This means that you’ve only got a few words in which to make your pitch and grab their attention.
Press release headlines need to be punchy and interesting. You can use a supporting sub-heading to provide additional information – but, keep it to a single line and italicise it to distinguish it from the headline.
A pithy headline can also be Tweeted with a link to the release.
The first paragraph
The first paragraph of the news release should summarise the story (who, what, where, when and why).
The main body of the release
Think of your press release as an inverted triangle. Press releases aren’t written in the same structure as articles or stories – they don’t have a beginning, a middle and an end. They tend to be heavily frontend-loaded i.e. you should make sure you pack all the really important stuff into the first couple of paragraphs.
After your killer opening paragraph, the second and following paragraphs can be used to flesh-out the story. If you have a lot of information to get across, statistics from a new piece of research for example, you may wish to use bullet points. To keep the flow of the story, reference sources for statistics or other additional sources of supporting information in the Notes to Editors section at the end of the release. Consider using an analogy to help explain complex or technical points.
Including a quote from spokesperson can help give personality to a release. Keep commentary to one person, if possible, and use language as you would say it.
The person quoted in a release should then be available for interview once the release has been distributed.
Notes to editors
At the foot of the release include contact details (name, company, telephone and email) for journalists to call if they require additional information or wish to interview the spokesperson. The contact should be available at the time the release is issued.
Statistics contained in the main body of the release, other explanatory notes or supporting information can be referenced in ‘Notes to Editors’.
This section of the release should also include your company ‘boilerplate’ – a mini biography of your organisation and your website URL.
Images and photography
Images and photography can help bring a story to life. Clear, interesting images should be sent as attachments (not embedded in the release) with a caption giving details of the people or location shown in the picture, for example, ‘Photograph caption: (left to right) Mr Smith, Managing Director of Smith Limited and Miss Jones, Marketing Director of Smith Limited)’.
Digital images should be saved in the jpg format, in file sizes of ideally less than a megabyte and certainly no more than two megabytes.
Journalists have been known to cut and paste information from press releases and may use different software to you, so always send releases as plain text in the body of your email, not as an attachment. PDF files or other formats can slow down the editing process.
As with the headline on your release, make sure the title of your covering email is arresting. An email entitled ‘Press release from XYZ Company Limited’ stands a good chance of being deleted, not read.
Finally, don’t forget to post news releases on your company website and Twitter feed.