How to write a press release

A friend of mine who has recently set up her own business has been asking me for some advice about public relations (PR), in particular about writing a press release.  Over the course of a few emails, I effectively put together a “How to” about writing press releases and I thought I would turn it into this blog post.

Any company can do its own PR, and apart from investing a little of your time, it costs nothing at all, so it can be very effective.  One important thing to remember is that there is absolutely no guarantee that you will get any coverage from your PR.  You can’t make an editor use it, but the more timely, relevant and interesting your news is, the better the chance you have of getting a mention or some coverage.  A marketing or PR professional who has contacts or existing relationships with editors you want to target will have more luck, but there’s no reason you can’t give it a go yourself.

Some important press release guidelines

  • Write your press release in the third person.  So, don’t use “I”, “we” or “us”; instead use “it”, “the company” and “he/she”.
  • Write in the present tense.  After all, if you write in the past tense, it’s no longer news, is it?!
  • Stick to the facts, avoiding opinion.  Opinions are suitable for comment pieces, articles and features.  A press release, on the other hand, represents the bare bones from which you hope a journalist will create an article.  (A quotation can contain opinion though).
  • Space the main body of the release at 1.5 lines or more.  This is a hangover from the days when all releases were posted and it allowed editors to write comments in the margins and between the lines, but it’s still accepted practice and makes a release easier to read.
  • Write concisely and clearly: avoid jargon and acronyms that aren’t spelled out; avoid hyperbole and superlatives; and keep sentences short and to the point.
  • Put the most important information first.  Journalists are notoriously time-pressed and deadline-focused, and you don’t want them to stop reading before they get to the important bits!

Writing the release in ten easy steps

  1. Firstly, at the top, you write your town and the date of the release.
  2. Then you write a compelling headline.  You may find it best to write your release first and then decide on your headline.  Make it immediately interesting, newsworthy and less than about 10-15 words.
  3. In the first paragraph, address the “who, what, where, why, when and how” of the story in 2 or 3 sentences.  Just cover the most important points.
  4. The second and subsequent paragraphs can go into more detail.  For example, you can explain the background behind the news, or supply further evidence to back up your claims, or give more information about your new service or product.
  5. By about the third paragraph, you should put in a quotation from someone senior.  For example:
  6. Claire Kerr, marketing consultant, says, “Blah, blah, blah.”

    Try to say something that hasn’t already been said in the release, or use it to tie 2 or 3 customer benefits together into a neat, quotable phrase.  You can include opinion in quotes.

  7.  In the final paragraph, make sure to include any call to action or contact details that you want printed within an article or piece.  So, perhaps your web address or telephone number.
  8. At the end of the release, you literally write “— ENDS —“.
  9. Then you include your company “boilerplate”.  This is a short paragraph – just a sentence or two – about your company and what you do.  Include your web address at the end.
  10. Next, you include any notes for editors.  For example, if you have quoted any figures, here is where you would reference them; or you can say what photography is available and how a journalist can obtain it; or you can go into more detail with facts about someone mentioned in the story, and so on.
  11. Finally, don’t forget to include your contact details, so that an editor can get in touch if they want any more information.

I did also advise my friend about whom to target her release to, and how to send it out, but I’ll leave that as a blog post for another day!