How to write a press release – and why it’s worth it

by | 25 June 2021

Win media coverage with a well-written press release by following good practice and dodging pitfalls.

But how to write your press release? What should it include and how long should it be?

Here are eight tips to keep your press release writing on track.

Tip 1: Be brutal: is it news and relevant?

Reporters receive hundreds of emails each day. If your releases are irrelevant or just not news – even once – they could be permanently junked and never read.

  • Only write if the topic is new (or at least surprising); old news is old and usually won’t be covered.
  • Ask yourself who it will interest; if no one other than your colleagues, move on.
  • Only send to relevant journalists. An environment correspondent won’t want an unrelated finance story, while a small business press release could be just the ticket for trade publications or the business desk of regional or local media.

Remember: a press release is a news release.

Tip 2: Start your press release with key facts

Who? What? Where? When? Why?

The first sentence of your press release should answer these questions – in fewer than 20 words.

That’s for two reasons:

  • The 24-hour news cycle gives reporters no time to ponder. Within seconds they’ll scan your opening words and determine their news value. Most press releases get no further.
  • News is cut from the bottom up. Trade and local press could use your release word for word. If all but your first par is ignored or deleted, will your key point still be made?

Up your chances by including key detail – and sparking interest – first.

Tip 3: Keep it simple

Jargon irritates, deters, obscures.

Use plain English instead. It’s not dumbing down. It’s the language reporters will use in covering your story.

If colleagues come at you with complex wording that’s difficult to fathom, find a simpler, more readable way to explain.

Read/watch/listen to your target news outlet. Think and write like its journalists. Make it easy for them to use your news.

Tip 4: Keep it short and check the layout

Stick to 400 words or fewer, or one A4 page with 1.5 line spacing. An effective press release prompts interest, opens a door – the detail is for later.

Keep sentences and paragraphs short: your press release should be easy to scan.

And consider writing in an F shape – shaping your text to accommodate common on-screen eye-movement patterns.

Sub-headings and bullet points help, by guiding readers to your key points.

Tip 5: No hype. Keep opinion for quotes

Few journalists will wade through hype or opinion on the off chance there’s a story beneath.

  • Write objectively.
  • Back up claims with facts.
  • No introductory fluff.
  • Keep adjectives in check.

A charity press release can be hijacked to fulfil an obligation, to a funder or government department, say. If that’s the case, try to stick to tips 2 to 4, and dampen hopes of coverage.

Beware prioritising partner name checks.

  • Are they the story?
  • Are they key to your message?

If not, keep them for the Notes to Editors (see Tip 8).

Tip 6: Quotes and contacts for your press release

To help win media coverage from your press release – and show you know how to write a press release – finish with a relevant quote (with name and job title) and the contact details of a spokesperson.

Quotes

The quote should be clear, concise, sound natural and make new points. It could explain the significance of your small business news or give a view on an announcement or event.

  • Some quotes waste words on scene-setting. Avoid: the story should already be clear.
  • Others list partner names too early. Avoid: they hide the real story. Journos may read no further.

Contacts

Always provide contact details of someone able to answer follow-up questions.

That person must be available out of hours and in.

Journos may not want the quote you’ve provided, no matter how good, simply because others have it too.

Get your spokesperson lined up before your release is issued. If no one’s available before a reporter’s deadline your story could be cut or spiked altogether.

Tip 7: Write your headline last not first

Your headline should be clear and honest and sum up the story below it.

If you write it first your press release could end up fitting the heading and not your news.

Don’t sensationalise. If a headline’s intended to draw in reporters who then find a press release that doesn’t match the promise, they’ll feel mislead.

You’ll lose credibility.

And don’t forget to date your release. Journos will then know it’s topical, and have context if reading it later.

Take time, also, over your subject line if sending your release by email. Think how you scan your own inbox: a subject line that doesn’t grab you can mean an email unopened.

Tip 8: Use Notes to Editors

This is the place for the extra detail of your product, service, campaign or event, for background info that supports your story.

It can run onto a second page.

Use numbers or bullet points, keeping each one pithy. A journalist may find they have more space than anticipated: one or two notes from your release could fill the gap.

And finally

  • Paste your release in the body of an email; an attachment may never be opened. If photos could be useful, provide a link rather than attaching big files.
  • If you’re seeking national coverage don’t expect your release to be used word for word. If it’s picked up, or used as part of other coverage, its job is done. Good work!

Get in touch if you’d like help on how to write a press release from an experienced press release writer skilled in story-spotting and writing as a journalist.

Cath has a seldom-equalled ability to turn complex and scientific areas of work into accessible and newsworthy stories that generate acres of media coverage.  She understands the media generally, and journalists’ requirements specifically, and uses this knowledge to constantly root out new press opportunities for organisations.

CIARAN NELSON, Media Manager, RSPB

I have sold more books as a direct result of Cath’s press release than through any other marketing initiative. I am most grateful to Cath. She has talent for knowing how to put into words exactly what is needed for the target audience.

KATE BRETHERTON, author, Hello Trees