How to Write a Press Release
There will be times when you, your employer or organisation wishes to communicate some information to the press, whether national media, local journalists, or specialist press.
This is when you need to be able to write a press release.
A press release is the document that is issued to the press explaining the story that you, or your organisation, wishes to convey.
Writing a press release is not difficult and there is a fairly standard structure that most press releases take. The most important thing is to consider the audience you are writing for and to focus on the key messages that you need the press release to convey.
Why a Press Release?
The aim of a press release is to get as many journalists as possible to publish your story, whether online, on the radio, or in print. Everything else follows from that.
What You Need to Know Before You Start
- Journalists are busy people. They have deadlines and other stories to write. The easier you make their lives, the more likely they are to use your press release as the basis of a story because it will be quicker for them and they can then move onto something else.
- Journalists are not usually experts in your subject. The specialist press may have more detailed knowledge but, as a rule, assume that you need to explain everything. Even if the journalists are expert, their readers probably aren’t. You need to explain difficult terms and concepts and not use jargon.
- Journalists are not interested in you or your product. They care only whether your story will interest their readers or viewers.
- There will be days when your subject will be news but, on other days something bigger will eclipse it. It’s not personal. Nor is it the journalists who decide, and they will probably be as cross as you if their carefully-crafted story is displaced by more important news. This can work both ways - some organisations and governments may release press statements during major news events in the hope that their bad news will be eclipsed and therefore have less of a negative impact.
What This Means For a Press Release
In practice, these four things mean that there are some fairly simple requirements for a press release:
- It needs to be short and concise, preferably no more than one page.
- It needs to stand alone, without any supporting documentation. Someone reading that one page needs to understand enough about the subject to be able to write a short article on it.
- It needs to be written in easy to understand language. Think carefully about the target audience of your press release and write accordingly. Avoid jargon whenever possible unless your target publication/s are industry specific when it may be appropriate to use industry specific jargon.
- It needs to tell a story. You need to show the journalist what story you want them to tell. If you don’t, they will make up their own - and it may not be the one that you want. They may do that anyway but, as we said before, they’re busy people so probably won’t have the time.
- It needs to provide information about where journalists can get more information if they want to write a more in-depth analysis or feature. This should include your contact details, preferably a phone number, and links to relevant documents or web pages.
What Should Go Into a Press Release?
Press releases need to tell a story, ideally one with a human interest angle. To help decide what should go into your press release, answer the following questions about your news:
- Who? Who are the key players?
- What? What is new?
- When? What is the timing of this?
- Where? Where is this happening?
- Why? Why is this news important?
As a starting point, writing down the answers to these questions can be helpful. It’s then a matter of crafting the answers into short punchy sentences that tell your story and convey your key messages, ideally within the standard journalistic limit of 25 words.
The Structure of a Press Release
Over many years, corporate press releases have generally evolved into a fairly standard structure.
Start with a title that could be used as a headline for your story. This should be short, to the point, and ideally able to be used as a Twitter update along with a link. Your headline should convey the value of your story to the reader.
Your first paragraph is the most important and should summarise your key message explaining “who, what, where, when, why?”. Keep this paragraph short and punchy.
Following your introductory paragraph which sets the scene, include two or three additional paragraphs that explain the story in more detail, then a quote from someone senior in the organisation saying what effect it will have.
Ideally, a press release will also have a quote from an important stakeholder, or, for non-commercial organisations, a representative of service users such as the chief executive of a voluntary organisation, explaining how much they like the proposal or story.
The press release then closes with a concluding paragraph that sums up the main message.
A final section, Notes for editors, includes information about how people can get hold of any linked publications, or when the change will come into effect, and the contact point for further information.
Start with the most important information
When writing a press release, include the most important information at the start. This helps to catch the journalist’s attention and mimics the structure of press articles which are written to be edited from the bottom up without the key message being lost.
Disseminating a Press Release
You are probably most likely to email your press release to a journalist. When doing so, remember these important points:
Think carefully about the subject line of your email since this is key to getting your press release read. A release with the subject line “Press release: see attached” and no other information is likely to be deleted immediately. Often, your headline is suitable as a subject line for the email.
Don't send the release as an attachment; instead include the text of the press release in the body of the email. You are trying to make the journalist’s life easy and this way they can immediately read your content without having to waste time opening an attachment.
Follow up your email with a phone call to ensure that the journalist has received it. Even if they do not wish to use the press release this time you might get some feedback that will improve the chance of getting your story reported next time.
Timing is often key to a successful press release, it is important to think carefully about when you would like your story published.
At the top of your press release you should clearly indicate whether it is for immediate release or under embargo until a future date.
Example Press Release
|For Immediate Release |
Local Food Producers Show Us What They Offer
More than 100 local food producers will be at Downshire Food Festival on Saturday 7 June 2015 to promote the quality, range and diversity of local food.
The festival, now in its 16th year, celebrates the best food and drink that the growing foodie county of Downshire has to offer and provides a fun day out for all the family. Member of the public are invited to this free event to see, taste and buy from the producers, as well as learn new ways of preparing these delights through cookery demonstrations and workshops from celebrity chefs.
A new innovation this year, the Learning Tent, will offer workshops where visitors can get try their hand at Latte Art, cooking Thai food, taste and learn about real chocolate, or make their own smoothies using pedal power from a bicycle.
A lively programme of cookery demonstration from celebrity chefs will entertain and educate with new ways to make the most of good local produce. The festival kitchen will this year offer demonstrations from chefs Hugh Smetherington-Hythe, Gordon Ranshaw, and Martin James.
Festival director, Mark Jones, said “Already booked into the festival are new local food producers as well as old favourites.
“Amongst the newcomers this year are the Downshire Brewing Co. with their new local beers, Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, A Taste of Downshire, Pizza Slow serving wood-fire baked fresh pizzas, and Rosy Goats who offer prime kid and goat meat.
“Many regular favourites are also booked to return for what promises to be the biggest and best festival yet: Jaloto Orchards, Bhajico, Down Downshire, Yum Yum Chocolate, Big Pigs, Mary’s Bakehouse and Hillview Icecream will all be back for another year.
“A wide range of other food and drink, including vegetarian, vegan, gluten- and dairy-free, will be available to try on the day or take home to enjoy later.”
Notes for Editors:
For more information, please contact: Mark Jones on 07654 123456 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Responding to Bad News:
Emergency Press Statements
If a press release is designed to get a story into the press, there will also be times when what you or the organisation wants to do is to kill a story stone dead.
Under these circumstances, the organisation may hold a press conference or issue a press statement. This usually happens in response to stories in the press, or questions from a journalist about something that they have uncovered.
The stories or allegations may or may not be true, but the organisation wishes to put a different angle and or present their point of view.
Although every situation demands a slightly different response, there are some rules to remember:
In its simplest form, a press statement may be that there is no comment to make on the stories, or ‘nothing to say at the present time’. While this is probably not going to make a story go away, it doesn’t add any fuel to the fire and gives the organisation time to investigate further. Issuing such a statement also prevents the press from reporting that you, or your organisation, refused to respond.
The most important aspect of any emergency press statement is that it doesn’t make the situation any worse.
Before you say anything public, make sure that you have thoroughly investigated the situation, and have the facts at your fingertips. Only then can you decide on the appropriate response.
You also need to be ready to change your response if the facts change. Flexibility is all.
Do not lie to the press. With Google available, you will be found out very quickly and this will make the story even bigger.
If your organisation has messed up or done something wrong, the best thing that you can do is apologise quickly and make amends. Ideally, the CEO, or a Board member with responsibility for the subject area, should apologise in person.
Apologising is not admitting liability.
It is perfectly possible to put out an apology that runs something like:
“Organisation X regrets any difficulty which its customers have encountered as a result of situation Y, and is committed to helping them to overcome those problems by doing A, B, and C.”
Government departments regularly put out press statements which say “We have read the stories about situation x with horror. Our thoughts are with the families of those concerned”. It says nothing incriminating, but it helps show that the organisation is aware of the situation and cares about those involved.
Remember that you can influence, but not control what journalists write about your organisation, and what any particular news organisation chooses to publish.
You do, however, have total control over the messages that you issue. If you issue wisely, with a view to the story and those receiving the information, you will be more likely to influence successfully.