You’ve got a big piece of news and you want to make sure the media actually picks it up. But how exactly do you go about that? While media contacts are all very well, your story actually needs to have substance in the first place.
Journalists often receive hundreds of press releases every single day, so yours needs to stand out and be compelling (which is a pretty tall order when you have no experience in media yourself). And knowing how to write a really good press release goes further than getting quick coverage – it can become a powerful part of your content marketing strategy. Here’s what you should know.
Before you start writing a press release
Before you even start writing, think about the purpose of the press release. Are you trying to educate people? Secure funding? Get people to take an action? Promote an event or product? Think of the things that interest you in the media – can you apply of of these factors to your own press release? Ask yourself the following questions before you even start making notes:
- What’s new in this story?
- Does the story involve any surprising developments?
- Is this interesting to anyone not involved with the business?
- Is anyone going to genuinely care?
- What about it would a journalist find newsworthy?
A press release should be noteworthy to people outside of your organization; if you can’t summarize the point of the story in a sentence then it probably isn’t. If your gut tells you that the wider public won’t be interested in the story, hold off until you have a better one – you don’t want to irritate useful media contacts with something unsellable.
How to start writing a press release
Before you do anything, first come up with a powerful and punchy headline. Journalists are inundated with emails and press releases, so consider how you can make your story stand out. Always include the words “press release” in your email header, followed by your title, which should always include action verbs. The title must be easily understood: most journalists just scan their emails to see if any stories jump out. Take your time with the title, as this one line usually determines if your press release will even be read!
The first sentence of the press release (the “top line”) is the most important. Since journalists often only ever read the first line, it needs to summarize the whole story; if it piques their interest, they’ll read on. The top line should include as many of the "five Ws" (who, what, when, why and where) as possible. If you need inspiration, flick through a newspaper and read the opening lines of different stories. Think about how you’d sum up your story in under ten seconds – this information should be in your top line, and the following paragraphs should impart the rest.
Press release best practice
You should always consider the following points when writing the contents of your press release:
Length and structure: The ideal length of a press release is around 400 words. Keep it to the point. If you’re over 400 words, you’ll probably have waffle that can be cut. Press releases should never be longer than one page.
Use headings and subheadings where possible: These make the information more digestible and easy to break down. Bullet points are good too, especially if your story contains statistics – consider listing your three most important points immediately under your header. Paragraphs, like everything else in the release, should be short and sweet – under 35 words.
Quotes: Always try to include quotes from relevant people. They should be insightful rather than informative, adding a human element to your story and offering opinions to bring the story to life. Keep quotes as natural as possible – no business jargon or technical speak. Try to have at least two quotes – three is fine, as long as they’re all pertinent. Each quote should help form your narrative and underline the message.
Stick to the point: While it’s tempting to include background information about your organization, don’t. This will just bore the journalist and deter them from reading on. This type of information is best left for the ‘notes to editors’ section at the end.
Give contact details and more information: Although you want to keep the press release short, you should always provide further information. Link to your website, specifically to the pages with relevant information, e.g. your ‘About Us’ page. Think of a press release as handing a giftwrapped story to a journalist– they shouldn’t have to search for any information! Include your contact details (email and phone) at the top of the page so the journalist knows who their contact is.
Quantify yourself: Where possible, try to include figures or statistics to back up your story. Reference numbers if they help boost the significance of your story – e.g. how many people bought this product? What percentage have sales soared? If you can measure your argument it becomes more persuasive.
Proof it: Once, twice, and then a third time for luck – then get another person to look too. Even the smallest typo can put a journalist off, so ensure it’s grammatically perfect. End it with the word ‘Ends’, then follow this with any notes and your boilerplate.
Your boilerplate must be on point: The “who” and “what” of your top line should be summarized again in your boilerplate, which is also hugely important (check out our guide to writing one here).
Once you’ve finished writing the release, see if you can get a friend or team member to read it aloud. Don’t give them any context, and then ask them the following questions:
- What are the main points of the story?
- Why does the press release matter?
- What does your organization do?
- Why are these people being quoted?
If the answer to any of these questions isn’t clear, you’ll know you’re not quite there yet.