Despite all the growth and change in the scope of the public relations function, a written press release still remains a core function of PR. It can be used for many things. Issuing breaking news, regular company updates, success stories, a press release announcing new hires, new partnerships or even a product launch.
But why are press releases important, and most importantly, what should a press release contain?
In this article, we’ll take you through the creation of a press release step by step. We’ll explore why you need to be using press releases, what the ideal press release format is, how to draft headlines and leads, why images are crucial and the key steps to issuing your news story to media.
Why press releases?
A good press release, that is well-written and relevant can be an invaluable tool for your business. Securing coverage through an effective press release can help to give your business third-party credibility. So press releases should be part of your communications and content marketing strategies.
A well-timed and well-crafted press release or news release can be used inside and outside of your organisation. Both as a means of sharing company news, and engaging with key media outlets and relevant journalists. Resulting in valuable earned coverage for your business.
The PR’s core function is regular and constant journalist engagement. Writing a press release is one part of this, an important one. There’s an art and science behind drafting a press release.
Writing an effective press release
Concise storytelling, conveying the pertinent details of a story in as tight a manner as possible. A press release should not be wooly, it should contain all the key information of that particular story, within the first paragraph and second and third paragraphs.
The opening two to three paragraphs are crucial, a tight and newsworthy story will grab an editor’s attention in these opening paragraphs. Don’t overburden a press release with too much background information too soon.
But before you’ve even written a word, you need to consider these key elements.
What is the story?
What is the story and is it newsworthy, these are the fundamental questions of any press release.
You’ve likely heard the who, what, why, where, when, and how story structure. These six points are very important when it comes to identifying and telling a story.
But when assessing whether on not you need to write a press release, as yourself, what is it, and why should your audience care?
If a journalist does not consider your story newsworthy, then it won’t be picked up.
What is the context?
Often there can be context or circumstance surrounding a new story, and often it’s this context which adds to the newsworthiness of any given story.
It’s a simple case of cause and effect. If your press release is answering a wider societal or industry issue, then you need to show both how and why. If there isn’t a greater theme or issue to hang your story around, while it isn’t the end of the world, it can often mean you have to make the elements of your press release work a little harder in order to land.
If the story itself is the hook, then any content or circumstance surrounding this story is you baiting the hook further.
Identify the audience
Knowing the audience you’re targeting is crucial. There’s really no such thing as a one size fits all approach when it comes to press releases and news stories.
Having a firm handle on who your target audience is, will help in writing a press release. It will allow you to specifically tailor the language and messaging while establishing a unique newsworthy angle.
But you can’t possibly be seen by your audience, and different audiences, if you don’t appeal to the right journalists.
Who is your spokesperson?
A quote or multiple quotes is fairly commonplace, and expected, within a press release.
Whatever the story may be, there ought to be a quote from whoever is closest to, or is the most relevant to that particular story. It may be a CEO, a project manager, a product manager.
Take the time to include the right and relevant people.
The key to the quote itself is that it should add colour and additional context on top of the other details in the release. Don’t just repeat what you’ve already said.
The importance of impartially
It can be all too easy for those within a business to feel that everything they are doing is either ground-breaking or newsworthy.
Where businesses can benefit from aid and assistance here, is in working with an external public relations agency.
One of the big benefits of working with an agency, particularly if that agency has dedicated media relations specialists, is impartiality.
A great agency won’t just do everything a client asks – or tells. A great agency will ask questions, they may push back on something and certainly won’t be afraid to tell you if something isn’t news-worthy
Press release: structure and format
The ‘inverted’ pyramid.
The inverted pyramid is an often used press release template. The inverted pyramid allows the press release itself to get straight to the point with a tight opening lead. As the pyramid widens, the release then adds more detail and context and quotes.
The first paragraph, second paragraph and third paragraph will hold the most important information. In this press release structure, you can read the opening three paragraphs and understand the story in its entirety.
The pyramid is the best press release template to follow because it is a journalistic writing style. If a journalist can ‘lift and shift’ your press release straight into their title, you’ll be in their good books.
Nail the headline
A snappy headline will grab the attention of journalists. Your headline should be snappy, yet informative. Free from jargon and cliche.
Try creating different versions of your headline, don’t just stick with the first thing you draft. Consider how you can tweak it and improve it for the benefit of the story as a whole.
The art of the opening paragraph
The most important part of a press release is the beginning. The opening paragraph should explain the story in as few words as possible.
It shouldn’t repeat the headline. For instance “A local hotel, on the south coast of Devon, which was first opened by a local resident ] in the 1950s, but has had some troubles along the way, is celebrating its 75th year in business”
This is a long-winded introduction. It includes too much information which could be used further down.
“In the light of increasing scrutiny on the manufacturing process around the global production of steel, an international organisation committed to cracking down on greenhouse emissions is calling for a review into the measurement and monitoring of carbon emissions within the industry.”
Could be better said as:
“An international think-tank is calling for a review into carbon emissions in the steel industry.”
When it comes to editorial and press release writing, every word counts, particularly in the first sentence.
Although not part of the main body of the text, notes to editors should always be included at the bottom of any press release. It is here where you include any and all background information which is not critical to the story itself. For instance, company description and ‘about’ boilerplate text.
If there are multiple partners or organisations involved within a release, then include all of the relevant information on those partners here too.
When you write a press release, you should avoid over-burdening the press release itself with copy like this. It may seem important to include your full company ethos, founding and mission statement. Fundamentally it is not newsworthy information and should be kept within the notes to editors’ section.
Jargon: the do’s and don’ts
How much or how little industry jargon you use within a press release will be governed by who you are issuing that press release. If you’re working within a very specific or niche sector, then it’s all too easy to assume knowledge when writing a press release. This is something you should never do.
If you’re planning on issuing a release to a local newspaper or a national, then jargon should be strictly avoided. Acronyms and industry jargon will only seek to alienate both journalist and reader, hampering the potential success of a good story.
Even within your own trade media, be cautious of assuming knowledge. Particularly if you’re launching a new product or service. Be mindful of how you explain and convey your key messages.
Issuing a release
Writing a press release is one thing, issuing it is another thing entirely. Most press releases are inevitably fighting a losing battle with a journalist’s ever-growing inbox.
When it comes to issuing a press release, you’re doing so to achieve media coverage. So you need to give yourself a fighting chance.
Establishing target media
Journalists are the gatekeepers to your audience. Take the time to research your targets and don’t take a scattergun approach. Simply bombarding as many inboxes as possible with largely irrelevant news stories is not a feasible strategy.
Choose your targets wisely, and find out who’s covering stories that are key to you and your business. In cases like this, less can often mean more.
Having an understanding of what is realistic and achievable is also important. Niche industry news, for example, can often have very little national news value. Unless what you’re pushing or promoting has the ability to serve the national news agenda.
A good press release can often meet its demise with poor supporting imagery. You can have the strongest most positive press release in the world, but if you issue it alongside a weak accompanying image then it’s more than likely that story won’t be getting picked up.
Strong and high-quality images should always be issued with a press release.
When is the press release being distributed?
When is just as important as how and timing can both help and harm your press release distribution and sell-in.
This comes back to understanding your target media. When doing your research, make it a point to find out how your target journalists plan and publish their editorial content.
Particularly with long lead titles, you need to consider the timeliness of your story. If you’re writing a press release for something happening in two weeks’ time, a print title with a two-month lead-time, won’t find any value in this news.
Being reactive to real-world issues
You also need to be aware and sensitive to any reactionary issues which may arise and require the need to pause distribution.
The most recent and obvious is of course the passing of Queen Elizabeth II. Distributing press releases during this time would have been unwise because the nature of the news agenda had fundamentally shifted as news outlets were solely focussing on this topic.
Falling on deaf ears is one thing, but in the case of the passing of the Monarch, there would also have been the risk of seeming insensitive, which could be more damaging in the long term.
In the run-up to the distribution of press releases, be aware of the news agenda and anything that could either help or hinder your cause.
Dates and embargoes
The top left corner of a press release is very important because it should contain one very important piece of information. Its publication date.
In the case of a new story which can be used right away. A press release should be clearly marked as for immediate release. Should there be an embargo placed upon a release, then it should be clearly designed as to the exact date and time that the embargo lifts.
There can be no confusion here. A broken embargo, accidental or otherwise, could be a reputation damager.
Frequency of content
Issuing regular press releases can help to keep you front of mind within your key audience areas.
Providing that the output is of sufficient relevance and quality, then establishing a regular cadence of news output is beneficial. But if you have nothing to say, don’t force the issue and go out with something half-baked.
Integrating with wider tactics
Securing press coverage off the back of a press release can present additional opportunities to share content with a wider audience.
Sharing earned press coverage across your owned channels – social channels, blogs, newsletters and internal staff communications, can be a great way of influencing and engaging with stakeholders and shareholders.
However, when sharing coverage it is advisable to do so with caution. Copyright laws relating to the sharing of third-party media can sometimes be complex, and it isn’t unheard of for a business to share an image of an article or piece of coverage and find themselves on the wrong side of these laws.
So, we’ve established why press releases are still important and relevant to your business.
Media coverage provides you with critical third-party endorsement and the way to achieve this is through the creation and distribution of effective press releases.