How to write a press release is a common question that gets asked by a lot of up-and-coming people in digital PR, and rightly so. Proper press releases help to spread the word of a particular campaign and are essential to grab the attention of journalists, who ultimately decide whether your story is published or not.
Press releases are a way for organisations, public bodies, brands and the like to share their news and stories with media outlets – and in turn the public. They’re largely made up of written content but can also include other assets like videos, infographics and data tables. They should always include high-resolution images.
In-house, public relations duties are usually carried out by communications teams or PR specialists. Or, by an external marketing agency, such as Embryo. Here, we have our own digital PR team which works with clients on everything from press releases to large-scale creative campaigns.
The way press releases are built and written is extremely important. Do it wrong, and you risk losing the chance to have your news publicised. We’re all human and we all make mistakes, but journalists often don’t have the time to make queries about the content they’ve received, and errors can actually put them off and appear unprofessional. This means proofreading everything from your headline to your pitch, to your notes to the editor’s section is imperative.
When you create a press release, it’s best practice to provide journalists with everything they need and aims for them to have to do as little as possible, which bolsters the chances of your story being used. One major tip to bear in mind is to write the press release as the journalist would write the story.
Don’t bury your news angle, and don’t make the reporter wait until the third or fourth paragraph to find out what the story is about.
Here, we will provide you with a detailed guide on how to write a press release, and this blog post includes everything you need to consider when doing so, to get your content noticed.
Our team of digital PR experts know how to write press releases and do so only on a daily basis for our range of clients. If you want to let experts create amazing digital PR campaigns that get you on the pages and websites of newspapers, as well as relevant industry publications, then get in touch! Call us on 0161 327 2635 or email [email protected] – we’d love to hear from you.
What Does a Press Release Look Like?
So, what does a press release look like? It looks like a news story, it has a headline and paragraphs of text underneath it. Images will be interspersed with text in relevant places, as will any other assets. You can create your press release in a document such as a Google Doc or Microsoft Word, but it’s standard practice for press releases to be sent to media outlets within the body of a pitch email itself (more on these later!).
Avoid using anything journalists cannot copy and paste directly from – many have trouble with this while using PDFs.
At the top of the press release and to the left-hand side, above the headline, you can write: ‘Press Release’ and the date it is being sent. You can detail whether or not the release is ‘For Immediate Release’, or whether it’s embargoed.
If you set an embargo on your press release, it means you’re telling the recipient they cannot publish it until the predetermined date of your choice. Make this clear by putting, for example, ‘Press Release: Embargoed until Wednesday, March 1st, 2023’ in bold and red font. You can mention it’s embargoed at the top of your pitch and in your email subject line.
Press officers who release information about Government officials or projects often embargo their press releases. You might want to do this if your information or announcement isn’t going public until a certain date, but you want a reporter to have everything they need when the news goes live. It’s a good way of giving them a heads-up, so they can work on the content and get it ready to publish.
If you’re setting an embargo, you don’t need to detail the date the release is being sent, to avoid any potential confusion.
On the top right-hand side, many senders like to use a logo image. This could be a brand or charity’s logo, however, this isn’t essential. The headline should be set to a larger font than the main body of the press release, and be centred. Be sure to include spaces between paragraphs, and avoid making each paragraph too long. Where the text in the main body of the press release ends, you will write ‘END’ and centre it under the last sentence or paragraph.
Identify Your Purpose
To get started, you first need to identify the purpose of your press release. It might be to promote a product, launch or event; to raise awareness about a pressing issue; to release breaking news or a statement; to reveal groundbreaking figures in the public’s interest; to update people about significant changes within a business or industry; or in our case, to share news, stories and creative campaigns from our commercial clients.
Press releases need to be about something newsworthy, topical or relevant, they don’t work if they’re generic and there is no news.
How Do I Determine the Angle or ‘News Hook’ for My Press Release?
You’ve got your purpose sorted, but how best do you articulate your news? Your angle or ‘news hook’ determines how you frame the content and will shape the whole press release. The best angle to go with is usually the most significant or interesting piece of news you have to tell, within your story.
It can be tricky to determine, because often, you may have two or three equally strong points. You have to decide which is the best point to lead the way with and expand on that, plus the other points, in the first few paragraphs. Think of your press release as a pyramid of importance. The tip is your angle and the point of the release itself, and everything else comes after. Journalists immediately need to know why your press release is relevant to them, and their readers, listeners or viewers – don’t assume that everyone who opens your email will read your pitch and your press release – this is why both are important.
The angle you go with may also be determined by other factors, such as current news and affairs dominating the media, and the location of the publication you intend to send the content to. In this case, you might like to tailor your angle for different publications.
Here’s an example of a headline, and the opening paragraphs, in a press release written for one of our clients who carried out a survey about people’s eating habits, with interesting results.
‘Almost half of Brits admit to snacking more on ‘treats’ instead of healthy foods – experts reveal how to banish cravings
CHOCOLATE and crisps are Brits’ favourite snacks – with the sweet and savoury treats beating fruit and veg to the top of shopping lists.
A food habits survey commissioned by health and wellbeing brand exante, to 2,000 adults, also revealed that trouble resisting food and cravings, stress, and mental or emotional reasons are the main reasons people think they consume more calories than the average amount for their sex.’
We’ve gone with the most important piece of news from the survey in the first paragraph, and in the second, we’ve chosen to hone in on another very important finding.
Ensure your first paragraph is snappy and to the point. Headlines and openers need to be clear and concise and tell the reader exactly what they need to know. Avoid using complicated jargon, and never assume the reader knows everything you know. Someone who has never read about the topic or subject before should be able to understand what it is you’re telling them.
The 5 Ws
Who? What? Where? Why? When? All of these questions surrounding your story should be covered within the press release, ideally in the first few paragraphs – if they are relevant of course – as not all of them always will be.
If we stick to the example above, the journalist would need to know:
- Who was surveyed?
- What questions were asked and what the accompanying data revealed?
- Where isn’t relevant unless we’re talking about any regional data splits
- Why people are snacking more on treats than healthy snacks – we detail why in the second paragraph, by explaining people cite stress for example as a problem; why the client carried out the survey – because their in-house nutritionist wants to reveal tips on how to banish habitual cravings and the data shows the tips are needed?
- When the survey was carried out, when are people making these choices and snacking on these foods?
Relevant Quotes and Expert Commentary
If possible, and usually at the very least, a press release should always have one person quoted within it, someone relevant, close to the heart or point of the story. At which point quotes should be introduced always differs, and depends on how much space you need to go into detail before then but fundamentally, quotes are the lifeblood of digital PR and press releases.
Quotes break up the story and often add a human element to it. People want to read what you are writing, but they want to hear someone else’s opinion, expert advice or point of view, too. Quotes from experts or key figures can give press releases more weight and authority.
How long you want the commentary to be is up to you, but really, it should be no longer than four paragraphs if it isn’t an advice-based story. After this, you can add more text. Here, you’re expanding on the most important points you made at the beginning, adding any extra detail and information.
You can also add quotes from a second and at the maximum a third spokesperson, key figure or expert, but be sure that you aren’t repeating anything the first person said and that each set of quotes tells the reader something different.
What Other Information Do I Need in My Press Release?
After you’ve balanced your press release out with your main points and quotes, you’ll need to include any background information. If you are a business, you’d include background information about when you launched, what you sell or what services you offer. You may also need to refer to older news or key moments of significance for reference, which is something journalists often do when writing stories to give readers a complete picture of the actual topic at hand.
At the end but still, within the main body of text, you’ll need to include any other information journalists and readers might need. This includes website links and calls to action. Depending on what your press release is about, you might need to tell people how they can sign up for something, get involved with an initiative, get in touch with you, or tell them when and where an event is taking place.
Read your press release back and ensure everything flows smoothly, and that you wouldn’t have any remaining questions about the story you’re telling if you were a reader with no prior knowledge of the information.
After you have finished with the main body of text and marked your press release with ‘END’ – you can write your ‘about’, ‘notes to editors’ and ‘sources’ sections. The about section is further background information about the brand or organisation behind the release, similar to the information which you might find on the ‘about us’ section of a website.
In notes to editors, this is your chance to tell the journalist anything that is too technical, wordy, or simply isn’t required within the main body of text as it’s not for readers. Many senders like to include their contact details, and notes about images or assets and state whether or not someone quoted within the release is available for a direct interview.
How Long Should a Press Release Be?
The length of your press release depends entirely on what you’re writing about and there’s no hard and fast answer. You may need more room if you have more quotes, or are talking about a complex subject, but it is essential that it isn’t so long that a journalist will tail off when reading it.
That’s why proofreading is so important. Once you have written the release it’s then easier to go back and chop bits out and make sentences shorter. And remember, reporters would rather have more information than not enough, as it saves them time in doing any extra research.
How Do I Come Up with a Headline for My Press Release?
Coming up with a snappy, eye-catching headline is often the trickiest part of writing a press release. You’ll need to put this in the subject line of an email when pitching to journalists too, so it needs to be attention-grabbing.
Focus on the most important and engaging part of your story, try to keep it short and sweet, and add any relevant location information. A good tip is to think about how you would summarise the story to a friend in one sentence, and work off of that. Have a look around on the news website of your target publications and emulate the style.
Using and sending the right images out with your press release is crucial. There is good content out there that often doesn’t get used in publications because there are no images, or they’re blurry or low quality. Readers like to picture what it is you’re talking about, whether it’s a person, company, or product – it makes them relate to your words a lot more.
At the least, you should include one, hi-res image in your press release which is relevant to your story. You can insert this into the body of your release, as well as attach it to any emails you’re sending out. If you use more than three images, you should use an external space to store the photos, which people can easily access (double check the link before sending). A good option is either DropBox or WeTransfer.
If you don’t have an image that’s relevant, use a stock image with sharing permissions. Sending a release without an image, even just to break up all of the text, is much less appealing to the person reading it.
How Do I Pitch It?
Arguably just as important as the makeup of the press release is the pitch itself. This is your personal message and introduction to the reporter or media outlet via email, and you will slot the press release underneath. They need to know in an instant what information you’re sending them (briefly summarise the key points), who it’s from, why they should cover it, and why it’s newsworthy and relevant right now.
Then, send a link to any images and let the journalist know you’re on hand should they need any further information. It’s not about persuading or begging someone to publish your story, it’s more an act of enticement, you want to give them just enough information that they want to read the actual press release, but not so much that they don’t even get to it. Keep your pitch as short as possible, it’s better to have a longer press release and a shorter pitch.
Avoid mass sending to contacts, try to personalise each email with the name of each reporter you’re sending to, and this way you can tailor your pitch specifically to them or at least to each publication.
How To Send A Press Release to Journalists and Publications?
You can use your email account, but if you’re not using third-party software and you want to personalise each email, you’ll have to send them one by one – or send an email to yourself and bcc in all of your media targets. Sending personalised emails out one by one might be okay with you, it really depends on how many people you plan to send your story to. We would advise against the blanket sending method, this can put journalists off knowing a release is sent to multiple reporters and publications.
However, if you’re a huge brand or esteemed organisation this can work, because reporters and publications would expect you to be sending content out far and wide, like if you’re Coca Cola for example. But if you’re a PR specialist sending out a story you’ve created on behalf of a smaller brand, it’s better to personalise.
Buzzstream is a tool that makes outreach to the press quicker and more efficient. You can make projects for each press release, and add your media list, storing contacts as you go so you don’t have to re-add their details the next time around. You can track email opens and link clicks, and schedule follow-ups too.
Summary: Press Releases Are an Essential Part of Digital Public Relations
Despite advances in what PR is, the essential components of writing pieces of content to send to journalists and publications remain the same. In fact, in a world where journalists are being sent more and more content every single day, the need to know how to write a great press release has never been more important. To learn how we can help your business grow its brand and notoriety through digital PR, get in touch with us today by email at [email protected] or call us on 0161 327 2635.