To put it simply, press releases are a way for individuals, organisations, public bodies and brands to share their news and stories with the media, and the wider public.
They are made up of written content, which is primed and packaged to the highest standard, and usually shared with journalists.
The way press releases are built and written is extremely important. Do it wrong, and you will not catch the eye of a reporter, and even if you do, they may not use your content.
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.
At any given organisation, the public relations duties are usually carried out by a dedicated communications officer or PR consultant, in-house. Or, by an external agency, such as Embryo Digital. Here, we have our own digital PR team which works with clients on everything from press releases to large-scale creative campaigns.
When you create a press release, it’s best practice to provide journalists with everything they need, and aim for them to have to do as little as possible, which bolsters the chances of your story being used. One really important tip to bare in mind is to write the press release as the journalist would write up the story.
Even if you’re only sharing your release on social media, or your website, structure is still key – and the method of writing for a reporter still works.
Identify your purpose
To get started, you first need to identify the purpose of your press release. Good examples of different purposes include the following: to promote a product, launch or event, to raise awareness about an issue, to release breaking news or a statement, to update people about significant changes within a business or industry, to share a human interest case study story, and so on.
Basically, press releases need to be about something new, or interesting, or a change, and don’t work well if they’re generic. For example, a press release about a charity simply existing, with a little about its history so far, is unlikely to do well.
Determine your angle
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, interesting or relevant 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. For example, if a multi-million pound business has had a major re-brand, that in itself is news. But it may also have a new, famous CEO, and be donating £20,000 to charity that has recently made the news due to campaigners fighting for an important cause. You have to decide which is the best point to lead the way with, and write your very first paragraph about that point.
Then, in the next two to three paragraphs, touch on the other points. 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.
The angle you go with may also be determined by outside factors, such as other news and current affairs, and the type or location of the publication you intend to send the content to. In this case, you may like to tailor your angle for different publications. Using the example above, the location in which the charity is based may favour the news of the £20,000 donation, as opposed to other publications, so in that instance, that could be your angle.
Ensure your first few paragraphs are snappy and to the point. They 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 W’s
What? Why? When? Who? Where? All of these questions surrounding your story should be covered within the first few paragraphs.
Sticking to the example about the major re-brand of a multi-million pound business, that is the ‘what’. Then, you need to be clear about ‘why’ this happened, ‘when’ it’s happening and ‘who’ is involved. Think about whether or not staff are affected, mention the new, famous CEO. In this instance, the ‘where’ would be related to where the business is based, or where its main offices are.
Try to add balance to your story, as what you’re writing may only divulge one point of view, consider what else journalists or readers might want to know.
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 as a standard rule, it’s good practice to introduce quotes in the third to fifth paragraph. 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 or point of view, too.
Using the example we’ve worked on, an appropriate spokesperson would be the new CEO. Quotes should back up, complement and add to the other text in the press release. The comments need to be from someone with authority and should take up at least two short sets of sentences.
How long you want the commentary to be is up to you, but really, it should be no longer than four paragraphs. After this, you can add more text. Here, you’re expanding on the most important points you made above, adding any extra detail and information.
Then if you want to, quotes from a second spokesperson. This might be someone outside of the organisation, but who is still relevant, for example, the founder of the charity you’re donating money to could express their gratitude, and wish the company well on its new journey.
Depending on the subject you’re writing about, you should include expert commentary from someone within the relevant field. If you were publicising a human interest health story, you would need to include quotes from the case study themselves, as well as a GP or other health professional.
After you’ve balanced your press release out with your own text and quotes, at the end, 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 to something, get involved, get in touch with you, or tell them when and where an event is taking place.
To signify the end of your press release, you should leave a blank space and then write END, and most people do this in bold font. After that, you will need to add a ‘bio’ or ‘notes to editors’ section. This is a space for you to give any background information that doesn’t need to be set out within the main press release.
If you are a business, you’d include background information about when the company launched, what it sells or what services it offers. You can also use this section to further clarify any points you’ve made in the release, or add any sources of data or information.
The length of your press release depends entirely on what you’re writing about. Human interest stories tend to be a little longer, just as they are on the websites of news publications. You may also need more room if you have more quotes, or are talking about a complex subject.
As a rule of thumb, try to keep your press release as short as you can, typically they are no longer than a page long. But they can be longer and still get noticed and used, so don’t get too caught up on length. People would rather have more information than not enough, as it saves them time in doing any extra research.
Coming up with a snappy, eye-catching headline is often the trickiest part of writing a press release. You’ll need to put this at the top of the release, and it’s often what goes in the subject line of an email when the content is being sent to journalists.
Focus on the most important and engaging part of your story, try to keep it short and sweet, and add in 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.
Here’s an example: ‘Coca Cola unveils major re-brand and hires Boris Johnson as CEO in huge shake up’
Because Coca Cola is such a well known brand, we don’t need to add in any location information. But if we were talking about a lesser-known company, we might use ‘Manchester fashion brand’ instead of the name of the company. This is more important when you’re targeting local press.
Using and sending the right images out with your press release is absolutely 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, 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 on, which people can access. Good examples of this are Google Photos, Dropbox, or WeTransfer.
If you set an embargo on your press release, it means you are telling the recipient they cannot publish it until a predetermined date of your choice. Make this clear at the top of your press release, under the headline. Most people do this in red, to ensure it’s noticed. You can also put EMBARGOED: at the start of your email subject line, and mention it in the email itself, and mention the content is not for immediate release.
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.
The press officers who release information about Government officials or projects often embargo their press releases.