Writing a press release

Writing a strong press release will help your group or campaign get media coverage. 
  Published:  27 Nov 2017    |      9 minute read

This advice is reproduced with kind permission of Wordways Media Training.

Being featured in your local press is a great way to raise awareness of the issue you're campaigning on and maybe even recruit new members. It's also an effective way to publicize an event you're organising to ensure lots of people turn up.

This guide will ensure you know how to write that great press release.

The first step is making sure the information you’re planning to put in your press release is trustworthy ie it is 100% accurate.

Use the ‘WH’ framework

WHAT is your story? Make sure you're clear about what information you're releasing, what you want people to know.

WHY now? Are you tying in your story with a specific event, a report, a response to a wider event? Is this a call to action? Are you piggy-backing onto a wider event - e.g. international children’s book day?

WHO is your audience? Are you trying to reach different groups of people? If so, you may want to customise your press release for different publications or media outlets.

WHERE are you sending it? Check your media strategy to identify the media outlets you’re aiming for. Make sure the media you’re considering will reach your target audience(s).

You need to make sure you’re familiar with the media you’re aiming at – does your story fit into their format? Study the media – how can you make the information you’re sending out attractive to your selected media?

HOW will you put it together? Ensure that you have all the information you need to put in your press release, that you've got the correct media list and that you know how to send it out.

WHEN will you send it? Do you have a deadline? Do different publications have different deadlines? e.g. a monthly publication will have a long lead-in time.

Come up with a hook

This is the compelling bit of information that draws the reader in, that makes you newsworthy.

You will need to summarise this in your first paragraph, with a striking headline that directs the reader to the content of the story.

Examples of hooks might be:

  • New information about your organisation.
  • A call to action.
  • An event you’re going to hold or attend.
  • A response to something happening in politics or the news.
  • New information from a study, report etc.
  • A human interest story.

Narrow down the content

Ask yourself these questions to get the right content in your press release:

  • What is new about this story?
  • What killer facts are you going to highlight?
  • Is it really of interest to the widest possible audience? What is exciting about this story?
  • Is your story written in plain, accessible attractive language? Is it jargon-free?
  • Are you staying on message?
  • If you’re publicising an event, have you included all information – eg date, time, location, how to get tickets?

Include all necessary information

Remember to include contact details, your website, how to find any other online information you may have mentioned, your Twitter handle and Facebook page.

You might need to add notes for editors at the end of your press release. This is background information that supports your story but doesn’t need to go in the main body of the press release.

For example, you may want to give your organisation’s full mission statement at the bottom of all your press releases. Journalists can choose to include this information depending on their format and how much space they have.

Writing your press release

Here are some top tips for writing your press release.

  1. Start with your headline but don’t try to be clever. Editors, writers and broadcasters will spend only a few seconds deciding whether a press release looks interesting and if they don’t immediately understand what the story is about, or how it is relevant to them, they will move on to the next press release.
  2. Your first paragraph should be a succinct summary of the story in no more than two sentences. Try to include as much information about who, what, when, where and why. It should read like the opening of a news story. Have a look at newspaper stories to get an idea of how to start your own press release.
  3. For TV or radio coverage, a presenter usually has less than 10 seconds to introduce each item. Think about how the presenter would introduce your story in less than 10 seconds. Remember that most people can say 30 words in 10 seconds.
  4. Use quotes in the text when they add useful detail or a juicy soundbite. Avoid bland quotes that state the obvious.
  5. Be as succinct as you can. Ideally, even if you have lots of information you need to get across, stick to one or one and a half pages for your main text. You can add more facts in your notes for editors.
  6. Give the most important and interesting information in the first few paragraphs.
  7. Re-read your finished press release and be prepared to really tighten up the text. Cut out the superfluous bits that add nothing to your story.
  8. Remove all jargon and technical terms. Write in clear, plain English and keep it simple. Remember that journalists often don’t have much time and may just tweak your press release a little before publishing it, so make this easy for them.
  9. Avoid repetition.
  10. Don’t use abbreviations or acronyms without defining what each letter means (eg WHO, UNICEF) – you can’t assume your reader knows what you're talking about.
  11. Sub-headings and bullet points can make more complex information easier to digest, particularly if the text includes figures or statistics.
  12. Use relevant images. If you know you have an event coming up, ring the local media and ask them to send a photographer. If they can't, ask them if you can take images for them.
  13. Finally, you might need to customise your press release for different media outlets.

Sending out your press release

Keep the following in mind when sending out your press release.

  1. Always paste the press release into the body text of the email and make sure your logo appears correctly.
  2. Make the subject line eye-catching and concise, eg. 'PRESS RELEASE – Public meeting on fracking threat'.
  3. Check that the publication you're sending your press release to will accept attachments – this also gives you an excuse to ring a journalist/editor in advance so they might look out for your press release.
  4. Don’t clog up a journalist’s inbox with big files. Send low-res pictures (with an easy and speedy option for hi-res downloadable versions).
  5. Always follow up your email with a phone call the next day or the day after – unless you have been specifically asked not to.
  6. Pick a good time to contact journalists by avoiding newsrooms' busiest hours. Daily print journalists will usually be at their busiest just before the print deadline, between 2-4.30pm, and in the mornings from 10-11am, before editorial meetings are generally held. Avoid ringing a radio station at 10 to the hour. Broadcast media will also have editorial meetings at around 10am. So early morning, between 8.30am to 9.00am, is often a good time to catch journalists. Otherwise, aim for 11.30am to 12.30pm or after 4.30pm.
  7. Try to build relationships with journalists, and ask them when a good time to send them press releases is.
  8. Broadcast media have forward planners. Ask for them.
  9. For weekly, monthly and quarterly publications, make sure you know their deadlines when sending out press releases.

Structure your copy

There is a fairly standard format for press releases. Stick to it to ensure your press releases look professional. Here are the different sections you should include, in order:

Organisation logo

'FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE' (either next to or just below your logo)

Date

You may want to embargo your press release. This means you send it out but don’t want it to appear online or in print before a certain time. For example, if you don't want your story to be published before Tuesday 10 January 2018, you might state:

EMBARGO: 00.01 Tuesday 10 January 2018.

Headline

Usually in larger/highlighted type.

Opening paragraph

1-2 sentences. Your first sentence needs to be punchy. Keep it as short as possible while conveying enough information to make sense.

Body text

This is where the actual story goes. There should be more than one paragraph, each paragraph no more than a few sentences. If there is more than one page, write '-more-' at the bottom of the page.

Company/organisation info

'ENDS' (This indicates the end of the press release.)

Contact information

Information about the availability of images

Notes for editors

Include any further background information about your story, your organisation and any relevant biographical details about individuals discussed or quoted in the press release.

Reproduced with kind permission of Wordways Media Training.