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How to write a press release

Wondering how to share news and information about your organisation, your community, or your project with the media? Press releases are still useful to do.

Social media and online digital platforms are part of the news-gathering ecosystem. But despite the rapid advances in technology over the last 20 years, writing a press release remains an ever-helpful way to communicate official information to the media. It’s a great publicity tool. It’s been a traditional way of sharing information with the news media for years, and it’s not going away any time soon.

But if you’ve never written a press release before, fear not. I’ve put together this blog post to help you follow professional standards right the first time. Knowing the basics of writing a press release will save you a lot of time and take the guesswork out of it.

What I share here is based on my own professional experience. I learned it on the job over more than 20 years. This isn’t taken from a textbook or ChatGPT because neither can provide you with my particular experiences and thoughts from writing more than hundreds of press releases during that time. I do have a communications degree majoring in journalism but I didn’t learn how to write a press release at university.

I’ve written press releases, media updates and statements, and publicity material for small businesses, government agencies and programs, health agencies, hospitals, news media, and TV broadcasting companies.

The topics have ranged widely. This is a sample of the kinds of press releases and general topics, but it’s not an exhaustive list:

  • promoting a product, service
  • promoting a community event
  • promoting a new media and entertainment program or show
  • promoting awards competitions
  • congratulating an organisation or leader
  • announcing executive appointments and company restructuring
  • informing media during an emergency response such as earthquakes, communicable disease outbreaks, floods and cyclones.
  • challenging a published story on the grounds of accuracy and fairness.
  • writing a supporting or opposing opinion to a stakeholder’s media advocacy
  • correcting misinformation and disinformation on a topic or on socials.
  • expressing condolences and tributes to a leader or individual after death.

So let’s begin learning. I’ll start by answering frequently asked questions about press releases. And yes, I’ll be adding a free press release example to this post real soon. Keep checking in.

What is a press release?

First, whether you call it a press release, media release, news release, media update or media or press statement, you are referring to the same document. It has different names, but the purpose is the same. That purpose is to communicate relevant information to the media who have traditionally been seen as a conduit to the public.

One of the challenges to the media coverage in the last 20 years since the advent of the Internet is that companies and individuals, in fact, anyone can also be publishers if they are active on social media such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter. You can go direct to the public using social media without having information filtered or interpreted through media. That’s particularly helpful if you believe you’ve been subjected to media bias, or believe you have suffered a wrong at the hands of media coverage. And there are plenty of examples in the world of this relating to cultures, countries, public officials and First Ladies.

Hence, the press release plays an important role, still.

Essentially, the press release articulates the company, the organisation or government’s official statement and position on an issue. If it’s a community project, then the purpose of the press release is to help promote and publicise information on the project to the community and its sponsors which may include local government and local businesses, for example.

What goes into a press release?

This is the basic anatomy of a press release on paper from the top of the page to the bottom.

  1. Title: Press Release
  2. Release Time
  3. Date and Location
  4. Headline
  5. Lead sentence or lead paragraph
  6. Body with paragraphs supporting your lead
  7. Closing
  8. Boilerplate about the company and/or project
  9. Contact information

A note here about international, company and government variations in layout. In Australia, New Zealand and the Asia-Pacific region, for example, the standard convention is that contact information is located at the end of the press release. For American press releases in general, I’ve noticed over the years that some tend to add contact information at the very top of the document.

There’s no right or wrong here. Just different ways of doing things. As long as the information is clearly laid out for your intended audience and readers, it’s fine.

The press release in finer detail

I’ll break down the basic anatomy of the press release with tips and basic instructions to answer any questions going through your mind as you read this.

#1.Title: Press Release

Imagine you have a blank piece of paper in front of you. In fact, why don’t you open your Google Docs or Word document to practice as you read this?

The first words I want you to write on your hard copy or soft copy paper is:

Press Release

Text alignment can be left, centre, or right. Bold or not. Use heading size so it is clearly visible and stands apart from the body text of the press release.

Tips

  • Focus on your audience’s needs.
  • Your ‘audience’ are the people who you want to read your press release
  • Use a simple, easy-to-read typeface or font. Something like Arial or Calibri.
  • Avoid any creative urges to use a script or cursive fonts.
  • Choose a font size that’s easy to read.
  • If your intended audience/reader/media need glasses to read, or an older demographic, pay attention to your font size.

#2. Release Timing

This is a specific official instruction to media outlets and journalists related to the date and time when any information in the press release can be published or broadcast. For example, if an awards ceremony is taking place and being broadcast live in the evening, producers for a radio or television show will need an early heads up on the winners so they can produce the show and be ready to go live. In those cases, the press release will need to be clearly labeled as embargoed or banned from publishing until such and such a day and time. This is one way to write it:

Press Release
Strictly Embargoed Until 7pm, 13 May 2023

However, for the general run-of-the-mill purposes, where the information can be publicised once you have sent out a press release, an embargo is not necessary. To make that clear to your intended audience, you can change your release information as follows:

Press Release
For Immediate Release

Tips

  • You don’t always need to write ‘For Immediate Release’.
  • But if you want to avoid phone calls querying when, use it.
  • Only use an embargo when absolutely necessary.
  • Use an embargo sparingly and with solid justification.
  • Applying an embargo does not guarantee it will be followed.
  • Media are under no obligation to comply with your embargo.
  • It’s your job to build relationships with journalists and come to agreements on an embargo before you release an embargoed press release.
  • Send an embargoed press release to a limited media list.

#3. Date and Location

The date refers to the date that the press release will be sent out publicly including to journalists and media outlets. So if it’s going out today, then you put today’s date, for example.

Using the location is optional. It may not be relevant for the purpose of the press release. But if your project or issue that is the subject of the press release is a placed-based project, or you’re an organization with offices in different cities, and it’s important to make that distinction, then I highly recommend identifying the location. You can add it

Press Release
For Immediate Release

Saturday 13 May 2023

Singapore

#4. Press Release Headline

This is my basic tips and advice on headlines for a press release.

Writing a newsworthy headline that doesn’t overpromise (and under-deliver) is a specialised communication skill. It is both an art and a science. It takes a lot of time, practice, and learning, testing audience reactions with different headlines on a topic, and so forth. Some things will work, and some things won’t, and that depends on a number of factors.

Continuous learning, improvement, and practice. Reading good media and good books can help you to get immersed in good writing. Exposure to good headlines is an important part of learning what makes a good headline. Using data analytics is also another way to find out what your audience responds well to and what it doesn’t.

One exception to using newsworthy headlines is when writing a press release for traditional institutions such as Parliaments. Their focus is making laws and providing oversight, checks, and balances, to the work of Government. So the headlines for their press releases tend to be functional and informational only.

This is an example of the informational type of headlines in media releases issued by Parliament.

Tips for writing a good headline

  • Identify the purpose of your press release first
  • Be clear on the purpose
  • Read all the subject information first to get inspiration
  • Make it newsworthy and attention-grabbing for all the right reasons
  • Brainstorm headline ideas
  • Be informed about your word and character limits
  • Make the headline active
  • Use data analytics to know what your audience responded to, and what they didn’t.
Commercial business

A note about public companies

Writing a press release for a public company has additional considerations beyond the purposes of all other press releases. And it’s beyond the purposes of this Guide. I write this brief note about investor relations communications to explain the difference when writing a press release and why.

Information released publicly by a public company is obligated to follow its country and state laws related to commercial businesses and companies. Public companies, which may or may not be listed on the stock exchange, are subject to strict regulatory rules and reporting requirements to protect the public and investors at large. This extends to information that goes into a press release and any public announcement. Governments have agencies entirely focused on ensuring that companies comply with regulations. In Australia, it’s the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC). In the USA, it is called the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).

When most of us think about the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), we think about a government agency designed to ensure public companies provide investors with accurate information, that employees who have access to “inside information” don’t trade on it, and that investment professionals don’t exploit, misinform or defraud the average investor on Main Street, USA. 

Forbes, 12 Dec 2022, The SEC Is Expanding Oversight Into Private Companies: What Business Owners Need To Know,

#5.Lead Sentence and Paragraph

My biggest tip here is: get straight to the point at the start.

What’s the most important, compelling, interesting, and/or newsworthy information? That’s what goes into your main lead sentence or paragraph.

It’s a mistake to bury the most important and compelling information in the middle or the end of the press release. That reveals amateur hour doing that.

The broad primary goal of a press release is that the media and the public will understand it and take action, hopefully in support of it. So making good decisions about what goes into the first sentences needs to support your communication goals.

Usually, if the writer understands the material, the press release will be easy to write, read and understand. What doesn’t work is when a press release is confusing and makes no sense to your reader.

#6 Body with paragraphs

The body of the press release provides quotes, additional facts and ideas to support your lead. Quotes add colour and personality to a story.

#7. Closing

Use your closing sentence or paragraph to reiterate your position or points made in your lead. But please don’t copy word for word what you wrote at the beginning of your lead sentence. Instead, use a thesaurus to give you a range of words to experiment with, rather than repeating the same words.

#8. Boilerplate

A boilerplate statement is a standardized set of text paragraphs that appear on all company documents including your press releases. For example, the description of the company and project. It’s the standard information about your company or project that people will see whenever they read your press release. It’s an important positioning statement, a valuable marketing and branding tool, that tells people what you want them to know about your company or organisation.

#9. Contact Information

Please help your cause and organisation by including contact details such as name, role/position, email, and cellphone. Ensure that the contact person knows and agrees with their name as the media contact. They need to be briefed and fully across press release before it is sent to media. Be informed about the media outlets you wish to contact before you reach out to them.

If you’re going to issue a media release, it’s important to consider the following tips if you don’t want to annoy media outlets.

Tips

  • Ensure the contact person is available to respond to calls. and email requests.
  • If sending to radio and television news, be prepared to have a spokesperson speak on the radio or on camera.

I’ll explain in another post why these tips are so important to follow.

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Vienna Richards
Vienna Richards
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