How to write a press release
Press releases are one of the most common types of marketing writing out there. If you’re interested in breaking in to the marketing communications field it’s a good idea to learn how to write them.
What is a press release?
A press release is a short announcement sent to people in the media to try to get attention for all sorts of things related to a business or nonprofit. Press releases are usually less than one printed page, but never more than two. The ultimate goal is for a website, news site, magazine, or newspaper, to publish an article based on the press release. The idea is a media outline can publish the press release as-is and have a complete story, or they can conduct some additional interviews and research to add more to it. If it catches the eye of a TV station, they may contact you to schedule an interview for the evening news. This will help the business get the word out about what they’re doing and raise awareness of their company and projects.
Press releases can cover all sorts of things: New product releases, hiring a new executive (especially people who are well known in an industry of community), opening a new office, nonprofit projects, and anything else the company or nonprofit wants to bring to the attention of others.
Think about stories you read on your local or state news page. Many of the articles about local businesses probably got noticed because of a press release. The same is true for posts on blogs related to the business, and also business magazines. If you hear about a new program organized by a local nonprofit, a press release probably drew the attention of the media. Press releases are important marketing tools.
How is a press release structured?
Press releases have very specific structures that people new to marketing probably aren’t aware of, so let’s go over all the details.
It’s good practice to design a press release in a format that allows you to include your company logo and branding. This usually means formatting an email to include your letterhead design. If you have trouble doing that, you can always design your press release in Microsoft Word using your letterhead, then send out a PDF file. This is so people who receive the press release can see the company logo, contact information, and so on. I like to include corporate branding at the top of press releases. We’ll go over branding and its importance even for short materials like press releases in a future post.
This should be the first text on the page and lets media outlets know when they can publish the information. There are two options you can use. If the information is ready to be published, include this phrase in all caps as shown below:
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
If you want the media outlet to wait a few days, include the date they can publish the information.
Use this phrase with the complete date:
Release date: September 20, 2022
Don’t send out press releases more than 48 hours before you want the news to go live.
The headline should be a catchy summary of the content of the press release. This can be tricky, because it should also include keywords that you want the media to pick up on. To get as much high quality information in your headline as possible, you can even use two headlines, the first one in a slightly larger font to set it apart, then more description information in a subheading. If the news you’re sharing can be considered “breaking news” that lots of people will find interesting, you can start the headline with BREAKING NEWS: to get more attention. This isn’t warranted for most small business press releases though.
Let’s look at some examples.
XYZ Corporation Hires Industry Leader John Doe to Lead Its End-to-End Fiber Broadband Department
Doe Will Work With Industry Partners to Efficiently Implement New Telco Technology in the US
XYZ Biotech Releases New X-Gen Genetic Code Sequencer Designed to Support Local and Regional Hospitals
The X-Gen Sequencer Is More Affordable and Provides Results Faster to Give Physicians and Researchers Information They Need
XYZ Nonprofit Launches New After School Theater Program for Huntsville Youth
Program Will Start at the Beginning of the 2022 School Year, Run Until 5:30 PM, and Offer Many Options for Students to Learn Acting, Backstage Design, and Musical Theater
XYZ Football Team to Sign Heisman Winner Jim Doe
Doe Will Join the Team at the Beginning of the 2022 Season
You can see that these headlines (I made these up, they’re not real programs) describe something broad in the main headline, then provides more specific information in the subhead. This makes it easier for people who receive the press release to quickly scan it and get the information they need (and hopefully they’ll want to share it).
Date and Location
At the very beginning of the press release, name the city and state. If the business is large enough to have a notation on a stock exchange, include that too. And a weird little detail is state names should be in Associate Press (AP) format, which is different from state abbreviations we usually use. Also include the date that the press release can be published. If you used a specific date at the top of the release, the date here should be the same. Here’s an example:
Huntsville, Ala., September 22, 2022 —
If the press release is from a well-known city, you don’t need to include the state. Use all caps:
LOS ANGELES, September 22, 2022 —
If you’re using a press release distribution service, also include the name of the service here. For example, PR Newswire is a well known press release distributor, so you’d include:
BALTIMORE, September 22, 2022/PRNewswire —
The first paragraph
The first paragraph of your press release should include all the pertinent details (when where, why, what, who, how) but also be short. Four or five sentences is the most you should include. The trick is making it interesting AND short AND include complete information! You want people who read this to fully understand what the press release is about and help them decide if it’s something they want to publish. And you DO want them to publish it!
The next paragraphs
The next paragraphs should expand upon the main point of the press release. This can include all sorts of things, like more information about the person the company is hiring, more information about the fantastic new product that’s been released, or more details about a new program that’s launching. This paragraph can be a little longer, but not too long.
It’s a good idea to weave quotes into your press release that media outlets can use. I like to include quotes from the company president (or nonprofit board chair) and one other person. For example, in announcing a new hire, include a quote from the company president and the person coming on board. For a new program launch, include a quote from the nonprofit board chair and someone who will help coordinate the program. There’s usually more than one person you can quote.
Include a final paragraph that wraps everything up nicely. If you’re advertising a program or event, you can include information on how to sign up or who to contact for more information. For more general press releases, you can just add your corporate website so readers can learn more about the company.
Standard company information
At the end of every press release you should include a standard blurb about the company. This should include everything the media would want to know, such as the year the company was founded, how many employees the company has, what kind of work the company does, any awards the company has won, well-known customers, and other catchy information.
Include contact information for the press release in case the media outlet wants to contact your company for more information. In small companies, the contact is usually the CEO. For companies with a marketing department, the contact should be the marketing department lead. Basic contact information should include the person’s email address, their title, phone number, and the company website. A physical address isn’t necessary although can be included if you want to emphasize the location of the business.
The end ###
Press releases usually include three ### at the very end of the release. This indicates that all the press release information is complete. It’s sort of odd, but a standard that people in the media will look for.
How to send out and post a press release
If you’re a small company and want to get the word out locally, you can just email your press release to local media outlets and local contacts. This can include news stations, local news blogs, any magazines your community operates, local business organizations, and so on. It’s a good idea to start a spreadsheet or database with all of the people and businesses you want to contact for each press release.
If you want to try to contact regional or national magazines, newspapers, and other higher end media outlets, it would be worth investigating press release distribution networks like PR Newswire. There are lots of these services out there. For a list of the top 60, check out this list. Some services specialize in certain industries, so it’s worth checking them out. Some are free while others are not.
Post the press release on your business website the day of the official release. For your web version, you can remove the FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE or the date from the very top of the text. If it’s on your website, it’s released! Otherwise, just post the same press release you send out to contacts. Post the release on your social media channels and ask your employees and colleagues at other companies to share it too.
Press release examples
So that’s easy, right?? Well, it takes some practice. It’s also really helpful to look at examples of press releases so you can take a look at each section and make sure you understand how the text is written. Let’s look at some examples.
This site has some great examples of press releases across a range of industries (business, healthcare, pets, fashion, etc.)
Adobe is a huge company and has tons of press releases on their News page. Here’s the most recent example of their acquisition of a new company. Click on the News link to read more examples.
The Nature Conservancy is a huge nonprofit and they also send out and post press releases. This one is about land acquisition new Yellowstone National Park. Click the Newsroom link at the top of the article to read more press releases.
Check out the News page for businesses you’re familiar with, sports teams, nonprofits, and even churches. You’ll find a wide variety of press releases. Do all of them follow the correct format? How would you improve on press releases you see posted?
Do you have questions about how to write, format, or send out a press release? Let me know in the comments.