Scour the net and you’ll find thousands of guides showing you how to format a press release. Often, those unacquainted with writing press releases worry about getting the rules of press release format correct, but in truth this is merely a small element of the challenge. If you send a messy press release about a great news story, it’s more likely to get published than a smart industry-standard release about your niece’s new puppy. The “newsworthiness” is everything, and it’s up to you to be able to supply the hot story.
Imagine you are an unknown artist who will be exhibiting at a forthcoming local gallery event. Simply telling your local newspapers this fact alone is not likely to get you published. Rather, you could say that the gallery event is an important occasion as it raises the profile of your town in the art world, and as a resident of said town, you are representing your city on a national stage. This is PR at its most basic, and before we get on to writing our press release, we need to make sure our key message is correct.
If you’re working for a company and your boss or colleague assigns you to write a press release, hammer them for information. What are you being asked to write about? If it’s a new product, get the ins-and-outs of what it does, how it works and why the market should care. Writing a press release about something you don’t fully understand will result in an epic fail, 100% of the time – an aimless mess of text that a newspaper editor will correctly identify as drivel. You MUST ask the person assigning this task to you to brief you correctly on ALL of the quality information you are likely to need to achieve the communication objective.
Always consider the big picture. A press release about your 25% growth in profits will probably interest your investors and staff, but your local population probably won’t care and therefore the piece may not be newsworthy. So instead, explain that because of your growth in profits, your facility has added 30 new jobs to the local economy, and sources materials from local suppliers where possible for the good of your town. Relevance is key; a little trick to remember is that if you can talk about your community, city or country in the release, then you are likely to engage these collectives. Don’t just talk about you or your product; talk about the market, and why you are leading it. If this sounds like an aggressive approach, you will find it works at all levels, from our lonesome independent artist to a huge global conglomerate.
A) Document type
Right, let’s get started. The first thing we’re going to want to do is advise people what we’re actually sending to them, so write the words PRESS RELEASE in capitals at the top of the document in the header on the left-hand side (double click the header area of the page to access it). You may choose to use FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE instead; it doesn’t matter which.
B) Company logo
Also in the header, we need to enter our company logo, which can be placed either in the middle or to the right of the page. Don’t make it too big; about the size of a normal letterhead logo is fine. If you’re an individual (for example, our independent artist), you can add the logo of any affiliates or clubs for which you hold membership, so if your press release is about the forthcoming gallery exhibition, add the gallery logo to the top (with your affiliate’s kind permission, of course).
C) Eeek! … Headline
Headline writing is an art in itself, and will be the recipient editor’s first indication that you can’t write press releases. Don’t worry – generally the best solution is to go punchy and short, so instead of “ABC Logistics Co. Ltd. purchases new vehicles to support the company’s strategy for growth in South-east Asia,” try “ABC ever-growing fleet rolls out to success.” Keep it slightly ambiguous to entice the reader without giving away the full story, and also to allow the press release to ‘breathe’ in different directions as you compose it. The headline in our enclosed example press release is as long as you should ever make it (in this case necessary, as its introducing an entirely unfamiliar brand concept).
It’s up to you if you want to put the headline in capitals; most people do, but sentence case looks tidier and is easier for the reader to immediately absorb. Avoid using exclamation marks in the press release headline – you’re not writing a children’s party invitation.
And Never Capitalise The First Letter Of Each Word – It’s Super Annoying.
D) Region and date identifier
Always lead-in with the city of intended publication. Large companies that operate nationwide can use a country instead here, but for smaller companies it will be its area of operation or nearest large city. If your company is based somewhere small and obscure then put your county/province/district name – “Warwickshire, UK” will have more potential publishing significance than “The Village of Bishop’s Tachbrook.” Also add the date you intend to submit the release to the media, followed by a hyphen (-), then begin your actual press release (which is called the body text; see, you’re learning new stuff already).
E) Introducing your press release
Start your press release with the company name where possible, followed by a positioning statement (the previous chapter of this guide will have provided you with enough information to make this an absolute breeze), for example, “ABC Logistics Co. Ltd., Europe’s leading logistics provider, has done something interesting.”
Remember that your press release is not an advertisement, so it must be a current newsworthy statement of information; you should not send a release stating “Crystal Gardens is a new luxury condominium in London.” You would need to say “XYZ Property, a leading property developer, has unveiled the design of its Crystal Gardens condominium development in Chelsea.”
One important point to note is that you should never use the words “you” or “we” in your press release. Instead of saying “you are invited to join,” write “guests are invited to join.” Instead of “we are a leading provider,” you should say, “the company is a leading provider.”
F) Objectives of the opening paragraph
Other guides on how to write a press release nearly always tell you that the purpose of the first paragraph is to capture the attention of the busy editor who is drowning in a sea of one thousand daily press releases. Utter crap. This may be true if you’re trying to promote a village fete, but for real companies and rising public figures, if your key message is on the money and you’ve properly researched your target publications, then you have already cleared this first hurdle anyway.
The purpose of our first paragraph is to reinforce the headline and explain its meaning.
In the previous condominium development example, we would (in the second sentence) explain what the overall theme of the condo is, the approximate size of the development, and then why this is an important piece of news (and hopefully, market movement).
The smaller details which support our story go later in the release, so if our condo has a nice water feature in the lobby or has some sort of sophisticated climate control, don’t put it here; it goes in subsequent paragraphs. Lines of text in your first para should support the communication objective, so if we want to drive unit sales at our new condo building, we could add info on any special discounts available on early unit purchases – our communication objectives may have been to introduce our awesome condominium design concept and get people to visit the showroom, so you can see how we’ve nailed both of them immediately in our first paragraph.
G) Final line of first paragraph
The final line of the first paragraph can bridge the gap into these smaller details. So in the enclosed example of our Asian cosmetic launch press release, first we talk about the brand concept, and then touch lightly on the products. This opens up our release for the second paragraph to be product-specific or marketing-specific. You can see that we move on to discuss the retail model, which of course is relevant to both the brand launch and the products we will sell.
H) Second paragraph
You’re now in a free creative space. Key tips to remember are not to waffle, but to ensure that each and every word in the body text either provide information, amplifies the newsworthiness of the release, or in some way adds valuable weight to the document. If your release is about a new product, then focus it tightly on just that, with a nod as to how it is important to your market.
If you’re writing a release about a CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) activity, talk first about the donation you just made to the library, and then talk more broadly about your wider CSR objectives. Remember – tight focus to begin with, and then broaden to wider strategy.
Don’t try to cover too many topics in a single press release. If you’ve got lots of new products in different markets, loads of new promotions, a new call centre to advertise and have just been visited by your local mayor who gave you a bouquet of flowers, then consider writing two or three releases, submitted a couple of weeks apart.
Always go back to your communication objective. If the Mayor brought you flowers, your objective is not to tell the media this; it is to reinforce your positioning statement. The Mayor brought you flowers because you added 30 new jobs to the local economy, which in turn was a result of you being a market-leading company.
I) Add known facts and highlight missing facts
It’s always good to include interesting facts and figures in the release; most media organisations appreciate this, and journalists will see it as being time-saving for them.
As you compose your release, there will be facts you may wish to include that you do not have yet. You may want to advise local media that you have invested in a facility upgrade, for example, but as yet you don’t know the cash value of the capital investment. So add XX (two capital letter X’s highlighted in yellow). This will notify either yourself, your boss or your marketing department that you are waiting for info. Documents should be checked by all parties prior to sending out to media, and this bright yellow cross identifier is easy to spot. NEVER send the release with these missing facts still highlighted; it’s up to you to get the info.
J) Executive quotation
Another way to elevate the importance of your release and make it more newsworthy is by way of an executive quotation; a short comment from a director or senior manager (which you can create yourself) to reinforce your key message.
Please see the enclosed example, and note that the quote should be in this format, paying particular attention to correct use of grammar, and also that the person’s name, position and company are completely accurate. You will need to have the person named as spokesperson to approve the quote if you write it yourself.
It’s usually better to write the quote yourself, even for a senior director, as it must work well in your body text flow and reinforce your press release message – something your spokesperson may not see or have time to review. This also saves time; you don’t want your time-sensitive release sitting on a CEO’s desk when they’re golfing in Ireland and nobody bothered to tell you.
K) Final body text paragraph
In closing the release, you should again loop back to your key message, and also how you or your company can continue to support it in the future. So our artist would say that he or she will be preparing a tour of other galleries in the other half of the year as he or she rises in prominence; our small local firm will continue investing in its facility to solidify its position as market leader, and so forth.
L) Drive them to your web site
A standard press release close-out is you ask the reader to visit your web site for more information.
M) Social media obsession
If your company or product has a Facebook page, Twitter ID, microsite or smartphone app, you can add links here. You may also add brief details about why the social media page is a relevant alternative, such as noting that your Facebook group is running a competition, or that your microsite offers interactive games. Don’t add too much information; drive them to your external pages and engage them on-line for this type of content. Keep the press release centred on your key messages.
N) Page breaks – ###
This is a standard way of advising the recipient editor that the text finishes, and dates back to longhand story writing styles whereupon three marks indicated the end of the story. You may also use –END- or –ENDS- in place of these three marks. For anyone under the age of twenty, it’s probably worth noting these are Gate Symbols, not Hashtags in this context.
Note that on the enclosed cosmetic company example, the ### has been replaced by a small company logo. This is just a small artistic flourish, examples of which you may decide to use subtly if they do not alter the overall look and general format of the release.
If the page break falls between two pages, i.e.- your body text finishes at the foot of the page, you can omit it and start the next page with the boilerplate (explained next).
The boilerplate is a standard appendix which goes after your story close. Once created, it can be added to the bottom of all of your future releases, until such a time as the information on it changes. It should begin with an About Section, which gives one or two short paragraphs about your company; just a simple statement which echoes any pre-existing text you may have in your company brochures or on your web site. Something like, “XYZ Property is a leading developer of boutique condominium projects in South London. The company specialises in mid-rise high-yield developments of exceptional quality. Previous successful projects include The Maltings Residence and Victoria Tower, New Street.”
If your company has a particular writing style and theme used throughout its communication, you may use it here. The press release body text should be informative and business-minded, but if your company is a husband-and-wife team who set it up for a laugh, you may choose to use a more warm and personal writing style in the About Section (boiler). In our Forbidden Skin example, you can see how the About Section becomes an opportunity to playfully reinforce the uniqueness of our brand, plus a further chance to amplify key brand messages, and even further support our new products by linking back to our brand ethics, capability, etc.
P) Media Contact
You should nominate at least one person to serve as the media contact, in case anyone who receives your communication has any questions. You should provide a name, position, phone number, email address and company full postal address (optional).
The contact person named will typically be the person assigning the task of writing the press release to you, or handling this particular issue on a day-to-day basis. Someone from your tech team may be best to answer product-related questions, whereas your marketing manager may be a better nominee for brand-related questions on strategy.