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How to write an effective press release

Lorraine Forrest-Turner

Lorraine Forrest-Turner

PRO

Press releases are still a key part of the corporate communications arsenal.

Whether organisations send them to the media, stick them on their website, break them up into social media posts or use them to ensure a consistent message across the business, the press release is still very much alive and well.

Updated for 2020 with new material, here is my step-by-step guide to writing an effective press release.

What is a press release?

While organisations use press releases to promote their goods and services, they’re not adverts.

Journalists are quick to spot organisations who dress something up as news in order to get free advertising.

Press releases are short, factual news stories sent or given to the media to encourage editors/journalists/broadcasters to feature the story in their publications/programmes.

They can also be published on the originator’s website (often on the news and/or media page) and adapted for company magazines, newsletters, ezines, emailers, etc.

Step-by-step guide to writing a press release

Follow this 10-step process to write an effective press release:

  1. Ensure you have a newsworthy story
  2. Target the right media sector
  3. Answer the 6 W questions
  4. Use the inverted pyramid to structure the press release
  5. Write a newsworthy headline
  6. Write in the third person
  7. Summarise story in opening paragraph
  8. Put the story into context
  9. Stick to one story per press release
  10. Write a compelling quote

 

1: Ensure you have a newsworthy story

You need to have something new and important to say.

If your client simply wants to promote a product or service because it’s not selling well, you can’t just write about its benefits as you would in an ad or brochure.

You need to find a newsworthy angle – which you can find using the acronym TRUTH.

T – Is the story TOPICAL or TIMELY?

Has it just happened or is it about to happen? Recent means today and tomorrow but never yesterday. Look out for hooks to breaking/running news stories.

What is your organisation’s unique point of view on this subject?

Do you have something else you can offer to add greater perspective?

How does it relate to what’s happening in the future?

R – Is the story RELEVANT to the readers, viewers and listeners?

The more people it affects, the more newsworthy a story is. It needs to relevant, important and interesting to the publication’s or programme’s target audience.

Who does your story affect?

How does it impact on their lives?

What benefits does it bring?

U – What is UNUSUAL or UNIQUE about this story?

A good story is one that people haven’t seen or heard before.

What is the unusual aspect of this story?

What is the normal situation?

How does this situation differ?

T – Is there any TROUBLE or TRAGEDY that would add TENSION?

Like it or not, bad news sells newspapers. (Or gets more clicks and views.)

Journalists love stories with trouble, tension and tragedy at its heart.

But if you’re responsible for an organisation’s or individual’s reputation, you won’t want to be sending out press releases on their troubles. Bearing in mind the media’s thirst for trouble, you should aim to frame your story as how your product, service, person or organisation is helping reduce or overcome trouble.

How does your story challenge a conventional view?

Could it help people triumph over tragedy?

What problem are you helping to reduce or alleviate?

H – Where is the HUMAN interest?

News is created by people for people. Try to put people not products or services at the heart of your story. Getting a celebrity involved helps attract media interest, especially if a photo call is offered.

Who is involved?

Has they done something heroic or extraordinary?

Why are they interested/associated with your organisation?

Be cynical about your story. If you were an editor, would you want to run it?

For example, supposing a printer manufacturer wanted to promote a model of home printer. It’s not new and it’s pretty similar to lots of other models on the market. You could make it newsworthy by saying the company has sold a record number of units or that new research has shown it to reduce the cost of home printing by 33%. (The facts would need to be true, of course!)

2: Target the right media sector

Like every other piece of effective copy, a press release should be written with a target audience in mind.

However, with press releases, you don’t write directly for that target audience. You write them for the editor/journalist/broadcaster and you tailor them to the readership/viewers/listeners of that publication/programme.

The bulk of each tailored press release might be relatively similar, but you’d write a different headline, opening paragraph and possibly quote for each media group.

For example, if you were writing about a new pasta sauce, you might talk about the profit potential for ‘The Grocer’, the provenance of the natural ingredients for ‘Men’s Health’ and the flavour and convenience for ‘My Family’. You could also do a regional variation for weekly papers quoting a local fitness instructor or cooking enthusiast. 

3: Answer the six W questions

Every press release should answer the six W questions – who, what, where, when, why and how.

Let’s use a car dealership sponsoring a book festival as an example.

WHO is doing/has done something?

Maidstone Cars

WHO is affected/involved?

People interested in books, literature, writing, the arts, etc.

WHAT are they doing/have they done?

Sponsoring Maidstone book festival and giving visitors a chance to win a new BMW 3 Series

WHERE are they doing/did they do it?

The town hall in Maidstone

WHEN will they/did they do it?

3 to 6 September

WHY are they doing it?

Supporting the arts, a local bookshop, local writers and book lovers

HOW will it be/was it done? How will it affect people?

Maidstone cars will partly fund the event (cover cost of speakers, venue hire, refreshments, etc.), place a BMW 3 Series on show outside and offer every visitor free entry into a prize draw to win the car

4: Use the inverted pyramid to structure the press release

Armed with answers to the W questions, you now structure your press release using the classic inverted pyramid template. This enables you to present the most important information first.

You use this template partly because the media don’t have time to plough through why the world needs a new widget or how it was developed (they simply want to know whether or not your new widget is of interest to their audience) and partly because the template makes it easy to cut the story to fit the space available. No need to edit. Simply cut from the bottom paragraph upwards.

Short, clear headline tells media what the story is about

First para sums up the entire story in one or two sentences

Second para puts story in context – why it’s important

Third para presents details – who’s involved, how it came about, etc.

Fourth para includes a relevant quote to add information, credibility and/or opinion

Fifth para shows where people can find more details, buy product, get involved, etc.

5: Write a newsworthy headline

As is often the case in copywriting, the headline is crucial. Press release headlines not only tell the reader what the story is about, they are your sales pitch to the media.

The media use headlines to determine whether a story is even worth reading.

If it doesn’t grab their attention, they’ll probably delete or bin the press release without even reading it. But grabbing the media’s attention isn’t the same as grabbing the audience’s attention.

Don’t try to be cryptic or clever.

The media don’t have time (a busy news desk receives hundreds of press releases per day) to work out what you mean.

And even if they do love your clever headline, they can’t/won’t use it. They want to write their own. Let the media write their own headline and keep your creative ideas for your own publications and platforms.

Ideally, you want your headline to say, ‘somebody does something worthwhile’, ‘somebody helps overcome major problem’ or ‘major problem solved by someone’.

Examples of good press release headlines

Maidstone Cars supports local arts scene

Maidstone Cars gives festival visitors chance to win BMW 3 Series

Maidstone Cars helps keep book festival running

Marks & Spencer introduces eco-friendly bags

Wycombe District Council tackles excessive landfill with 200% increase in recycling

Children’s hospices saved from threat of closure with generous donation from Scottish Widows

New HP printers reduced million tonnes waste of toner cartridges 

6: Write in the third person

As you’re not writing to your target audience directly, you need to write your press release in the third person. So “ABC Ltd has signed a £5M deal with XYZ Ltd” not “We’ve signed a deal with…”

Also, you’re not writing the story that might appear in the paper. You’re writing it from your client’s/organisation’s point of view.

For example, if you were writing a press release from Tesco apologising to residents for the upheaval caused by the building of a new store, you wouldn’t write “Residents are up in arms over Tesco building works” – that’s what the paper might print. You write “Tesco is taking residents’ concerns seriously and holding a public meeting on…”

7: Summarise story in opening paragraph

The opening paragraph should complement the headline by giving a fuller explanation of what the story is about.

The skill is to get all the key information in without saying too much too soon. A good opening paragraph should be able to stand alone. Think of it almost like a radio news bulletin.

For example, if the headline is “Chemistry student develops world’s first 2,000 hour battery”, the opening paragraph might go on to say “A 19 year old student from the University of Nottingham has succeeded where mobile phone manufacturers have failed by creating a smartphone battery with at least 2,000 hours usage between charges”.

8: Put the story into context

If you think of the first paragraph as ‘who is doing what’ or ‘what’s happened/happening now’, the second and third paragraphs go on to give you more detail and explain the ‘why and how’ behind the ‘who and what’.

For the ‘first 2,000 hours battery story’, you might go on to mention that while mobile phone technology has moved at an alarming pace, the batteries that power them have stayed the same for decades, frustrating users and manufacturers.

Your third paragraph could then give some detail on how the student developed the new battery, when we might expect to see it in use, how much it might cost, what effect it will have on mobile technology, etc.

9: Stick to one story per press release

If your press release has gone onto a second A4 page, you’ve probably got two or more stories. (Or you’ve padded it out with irrelevant, self-congratulatory quotes from ‘important’ people you’ve been told to include.)

Discipline yourself to recognise when one story ends and another one begins. And don’t weave a weaker story into your strong one. You’ll simply dilute the good one.

If you must add extra information, put it in ‘notes to editors’ at the end of the release. Or write a second press release.

10: Write a compelling quote

The quote is the one part of the press release the media can’t change. So don’t waste them with platitudes and repetition.

See How to stop writing bland quotes in press releases

Too many quotes are there simply to acknowledge the presence of a CEO, partner, sponsor, client, etc. There’s nothing wrong with having endorsements, just make sure they say something worthwhile.

“We are delighted” is the most overused phrase in PR. Not only does it state the bleeding obvious, it adds nothing to the story. Quotes need to do one or more of the following:

Provide useful information/details not included elsewhere in the release

Explain why a particular product/service/partnership is of benefit to people

Give credibility to an unknown product/service/partnership

Express an opinion (ideally different or controversial) on an important issue

Not sound as if they’ve been written by the PR department/consultancy

For example, this quote says nothing worthwhile. It’s self-congratulatory and cliched. “We’re delighted to have the contract with Lloyds Bank and look forwarding to working with them to further improve online security”. Whereas, this one is informative and original. “Over the past 12 months, UK banks have lost over one billion pounds in online fraud. Our encrypted security systems use around 2,000 different algorithms to detect and delete fraudulent transactions before the funds are withdrawn from bank accounts.”

And there you have it. The perfect press release in 10 (relatively easy) steps.

Lorraine Forrest-Turner is a copywriter and trainer. Here’s her press release training course.

Comments

PRO
21st September 2015

Graeme Piper

Excellent post – thanks.

21st September 2015

Lorraine Forrest-Turner

My pleasure, Graeme. I’m glad it was of interest.

9th November 2017

Monica Lucas

Thanks for this brief ‘how to’. Just what I needed. 🙂

10th November 2017

Nitisha Burnwal

Very nice and relevant post. Can you also explain how to get it published? Do you write keeping a publisher in mind? Or do you write and send to many publishers, to see who is liking the story and ready to publish? Do the publishers charge?

PRO
13th November 2017

Lorraine Forrest-Turner

Thanks Monica – I aim to please. 🙂

PRO
13th November 2017

Lorraine Forrest-Turner

Thanks Nitisha. In the UK, at least, you can’t get a press release published in the traditional sense. You give or send it to the editor or journalist and if it’s a good story, they’ll decide to run it or not. You should study your target publications first to see if your story is relevant to their readership. If a publication wants to charge for your story, that’s not PR, that’s advertising. In that case, you decide what you want say and where you want it to appear. For more information on PR visit the CIPR or PRCA websites.

29th May 2018

Elena L.

Thank you for the excellent article. It was very informative and structure, it’s appreciated!

PRO
29th May 2018

Lorraine Forrest-Turner

Thanks Elena. I’m glad it was helpful. If you want other advice about writing and communicating, you might want to have a look at my blog at https://www.forrest-turner.co.uk/copywriting-training/blog/. L 🙂

9th June 2018

Saqib mehraj

Wow thank you

PRO
9th June 2018

Lorraine Forrest-Turner

Thanks Saqib 🙂

25th June 2018

Patrick NIRINGIYIMANA

I really appreciate your work Lorraine! I have learned more about writing a press release all because of you!I’m so thankful! Keep on informing people Madam!

2nd August 2018

Judy Kendrick

Trying to write a tricky press release, so it was good to get some inspiration from your clear and concise instructions. Thanks.

PRO
6th August 2018

Lorraine Forrest-Turner

Thanks very much, Patrick. That’s great to know. 🙂

7th August 2018

Lorraine Forrest-Turner

Thanks for your feedback, Judy. I’m glad my post was helpful.

30th August 2018

Ahsan Azam

The posted content was extremely helpful for me…could you please guide me about political press releases ?

31st August 2018

Sahra Gillberg

Thank you for all this information. The six W-questions is especially a good advise that’s helped me many times in how to know where to start and how to start my writing.

PRO
12th September 2018

Lorraine Forrest-Turner

Sorry for the delay in getting back to Ahsan and Sahra. I’m afraid I don’t have any experience of writing political press releases, Ahsan. Interestingly, when I googled ‘how to write a political press release’ I found lots of advice but nothing specifically about political press releases. I’m glad the six W questions are still working for you, Sahra.

4th March 2019

Faki Mjaka

Greetings from Zanzibar, thanks very much, I would like to know the difference between writing Press release and News story, do they use the same style? (Inverted pyramid). I thought only news story use inverted pyramid! Thanks again

PRO
4th March 2019

Leif Kendall

News stories are written by journalists.

Press releases are written by businesses hoping to get journalists to write about them.

Does that make sense?

7th January 2020

Mohamed KOMA

Very interesting informations. Thank you for that.

7th January 2020

Lorraine Forrest-Turner

Thanks Mohamed. I’m glad you found the post useful.
Best wishes
Lorraine

24th January 2020

Russell Goodman

Thanks Lorraine – perfect timing. I have been a copywriter for years and never produced one until a new client just asked…so here goes!

31st January 2020

Lorraine Forrest-Turner

Thanks very much, Russell

I’ve emailed you separately about my updated for 2020 version.

Best wishes
Lorraine

16th February 2020

Ashton Lee Hudson

As a digital marketer, press releases continue to play an important role for the brands I work with. Therefore, I hope you don’t mind me referencing your advice in my recent article at https://hudsonsconsultancy.com/blog/how-to-get-backlinks-2020/ .

It would be great if you could also share any advice on distributing press releases and following up with the journalists. I’ve found that this is the area that small businesses in particular struggle with.

18th February 2020

Lorraine Forrest-Turner

Hi Ashton, I’m very flattered that you referenced my post in your ‘How to get quality backlinks in 2020’ article. Your article is excellent and as soon as I have the time to follow your advice, I will! I’m not sure what you meant about sharing advice on press release distribution. Did you mean you’d like me to share your post (as you mention how to distribute press releases) or are you asking for my advice?

18th March 2020

Dhruv Gautam

This is a great post! writing a good press release is the first step to increase your chances of it being published.

The next and equally important step is to ensure you reach out to the right journalists! Wizikey is a tool that allows you to find the most relevant journalists across India for you and connect with them

30th July 2020

Faselis Growth

This step by step post for press release writing is really a good one. From the first point only .. i.e. make sure you have a newsworthy story.. my interest in reading the complete post increased. There is no use of publishing unnecessary press releases. Thanks for the post.

30th July 2020

Lorraine Forrest-Turner

Thank you for your comment, Dhruv, and for the mention of Wizikey. I’m sorry for taking so long to get back to you. For some reason, I didn’t receive a message until today. Best wishes, Lorraine

30th July 2020

Marcus Skaggs

Hi Lorraine,

This is the age of online market and press release is a great way of promoting anything on the internet. I like answering 5 W questions very much. It helps to increase the length of the content. Thank you for the post.

PRO
31st July 2020

Lorraine Forrest-Turner

Thank you Faselis and Marcus for your comments. I updated the post on my website earlier this year, in case you want to read the most recent version. It’s not significantly different. https://www.forrest-turner.co.uk/how-to-write-an-effective-press-release-in-2020/

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