How to write an effective press release

Lorraine Forrest-Turner

Lorraine Forrest-Turner


In the age of digital marketing, social media and short attention spans, it’s tempting to think that the press release has had its day. Not so.

Whether organisations send press releases to the media, stick them on their website or simply use them to ensure a consistent message across the business, the well-written press release is still one of the most useful communication tools.

So what exactly is a press release? And how do you write a good one?

What is a press release?

It’s important to know that while organisations use press releases to promote their goods and services, they’re not adverts. In fact, 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 written in the third person and given to the media to encourage editors/journalists/broadcasters to feature the story in their publications and programmes.

They can also be published on the originator’s website and in company magazines and newsletters. In these instances, the style is often changed from the third to the first person.

Step-by-step guide to writing a press release


1. Make sure 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 at the moment, you can’t just write about its benefits as you would in an ad or brochure.

You (or your client) need to find a newsworthy angle.

Ask yourself why would people be interested in this product/service/business now? What’s new or different? What’s happened to make it newsworthy?

2. Target a particular 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.

3. Answer the six W questions

Every press release should answer the six W questions (or more accurately, five Ws and one H) – who, what, where, when, why and how.

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

  • Who: Maidstone Cars
  • What: sponsoring Maidstone book festival and giving visitors a chance to win a new BMW 3 Series
  • Where: the town hall in Maidstone
  • When: 3 September
  • Why: supporting the arts, a local bookshop, local writers and book lovers
  • How: 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 can 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
  • Paragraph 1: sums up the entire story in one or two sentences
  • Paragraph 2: puts story in context – why it’s important
  • Paragraph 3: presents details – who’s involved, how it came about, etc.
  • Paragraph 4: includes a relevant quote to add information, credibility and/or opinion
  • Paragraph 5: 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. Leave the resulting news story headline to the media’s own headline writers.

The following examples illustrate what I mean. The first version is too ambiguous. The second makes it clear what the story is about.

Ambiguous: Football crazy

Clear: Real Madrid signs Bale for record 100 million euros

Ambiguous: How green is our valley

Clear: Thames Valley Police wins environmental award

Ambiguous: Pitch perfect

Clear: John Hampden Grammar opens new synthetic turf pitch

So for our Maidstone Cars story, some headlines we might use are:

Maidstone Cars supports local arts scene

Maidstone Cars gives book festival visitors chance to win BMW 3 Series

Maidstone Cars funding keeps town book festival going

Ideally, you want your headline to say ‘someone/something does something worthwhile’.

6. Write in the third person

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

Also, you are not writing the story that might appear in the paper. You are 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 the story in the opening paragraph

The opening paragraph complements the headline by giving a fuller explanation of what the story is about. The skill is in getting 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.

8. Put the story into context

If you think of the first paragraph as ‘who is doing/has done what’, 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 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 have to be included.)

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 decent quote

Too many quotes are put into press releases 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 also 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

Lorraine Forrest-Turner also runs training courses on writing effective press releases.


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?

13th November 2017

Lorraine Forrest-Turner

Thanks Monica – I aim to please. 🙂

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!

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 L 🙂

9th June 2018

Saqib mehraj

Wow thank you

9th June 2018

Lorraine Forrest-Turner

Thanks Saqib 🙂

25th June 2018


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.

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.

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

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

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

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 .

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

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