So you find yourself launching a new product, receiving an award, or hosting a community event. Great! But how will you get the word out? Well my friend, it’s time to turn to a time-honored traditional tool of every business: the press release. If you’ve never written one before, now’s the time to learn how to write your first press release!
No business is too small to write a press release. As long as your business is doing something significant or with an impact, it’s worthy of a press release. Press releases help reporters gather information about what you’re doing and can give a story direction. They’re a great way to grab some publicity and attention for your business. Did we mention it’s free?
If you just need a refresher on press release format, scroll down to the “A Press Release Example” section. However, I highly recommend you read this entire guide. This guide is great for first timers to learn how to write their first press release. However, even old veterans will be able to learn a few new tricks.
Let’s look at the basics of writing press releases. Here’s a basic outline of this guide to help you navigate:
- Is it News?
- A Press Release Example
- The Headline
- The Dateline
- The Body
- The First Paragraph
- Using Quotations
- Ending Strongly with a Call to Action
- The About Section
- Contact Information
- Ending the Release with ###
- Distributing Your Release
- What to Include with Your Release
Is it News?
First up: is your story newsworthy? If it isn’t something notable, interesting, different, or new then it isnt worth writing a press release for. A slight change to one of your products or your hiring of a receptionist doesn’t qualify as news. Remember your audience and write for them. Your press release should be relevant, attention-worthy, and notable for the audience you are trying to reach.
Here’s some possible ideas for press release material:
- Your business wins an award or is recognized for achieving something
- Your business is acquiring, merging with, partnering with, or jointly pursuing something with another company
- Your business is inviting the community to an event that you are hosting
- Your employees are all volunteering as a group to do some good deeds and representing your company
- You are launching a new product, service, releasing a major upgrade, or making a major change to your existing products
- You are hiring/firing/changing the executive leadership in your business
- You are successful in serving a major firm/customer
- Financial results–usually only public companies announce this because they are required to by law
- Anything that will have a significant impact on your community
Considering Press Release Timing
Think about when you want the press release to be published. Do you want your press release to appear immediately, right now, in the news? Or do you want the press release to be published after a specific date? Consider the impact that news released too soon could have. Do you want a new product to be announced before you even begin manufacturing? Do you want news of a major deal to be announced before negotiations are even finished? When you learn how to write your first press release, timing is one of the most important considerations to take into account.
If the press release is for immediate publication put the following at the top of your release (without the quotation marks, of course):
You can also use “FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE.” Either one is fine.
If you don’t want it to be published until a specific date:
“EMBARGOED UNTIL” (date you want your release published)
If you put neither of these publication guidelines at the top of your release, journalists will assume your release is for immediate release.
Keep in mind that news organizations are in competition with each other and prone to human vices. There’s no law that keeps them from disregarding your embargo. Generally, reporters will respect the embargo on a release to keep sources sending them information, but there’s always the overambitious one or two.
Also consider the schedule the reporters are on. News organizations receive the most press releases in the beginning of the week, Monday and Tuesday. If you send it later in the week, you have a higher chance of getting read and published. However, also understand that reporters are on deadlines. If you want your release published by a certain date, make sure you get it in before the deadline. News organizations will sometimes display this information on their websites. Magazines and features in newspapers will have deadlines far in advance of publication. Smaller, shorter stories will have deadlines closer to publication. Research and plan accordingly.
This is also where it pays to cultivate relationships with reporters, whether through face-to-face meetings, social media, or email. Reporters will be much less likely to throw your press release in the trash if you aren’t some anonymous person–another page in a stack of press releases. Also consider using HARO, a free resource that lets you Help a Reporter Out (HARO) by giving them sources/quotes for articles they’re writing.
Learning how to write your first press release is easy!
One of the best ways to learn how to write your first press release is to look at an example. Let’s start with an example of a standard press release, then we’ll break it down in the following sections.
Soggy Chips Inc. Honors Unusual Delicacy with 2nd Annual Soggy Chip Awards
October 13, 2011 – San Jose, CA – Soggy Chips Inc., a provider of soggy chip products, announced the 2nd Annual Soggy Chip Awards will be taking place in San Jose, CA on November 14th, 2011. The event will honor the best fan created soggy chip creations in a competition judged by local culinary experts. The competition is being held to to decide who will create Soggy Chips Inc. newest flavor.
“Why shouldn’t fans from around the world have the chance to create their own soggy chip creations?” said Bod Logan, CEO of Soggy Chips Inc., “We are proud of our strong, enthusiastic fans who every day make our moist potato products the inspiration we know them to be. With this competition, we will once again give back to our Soggy Chip community while letting one lucky person decide our newest flavor!”
The 2nd Annual Soggy Chip Awards will be held at the San Jose fairgrounds on Monday, November 14th, 2011, from 9AM-7PM. The event will include the following core events:
- Soggy Chip Creation Competition
- Soggy Chip themed rides
- Soggy Chip waterslides
- Bobbing for Chips Competition
- Queen and King of the Soggy Chip Awards
- Uncrunchy Parade Extravaganza
- Multiple booths, vendors, and games
- And much, much more!
Those who want more information or are interested in becoming a contestant can sign up online at www.whowantstobeasoggychipper.com.
About Soggy Chips Inc.
Soggy Chips Inc. is the world’s premier provider of moist potato snacks and products. Soggy Chips portfolio of products includes Soggy Monster, Sogs n’ Bogs, and Marinated Nachos. The company was founded in 1947 with an idea and a passion. Today, the company is dedicated to increasing the world’s happiness through the creation and distribution of The World’s Least Crunchy Snack (TM).
What’s in a title?
Everything. If you remember even one thing about how to write your first press release, remember how important the title is.
Your title will have the biggest influence on whether readers choose to keep reading or skip your press release. Make sure it captures the essence of your release and utilizes the key words in your story. Try to make it exciting and catchy–entice the reader to read on. Don’t make them guess about what your press release is about. Don’t make it too long either; focus on each word having purpose and meaning.
Put effort into the headline. It’s the single most important sentence in your entire press release.
A good tip is to leave the headline for after you’ve finished writing the main body of your press release. After you finish writing, you’ll have a good handle on what your release is about and the key terms that should be in the title. Here’s a simple process you can use for writing it:
- Figure out the key words in your press release
- Build the headline around those key words
- Get feedback and revise
For example, let’s say you just wrote a press release about your company opening a new office in a Chicago. After reading through the release, you determine that the most important words in the release are “new office,” “opening,” and “Chicago.” Those words will form the core of your headline. Here’s how it looks so far:
“Monsters Inc. Opening New Office in Chicago”
Now you need to add something to catch a reader’s attention. Think about what your audience is concerned about. Many people are concerned about the economy, specifically jobs, so lets focus on that:
“Monsters Inc. Creates 200 Jobs in Chicago with Opening of New Office”
Notice how the part that is more relevant to the reader is at the beginning of the sentence. You want the reader’s attention first, then you can tell them your news. Remember that people think about what’s important to themselves first. A job opportunity is clearly more important to the reader than your new office, so highlight that first. Also notice how specific the headline is with “200 Jobs.” Generally, being specific is much more attention grabbing.
Remember that the most useful tool in writing is the delete button. Doing more with less equals powerful writing.
As a side benefit, using the key words in both your headline and the main body of the press release helps optimize your writing for search engines. Higher visibility and rankings in the age of Google is always a good thing.
Start with the date and location. Before you begin writing your body paragraphs, remember that it’s expected you put the date the press release is being issued and the location of where the press release is being issued from. This is called the dateline.
It should look something like this:
October 12, 2011 – Sunnyvale, CA – Here’s the first sentence of the press release blah blah blah blah…
Some key things to keep in mind when writing the text of your release:
- Keep it short. 1-2 pages or 400-600 words is ideal. Journalists are a busy bunch.
- Be objective. Write in the third person and minimize adjectives, exaggerations, and marketing speak. Journalists aim for objectivity–make their job easier.
- Write for the audience of the publication. Don’t assume the reporter knows as much as you about your business/industry. Don’t use buzzwords. Try to use common terms over industry specific ones. Keep your explanations simple and easy to understand for the average audience member of the news outlet.
- Don’t be boring. Use shocking facts, interesting points, and strong words. Don’t write so it sounds dry and academic. Be objective, but don’t bore the reader. That speaks to the next point–
- Use quotations. Quotations break up the dry third person facts presented in your release with a human element. There’s no need to be objective in a quotation, it’s obviously biased towards a specific person’s viewpoint and that’s exactly what makes it more exciting. It’s a real person speaking to the reader.
- Use bullet points. Would you prefer to read long, confusing paragraphs or a short list that gets to the point? Bullet points make your press release easier to read and quick to understand. Considering using one when you have to present multiple facts, talk about different features of a new product, tell about the major parts of an event, or some other complex thing that can be broken down into pieces.
- Use hyperlinks. Many press releases are published online. Take advantage of online publication by including a link to your company website or to your product/event/whatever-your-release-relates-to page. At the very least, include a link to your company’s page the first time you mention it and in the contact information. These links can help drive interested people to learn more and become your customers.
How long should your press release be? It should have as many paragraphs as necessary, but no more. Think about what you want to express first. What are your main points? Generally, people are only able to keep track of three things at a time. Taking an example from the military, a squad is composed of 3 people and a commanding officer. The Army once experimented with adding an additional person to a squad, but this made each squad a lot less effective. Why? The Army found that people focus best if they only need to keep track of 3 things.
Write to the point. Use bullet points where it will enhance understanding. Focus on using nouns and verbs instead of adjectives and adverbs. Be specific, don’t use vague terms and sentences. It’s the mark of strong, clear writing. Make sure each word has a purpose. Check that each sentence actually contributes something to the press release. Writing short, easy to understand text is a difficult skill to master. If you aren’t great at it, find someone who is.
A classic book on writing well is Strunk and White’s Elements of Style. Consider buying a copy online or borrowing one from the local library. Here’s 11 helpful pieces of wisdom from the book:
- Choose a suitable design and stick to it.
- Make the paragraph the unit of composition.
- Use the active voice.
- Put statements in positive form.
- Use definite, specific, concrete language.
- Omit needless words.
- Avoid a succession of loose sentences.
- Express coordinate ideas in similar form.
- Keep related words together.
- In summaries, keep to one tense.
- Place the emphatic words of a sentence at the end.
The First Paragraph
Why am I devoting an entire section to the first paragraph? Because it’s that important. Besides the headline, the first paragraph is the most important part of the press release. Readers and reporters will know, after reading the first paragraph, whether they want to continue reading or not.
The first paragraph needs to answer these 5 key questions:
- Who is this news about?
- What is this news about?
- Where does this news take place?
- When does this news take place
- Why is this news happening?
- How is this news happening?
Here’s an example:
“Sam’s Boxes (who) is announcing the nationwide in major retailers (where) launch of a new 8×8 folding cardboard box product line (what) in October (when). Sam’s Boxes is launching the new line to help business owners everywhere load more products in every box, leading to reduced total packaging and shipping costs (why). The new line was developed after extensive conversations with customers, research, and testing (how).”
In this example, every question is addressed. Sam’s Boxes is who the release is about, the launch of a new product line is what is happening, nationwide is where it is taking place, and October is when the launch is happening. Also included are reasons why and how the product launch is happening. The reader knows all the key details after reading the first paragraph of the press release.
Quotations can help humanize your press release and add interest. Journalists also love using quotations whenever they write an article on your release–it saves them the work of a follow-up interview. If there’s one part they will take from your release, it’ll be the quotations.
Remember that one quotation is good, but two is better.
Quotations should generally be from someone who is responsible or in charge for what the press release is about. For example, the program or product manager are great targets for quoting when launching a new product. The CEO is always a good choice–people love to hear leaders, people with power, speak about something.
Consider adding a quote from someone important in the community if its something that affects the community as a whole. A business event that fosters citywide development would benefit from a quotation by a head of the Chamber of Commerce or even the Mayor. A company sponsored fundraiser to battle cancer would benefit from a quote by the local cancer awareness groups. The key is to make your quotation relevant to what your press release is about. You could even quote a customer or industry peer who is excited about your news. The additional point of view help add legitimacy to your press release, showing that it isn’t just your company yelling about itself.
Make sure to include titles and names when you quote someone. Here’s an example:
“I sure do enjoy a good glass of lemonade,” said Bobby Brewski, VP of Tasting, “Almost as much as I enjoy our new product, Lemon-Paid. With our new Lemon-Paid product, customers can enjoy all the benefits of paying with lemons. Since 2006, our company’s mission has been to make lemons a viable currency and with this release we are making good on that promise.”
Quotations don’t need to be long; a few sentences will do. The quotations also don’t need to actually be said by the person being quoted, but they should be reviewed and approved by him/her. Try to illustrate something positive about your company in the quotation. The quotation should have value by adding more information or explaining something.
Ending Strongly with a Call to Action
You’ve finished explaining your news in just a few artfully crafted and concise paragraphs. Your readers and the reporter understand everything in the press release.
You want to keep the momentum going. Don’t leave your readers guessing what to do next. End your press release strongly with a strong call to action that tells the reader what to do. For example, if your press release is about an event, tell them how they can find more information and register for the event. If you’re release a new product, put a link to the product information page and tell your readers how they can purchase it. Publishing a report or research findings? Tell them where they can get the full version of it.
Here’s an example for a press release announcing a partnership venture between two businesses that are opening stores together:
“For more information on the Salt Co. and Pepper LLC partnership and to find your closest store location, visit www.saltnpepper.com or call 1-800-SALT-PEP. The new Salt and Pepper Ventures website will offer special deals and promotions to visitors during the grand opening.”
This paragraph tells the reader what to do next–find their closest store and go to the Salt and Pepper website to find more information. Also notice how a sense of urgency was added by enticing readers with a special offer. You don’t have to do that with every press release, but when you want to pressure readers to act you can combine your call to action with an offer. The reader feels like they are getting something; there’s a reward for action.
The About Section
In a separate section at the end of your press release, you want to write a short paragraph or two about your business. Tell them who you are, what you do, who you serve, some history, etc. This helps readers unfamiliar with your company to learn about who you are and why they should listen to what you’re saying. This section helps put a face to your business and lends some authority to your message.
Title this section “About (Name of your company).” It should look something like this:
“Blah blah blah last sentence of your press release.
Omniglobal is a leading provider of omniglobal pieces and parts. Omniglobal’s mission is to be the worlds biggest omniglobal supplier for technology companies worldwide. The company was founded in…”
If you have a website with an About Us section already, it should be fairly easy to convert it into a short description of your business, what it does, and any other useful information. You don’t need to write too objectively in this section–people expect the About section to be from the company’s perspective. Feel free to speak proudly about your company. You could also copy the description used in your promotional materials to stay consistent across your communications with the public.
All press releases should have contact information for your company listed at the end. Nearly all companies also list the contact information for the company’s public relations professional or person designated to deal with the media. For many small businesses there won’t be a specific person whose job is dealing with public relations. In those cases, you should designate someone (preferably someone involved in the press release writing process) to be the media contact. If you’re a one person operation, you’ll have to volunteer yourself as the media contact.
You can titled this section “Contact” or “Contact Information.” At a minimum, you should list a name and an email. The standard information in the contact section is a name, email, and phone number. If you want more then one person to handle questions, you can include more then one person’s contact information. Make sure you will be able to answer calls at the phone number listed; you don’t want to miss out on a front page writeup because you missed the reporter’s calls.
Here’s an example:
Feel free to put a link to your company’s website in the contact information. It’s another way for people to contact you.
Ending the Release with ###
The standard way to signal the end of your press release is to put three pound signs at the end, like so:
This goes after the contact information section. Congratulations, you’re done learning how to write your first press release!
Distributing Your Release
Now that you know how to write your first press release, write one and get it out there! But what do you do with it to “get it out there?” You need to get it out to the media.
Contacting reporters directly can be effective, especially if you want them to write an in-depth article on your business. Look through directories for the organizations they work for. Usually, reporters list some way to contact them on the articles they write. However, remember to be selective. Only invest time into reporters who write about things highly related to your business.
When you send them your release, you’ll need to “pitch” your story idea. Try to be natural, human, and friendly. The shorter, the better. Reporters want to know, within the first paragraph, whether they should write a story or not on your subject. Try to boil down your release into a paragraph. Include the reason why you think the publication’s audience will be interested in your story–make their job easier. Remember, the close your story fits with their audience, the more likely they will be to publish your story.
The best way to pitch a story to a stranger is to eliminate the strangeness. Try to build a relationship with a reporter before you pitch them a story. Whether talking to them over Twitter, Facebook, commenting on their blog, or sending them actual snail mail with a well-written response to one of their articles, having a relationship beforehand makes your story pitch stand out in a mountain of emails. Don’t forget about HARO either.
Press relationships are long and nuanced, like investor or cofounder relationships. ‘Spamming’ our contacts with frequency turns our big milestones into noise rather than signal.
Trust me, you do NOT want to get a rep as a player here.
To seal the deal, you’ve got to establish that you’re legit, by cementing:
1. Your reputation
2. Your product’s reputation
(or vice versa)
3. A relationship with editors
4. A relationship with anyone who has relationships with editors (ie your investors should be an excellent source here and willing to recommend you personally to a reporter/journalist/blogger/editor)
Be sincere in your email, try to make it a conversation between two people, not a nameless entity and a reporter. Give them something–make your story something of value. And don’t forget to include your personal contact information.
With top tier reporters, it doesn’t hurt to do a follow up phone call to ensure they have received your release.
There are also press release syndication services that automatically spread your press release across multiple news organizations. They come in both paid and free varieties. The paid varieties usually include more features (analytics, targeting, tracking) and greater distribution, but that doesn’t mean using a free press release distribution service is useless. You still receive a good deal of exposure.
Here’s a short list of some press release distribution services:
Free (Paid Options Available)
What to Include with Your Release
I will once again defer to Jen McCabe of Habit Labs. She has an excellent strategy and system for categorizing how important your news is and what to include with it when you send it to the press.
Basically, you determine how important the news is and based on that importance, you decide how much effort you put and how many ways you push the news across. Making the job easier for the reporter is the goal for really important releases. Make it easy by including sources you can contact, how it relates to stories they’ve written, broad trends that are hot in the media, photographs of key people in your company, relevant photos of the release, etc.
Anyway, onto Jen’s advice:
At Habit Labs, we use a “3 Level” tiered approach to press/PR of any kind.
When we have a product relaunch (or substantial redesign, ie a new ‘version’), for example, it warrants Level 1 coverage.
There are three tiers of product news (and I’m separating this from ‘company’ news which includes merger, new hires, partnership announcements, and funding/revenue milestones):
1. New feature/s
2. New version (ie what we’re discussing here)/relaunch huge pivot but same company
3. New product entirely; company rename, etc.
Level 1 warrants ‘internal’ and ‘friend’ press:
1. Blog post(s) by Habit Labbers
3. Friends’ blogs
4. RT/push requests to industry friends
5. *maybe 1-2 smaller tech press mentions but unlikely
Level 2 warrants ‘smaller’ tech press and maybe investor/partner coverage:
1. Blog post(s) by partners (ie devices etc), new hires, corporations if that type of partnership
2. Internal blog post(s) by Habit Labbers
4. RT/push requests to industry friends
5. 2 pieces of smaller coverage; 1 ‘larger issues’ piece or interview; don’t need embargo date but have target date
Level 3 warrants an APB (“all points bulletin”) press approach, like the merger efforts:
1. Blog post(s) by Habit Labbers
3. Active press targeting and outreach by Jen (email)
4. Compose ‘bigger issues/story ideas’ doc to send
5. Compose press release (‘official’) to send with embargo date (ie we set target for publication)
6. RT/push requests to industry friends
7. 4 pieces of larger coverage; 2 ‘larger issues’ pieces or interviews
8. Moving forward, pick ‘exclusive’ tech sources for each type of larger news (product goes to RWW or TC, local/team goes to GeekWire, etc)
For Level 3 coverage, I send editors and reporters the following:
1. Personal intro email. Vary copy slightly each time.
2. Embargo date/’go live’
3. “Official” (read: boring) press release with all the meaty stuff no one reads – usually
4. A ‘big issues’ Google doc (converted to PDF) with stories related to hot trends in our sector – including suggested headlines and additional sources and their company names whom I can reach out and invite to be quoted and participate (and can count upon to do so)
5. A Google doc (converted to PDF) with our pre-event press (including blog coverage, other tech coverage, quotes from investors, screenshots of user tweets, etc)
6. Closing graph with some rough timeline of when we’ll be doing the NEXT Level 1 coverage event, and that I will reach out to them – “let me know if you want to cover that?”
Another thing you’ll notice is the goals she sets. It’s a good idea to have goals for what kind of coverage you want. Do you want just one big feature piece on a respected publication? A writeup in the local news? Maybe both, plus coverage by a popular blogger? Of course, most people want as much coverage as possible, but try to be realistic. Being covered in the local news plus industry specific publications is a good starting point. It doesn’t hurt to dream of being written up in the New York Times or featured on CNN either.
Goals helps you measure your results. Measuring results helps you see what worked, what didn’t, and for who. Keep improving and learning by understanding your performance. Public relations is a business function for a reason.
Sources and Useful References: