Also known as a media release or news release, the press release is a brief news story usually written by public relations departments for their clients or companies. It’s an excellent way to spread a client’s message through controlled communications. Releases can also be written as a feature story to highlight a less pressing but interesting aspect of a company as soft news. These tips will focus on the most common type of press release, which is written as a hard news story.
While journalism experience is a plus, almost anyone with solid writing skills can compose a professional release and get it off to the right sources. Doing so can raise awareness for your client or company and give them what is essentially free press.
1. Identify the story. What is the release going to be about? Companies usually announce any major changes, successes, innovations, or news that the larger public would be interested in. Press releases are also incredibly valuable in crisis situations. Determine what the actual story is and if it’s newsworthy before stepping into action.
2. Report. This may be as simple as going down the hall to speak with the company president and employees, or could require more in-depth interviewing. Internal stories can usually be covered with company sources, while news that involves other businesses, clients, or publics need a variety of sources. Aim to speak with at least three people to ensure that you have enough quotes, which give the release credibility and vigor.
3. Write. Press releases are typically one page but can run over if the story warrants. Keep it brief and to-the-point, since news organizations will need to be able to read and digest your story quickly to determine if they want to run them or report further. Begin with a concise, informative lead that answers the who, what, when, and where. Structure the article like a hard news story, using the inverted pyramid style. The most important/pertinent information goes at the top of the story (leads are usually followed with the why and how), sprinkled with quotes as needed. Less pressing information is added in order of decreasing relevance so that newspapers, for instance, can simply end an article where space constraints require without missing out on the meat of the story.
4. Format. PR firms and departments usually have unique, formatted documents for their clients that include contact information, a logo or seal, and release date. Most releases are for immediate release and say so with the current date. Less often, releases are embargoed, so the preferred release date is printed. Stories usually begin with a dateline (the city and state), followed by a dash. Paragraphs are short and concise, and quote usually merit a new paragraph.
5. Disseminate to Media Sources. Once the release is written and edited (an unmentioned yet important step!), you need to get it to any media outlets that may have an interest in the story. Local TV and radio stations, newspapers, magazines, and online platforms can all be sent a copy of your release either electronically, by hand, or by mail (though this is not done often due to the time-sensitive nature of most releases). Consider your target audiences and which media sources will reach them. Bombarding news outlets with stories that don’t appeal to their audiences will only make them unwilling to run (or even read) any future stories. By occasionally providing the media with quality, relevant stories, you can build relationships and create valuable contacts.
6. Be Available. While some media outlets will run a press release as-is, many will re-write it, edit it, or send a reporter to gather their own interviews and write an original article. Ensure that the contact person listed on the release (if it isn’t you) is available and easy to contact. They should also be well-informed about the story and able to clearly communicate the client or company’s key message. The goal of a release is positive, productive, and controlled media attention.