Firstly, what is a press release and what purpose does it serve?
A press release is a written communication that reports specific but brief information about an event, product release, company update or any other newsworthy happenings.
The key point in this description is that, whatever you’re communicating, it must be newsworthy to your desired audience.
The main purpose of a press release is to publicise your client or business and generate meaningful coverage.
For a press release that will convert into coverage, you should aim to stick to the following steps:
1. Target a particular media sector
Like all copy, a press release should be written with a clear target audience in mind. The only difference, in this case, is that you don’t write directly for that target audience – you write for the journalist and tailor it to their readership.
To tailor a press release, sections such as the headline, quote or opening paragraph should be changed to appeal to the different media groups you’re targeting. For example, if you’re releasing a new fitness app, technology journalist will be more interested in how it was developed while lifestyle and fitness journalists will be more interested in its health, fitness and training benefits.
2. Do you have a newsworthy story?
Before you start writing, stop and think about whether you have something new and important to say to your target audience. Would someone outside of your business care about it? If the answer is ‘no’, then hold off and wait for a better story.
It’s not always obvious whether your story is newsworthy. If this is the case, take a minute to read, listen to or watch the kind of stories your target publications typically feature so that you can get a feel for what’s important to them.
If, on the other hand, you can think of a-hundred-and-one things to say, make sure you discipline yourself to recognise where one story ends and the next begins. If you’ve gone over two pages, it’s likely that you’ve got more than two stories – you may end up diluting your strong story with a weaker one!
3. Understand your goals and measure yourself against them
Some press releases are purely informational, used to communicate company news such as a new hire or the latest financial performance figures. These likely won’t have any associated KPIs.
However, in most cases it’s crucial to have a clear goal for every press and that you measure its effectiveness. For example, a press release could be used to gain coverage, increase brand awareness, increase social media following, increase organic traffic to a website, build links and so on.
4. Always write in the third person
You’re writing from the point of view of the client or organisation, and you are not writing to your target audience directly. Therefore, all press releases should be written in the third person.
5. Write a newsworthy headline
The headline is what your targets use to decide whether or not to even bother opening your press release. It needs to be clear, summarise the story and give journalists an incentive to read on. In other words, it needs to give just enough away to pique their interest.
A key point to remember here is that the press release is the message, a journalist will decide how to write up the story for their readers – leave the news story headline to the media’s own headline writers!
For example, here’s a press release headline written by Kristina from our team for a recent piece of content:
Here’s how the Daily Express chose to cover it:
And here’s how Lonely Planet decided to cover it:
6. Use the inverted pyramid structure where you can
The idea behind the inverted pyramid structure is to make it as easy as possible for readers to get the key facts at the very top of the release, while also providing a supporting context where it’s needed.
It works like this:
- A short, clear, incentivised headline telling the media what your story is about
- Paragraph 1: sum up the story in one or two sentences including as much of the newsworthy information as possible – i.e. who? what? why? when? where? how?
- Paragraph 2: this is where you put the story into context – why is it important?
- Paragraph 3: add more detail and analysis
- Paragraph 4: include a relevant quote to add information or opinion
- Paragraph 5: indicate where people can find more information, get involved, buy the product, etc.
- Paragraph 6: company boilerplate, contact information and notes to the editors
7. Write a decent quote
Strong quotes are not only useful for offering an opinion, delivering a marketing message and adding context – they’re often what makes a story compelling by making a natural connection between the topic and the brand.
Remember: the quotes you use don’t necessarily need to be from the CEO, or even from someone within the company issuing the release. Sometimes the quotes that add the most value are those from people outside the company, such as customers or partners.
One size does not fit all – Functionality vs. Creativity
While you can use these tips to help you fill out, structure and measure your press release, the most important thing to keep asking yourself throughout is: is this the best way to communicate my message?
Sometimes a press release really isn’t necessary. You may find that a traditional, more formal press release might get across what you have to say but isn’t in line with your brand or client’s core values and personality. Now more than ever, journalists are looking for the pitches that stand out. What’s to say your method of delivering that message can’t be what makes you different?
If you have a killer press release but are worried about your email getting lost in the mix, why not post it in a creative way? Even if they don’t cover the story, it could get a conversation going that’ll lead to a more fruitful relationship further down the line.
One size does not fit all. Writing press releases is about adapting the message and format to your client and to the journalists and outlets you’re targeting.
You might not nail it first time every time, but that’s okay! Build a targeted media list and allow room for testing, adapting and optimising your message over time.