How do you write a press release?

April 4, 2019

Press releases are not news.

The best press releases read like invitations for a news story rather than the news story itself. They include enough information that can be used “as is” for a short news brief and yet also hint at bigger features.

Remember that bloggers, journalists and other influencers are creators. Keep it simple so that the people using your press release have room to make the story their own.”

Some companies use press releases and blog posts interchangeably, but I recommend keeping the two types of communication separate.

Every press release contains 10 elements

To make it easy on a journalist, make sure that every press release contains 10 elements:

the traditional

  • who,
  • what,
  • when,
  • where, and
  • why, that any news story contains

plus:

  • at least one good quote,
  • a contact person for the journalist to talk to if they need more information,
  • a date for publication,
  • good audiovisuals and
  • a clear delineation between public information and private information for the journalist to use.

Public and Private Portions

Press releases include two parts: a public portion and a private portion. The public portion can and should be used as a news brief. The private portion includes information that helps build a relationship with the author of the press release and the news media, bloggers or other influencers. Press releases that provide enough information for creators to do a bigger story build trust.

Unlike all other written material, writers of press releases want the public portion of their press releases to be copied as is. These items are the single exception to the plagiarism rule. They enter the public domain immediately.

Publishing the private portions of press releases, however, breaks trust. Journalists who release stories before an embargo time, or publish the names of media contacts to the general public won’t get access to press releases in future.

Who

Who are you and why should a journalist believe you? Who does the news your press release features affect?

These are the two who elements that go into the private and public portions of press releases.

Who are you and why should a journalist believe you?

Press releases must clearly come from a credible source.

Business letterhead from a registered company helps make this clear, especially if it includes a public address, public websites, director names and public registration numbers so a journalist can check who runs the company, who owns the property it uses and other such tests of credibility.

Creators, solopreneurs and students without business letterhead can establish credibility by linking to published work or providing a CV or resume for further information.

Who does your news affect?

The public title or first line of a news release should make it clear whether the news affects a single person, a collective or a group of people in the wider public.

Later in the press release, you’ll outline who else is involved in your story. If you quote others, provide clear source information so that a journalist can follow up easily. Consider a joint press release to save journalists time.

Make sure that your press release format doesn’t raise more questions than it answers.

What

Why should the public care about your news?

Make sure your press release makes the public interest clear.

Journalists serve the public interest first. They’re looking to inform, entertain and inspire readers. They don’t aim to improve shareholder value; they don’t want to help private companies sell products; and they don’t want to start trends, even if that sometimes happens. Think of news as accurate gossip. Describe your story the same way you’d tell it to your next door neighbour.

When

Make sure the date and time of your news is extremely clear. Include the year please. Press releases have a sneaky habit of reappearing after they’re stale.

If your news covers multiple times and dates, it’s worth including a full list. We all make mistakes with dates and times. Check the calendar twice.

Where

List the full address with rooms and directions as necessary.

Yes, these days many of us have smart phones, but our applications don’t always steer us properly. The CBC building in Montreal, for example, has an official address of 1400 Boulevard René-Lévesque East. If you’re driving there, however, using the address 1058 Rue Wolfe instead will prevent you from getting lost.

Why

Why is your news important now? Where is the urgent need to inform the public? Why should people think about this issue now? The media cover the present. You can write a press release about something in the past or future as long as you clearly identify why people need to learn about it now.

Quotes

Include one or many good quotes from experts to show the human side of your news. Ideally, you’ll quote the person who cares most so that the public will also care.

Journalist Contact

Provide an email, text and mobile phone number for a person that a journalist can interview about the story. They’re on deadline. Make sure that someone can be reached.

Date for publication

Journalists love to know about stories before they can be made public. Tell them the date that they can publish by saying something like: “for immediate release” or “embargoed until 10 a.m. on Thursday, April 4, 2019.”

Good Audiovisuals

Provide high definition photos, audio or videos via link to an online folder or using a USB key.

Public/Private Delineation

Make sure your press release separates the public portion from the private portion clearly. I use the old-fashioned  -30- from the telegraph days, but others use hash tags or a private note.

Sample Press Releases

I love Blue Met’s press releases. They’re never more than a page and they include everything you need without too much. Most of them aren’t public, but here’s one that’s on their website about the appointment of their board chair.

Santropol Roulant, a local non-profit, has wonderfully-clear press releases. See the one about their new elevator here.

The Canadian Alliance on Mental Health also produces very clear press releases, something that’s got to be a challenge considering how many partners they have. Check out their latest local champion award winners here.

Public companies have to be very careful to make sure that their press releases fulfill public market regulations as well as informing people. CP Rail makes the most complicated news easy to read. Check out their latest debt offering.

Templates

I think press releases are better when you just answer the questions above clearly, but many templates for news releases exist, including those by CanadaOne, Coschedule, Forbes, Hubspot, and  Wikihow.

 

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Tracey Arial

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Tracey Arial

Tracey Arial helps Canadians grow with notable nonfiction and urban agriculture.

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