Even those who don’t quite understand public relations have heard of a press release. In fact, when discussing my job as a publicist I have been asked numerous times if I mostly “talk on the phone a lot and send out press releases.” Not exactly that, but a press release is an important component of a PR campaign. Now before you left-brainers start to tune out because you think you can’t write a press release or that it isn’t a necessary document, let me point out two things:

  1. Press releases follow a general formula, and once you get the hang of it they are actually quite easy to write.
  2. You will absolutely want a press release for big news. There’s no getting around it!

A press release, also referred to as a news release, is a written document announcing news provided to members of the press with the goal of securing favorable media coverage. The release should contain all information needed to develop a story along with a quote from a company spokesperson, which can be used as a soundbite if an interview doesn’t take place.

You might be wondering why an entire document is needed to announce news, instead of just writing a brief pitch or explaining your announcement in a few paragraphs. It is true that a well-written pitch is a great way to get a reporter’s interest, but once that reporter begins working on a story, you will be asked more and more questions, including the smaller details not included in a pitch. A pitch tends to be more top-line than a press release, designed to pique the reporter’s interest—but we will cover this in my next blog post.

Try as you might to avoid writing a press release, you will find that eventually you’ll need to communicate all the information contained within one, and you will look much more polished and professional if you have one that is well written. So, why not just start with the release to begin with? Also, you can distribute your press release via an online wire service and share it on your website, so the document will ultimately serve multiple purposes.

Remember: News Begins With New!

Surprisingly, the writing itself isn’t always the most challenging aspect of a press release; what seems to stump many people is the topic. I’ve seen many releases that aren’t relevant or important, like: “Our accounting department’s assistant received his CPR certification!” I’ve also come across missed opportunities for media coverage, like a startup that secured $1 million in funding and didn’t write a press release to alert the media (assuming they didn’t mind letting the world know). I know that we starters walk a fine line when promoting our own endeavors and want to appear confident without being cocky. But when something newsworthy happens, you need to spread the word. A good rule of thumb is to remember that the first three letters of the word “news” is “new.” New clients, new partnerships, new product launches, and new hires are all topics worthy of a press release.

Also, achieving any milestones, such reaching as sales goal or customer targets, should warrant a release. If you followed my advice from my first post on startup PR,  you should already be consuming content from the media outlets you’re targeting and have an idea of what is considered “news” in your marketplace. But, don’t feel you need to create a release just to have one by recycling old news (remember, new is the key!) or trying to pump up something that really isn’t newsworthy with excessive adjectives and buzzwords. If you oversaturate your media contacts with less than worthy press releases, chances are they won’t be too keen on hearing from you when you actually have news worth sharing. Sometimes, you might not have any news to put out and that’s okay, too.

The Press Release Puzzle

Ultimately, a press release is simply several components placed together in a particular order. I’ve found that when people break up the writing of a press release in this way, it is much easier to draft—even for those of you who are thinking, “I can’t write!” (Don’t pretend that didn’t cross your mind. It’s okay, I have a similar conversation with my CFO each week regarding math!).

Your press release should contain the following information:

  1. Press contact information (i.e. who the media should call with questions or interview requests).
  2. Release date—or, if you want to send it out early in hopes to secure coverage on the same day your release is distributed, you can note that it is “under embargo” until a specific date and the media will not publish the news until the embargo expires.
  3. A headline summarizing the most important information contained within, written to catch the reader’s interest.
  4. A sub-headline or summary of anything else noteworthy or supporting.
  5. A dateline with the city, state, and release date (the city marks where the news originates from, most likely where your headquarters are based).
  6. An introductory paragraph that captures the most important aspect and any pressing details.
  7. Body paragraphs that further support your news.
  8. A spokesperson quote.
  9. A boiler plate with corporate information (mission statement, website, year founded, achievements, etc.).

You can find examples of press releases online that are worth looking at to give you an idea of how they should flow. Here is a general outline showing you what the key components will look like and where they all go—consider this a press release puzzle already put together for you:

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A Hard Working Asset

You will soon find that a solid press release can become your new best friend because of what it can help you achieve. Once your press release is written, it is time to put it to work; you should consider distributing it broadly through a wire service that will send it out to thousands of media outlets. Depending on your budget, you can either use a paid (PR Newswire and BusinessWire) or free service (PRLog or 24-7 Press Release), though be aware: the free services will prompt you to purchase upgrades for better exposure (I have found many of these can be helpful if they are within your budget’s reach). But don’t rely just on a distribution service; you will also want to pitch your news to media, consider posting the press release on your own website (if you have a news section), or share it with employees or customers when relevant.

Now, it’s time to put pen to paper—or rather, fingers to keyboard—and start writing that press release. If you don’t feel you have significant news right now, try practicing with an upcoming milestone you plan to achieve. Once you get used to the formula, you will find that writing press releases isn’t so hard. And once you get your first taste of media success as a result, you might actually like it! Hold on to your release until next time, when I return with tips on how to best pitch your release to turn it into media coverage gold.