Earned Media: How to write a press release

In our last post, we looked at how to pitch a targeted story to a journalist. Sometimes, however, you will want to reach a larger audience of journalists without writing targeted emails to each and every one. This is when you will want to use a press release.

A press release is a generic statement issued to the media. In general today, this will be an emailed statement which includes a headline, subheading, a few paragraphs of text (often including a quotation), and contact details for journalists interested in more information.

The advantage of a press release over a targeted email pitch is that it allows you to get your message out to more journalists. If your announcement is genuinely newsworthy, this means wider coverage for your organisation in more media outlets. The disadvantage is that, by being less tailored, journalists may be less likely to write about it, or even read it. This makes getting it right all the more important.

Many of the same rules for writing pitches apply when you’re writing a press release. Journalists can receive over a hundred press release each day. Your press release needs to be suitably eye-catching, succinct and compelling for a journalist to open the email, read it through, and hopefully write something on it.

An attention grabbing headline, which should also be in the subject line of the email, is therefore vital. Without it, your email may find its way to a journalist’s bin unopened. A good headline is concise, eye-catching and conveys the most pertinent information in a compelling way.

A good rule of thumb when writing the body of a press release is: the shorter the better. The first paragraph should contain the most interesting and important information, with subsequent paragraphs providing additional relevant and useful detail. Keep your paragraphs short – in most cases a couple of sentences is fine.

It is usually a good idea to include a media-friendly quotation from a notable figure in your organisation. This adds some colour for journalists, and is a chance to add to the (hopefully) positive slant of the final piece. As with every other element, keep any quotations short, sharp and to the point.

You can close out your release with a separate section including a short description of your organisation or initiative, and if necessary other relevant background information. Keep this to a minimum, and be sure to include an email address and phone number so that journalists can follow up if they are interested in getting more information.

A final note: always include your press release in the body of an email, never send it as an attachment – otherwise, you can be sure it will never be opened.