In this article, I’m going to give you the keys to successfully writing your first press release.
However, before we get started, let me ask you a question:
Are you clear in your mind about what a press release actually is?
If you’re unsure, then let me help you out…
In a nutshell, a press release is a written document that describes in a concise manner (typically 300 to 800 words) a piece of news or an important story. Depending on the content and desired audience, the press release would be sent to local, national or trade press – and perhaps also radio and TV stations.
To give you an example of a basic press release, think of a new café opening on your local High Street. To help promote their opening day and to attract customers to its door, the café could issue a press release telling people about the special offers (or a special guest) they have to welcome their first customers. The press release could also give the story behind the café’s history, as well as sharing details of why their coffee and cakes are not only unique and delicious – but some of the best for miles around!
To give you another example, think of a software firm that is about to release a new time management application. As their product is aimed at small to medium-sized businesses, it would make sense to send a press release to business organisations and business publications. The press release could sell the benefits of using the product, including the valuable time and money savings that businesses could gain from using it.
Of course, press releases come in all shapes and sizes, but the intention is always the same: To let people know about a new event, product, opinion, vision or story.
It’s worth noting that press releases which have unique, fascinating and useful stories to tell, are the most likely to be picked up by the media. They’re also the stories that are most likely to be read, shared and acted on by your desired audience.
Whether you have a business, you’re part of a community group, or even a rock band — a compelling press release could help your organisation to reach new eyes and ears. And this could be the difference between failure and success. After all, if no one knows about what you’re doing, then you’re unlikely to see great results.
So, are you ready to learn the secrets behind writing effective press releases?
If yes, then read on…
Your first press release — getting started
Before your write put pen to paper (or fingers to keys!) ask yourself these questions: Is your story newsworthy? Is it something you believe others would be interested or even excited to read or hear about?
If your answer is yes to both questions, then you’re ready to write your first few words.
Personally, I like to start my press release by creating a short, snappy heading, that neatly sums up the story. For instance, if I was writing a press release about a TV celebrity appearing at a local charity event, I’d probably write something like this:
TV Star Set to Bring in the Crowds at Local Charity Fundraiser
This punchy headline gives just enough information to capture a reader’s interest — but leaves enough out to encourage them to read the whole story.
Once you have a headline that you’re happy with, you’re ready to write the next most important piece: the opening paragraph.
Now, unlike a blog or article that might leave a conclusion to the end; it’s vital with a press release that you summarise the full story in the first paragraph. The reason for doing this is twofold:
You only have a few seconds in which to catch the attention and editor or reporter.
If your story does make it to print, it might only be a few lines long, meaning that an editor will probably just use your opening paragraph.
Now, continuing my TV celebrity example, here’s a sample opening paragraph:
TV comedian Joey Jones will be delighting the crowds in New Town when he appears at the Animal Sanctuary Fundraiser on Saturday 22 February. Joey will give a free talk at 11am on his passion for animal welfare; and will then be available to have photos with members of the public — for a small charge of £5. All money raised will help support the New Town Animal Sanctuary as it looks to expand the valuable services it currently offers.
As you can see from the above, the focal points of the story are all included. So if that’s all an editor uses, then at least the essential elements have been covered.
In my experience, however, editors are likely to use most of your press release (especially online), so it’s well worth adding more information and — if possible — a quote or two.
I’m not going to complete the whole press release, but if I was to do so, then I would include further details about Joey and the Animal Sanctuary, and I would also make sure that the location of the event was clear. On top of this, I would definitely provide a link to either a Facebook page or a webpage that had further information about the event.
In terms of the quotes, this press release would have much more impact and ‘marketability’ if it had a sentence or two from the celebrity. And it certainly wouldn’t harm to have a short quote from the Animal Sanctuary too.
Perhaps something like this…
Charlotte Hayes, Director of New Town Animal Sanctuary, commented:
“We’re thrilled to be welcoming TV comedian Joey Jones to our fundraiser on Saturday 22 February, and we hope as many people come along to the event as possible. Joey has kindly given up his time to help us raise much-needed funds, and we’re sure that his presence will help put the ‘fun’ into our fundraiser!”
As you can hopefully see from the above, just like a photo in a news story, a quote is often the most interesting part for a reader. After all, you get to hear what someone says, thinks and feels.
Of course, don’t go overboard with this — one or two quotes is usually sufficient.
Once you’re happy with your heading, opening paragraph and body text — make sure you have someone else read through them. You’ll be amazed at how easy it is to miss grammar, spelling and formatting errors. To give your press release the best chance of being picked up by an editor, make sure you make it as professional as possible (which means zero errors).
Finally, it’s good practice to include two or three photos with your press release. In the example I’ve used today, I would include a photo of the celebrity, and a couple of photos of the Animal Sanctuary. Just make sure you have permissions to use these.
Your story is waiting to be heard
Before I wrap up this article, I want to give you some additional tips and hints to make sure your first press release will be as compelling as possible.
Let’s start with the format of your press release. Ideally, I would make this a standard Microsoft Word document. Although, it’s also good practice to paste the content of your press release into the body of your covering email. This way, editors and reporters will be able to see at a glance what your story is about — without having to open an attachment.
As for images, I recommend attaching high-quality JPEGs or PNGs, but make sure the total file size is no larger than 4MB. Any larger than this, and your email might not make it through an organisation’s email filtering system.
You should also ensure that your press release includes clear information on how to contact you. Typically, this would be your email address and phone number.
Okay, you’ve completed your press release, and you’re ready to send it out… But who should you send it to?
Well, the trick here is to do some online research. For the Animal Sanctuary story, I would look at local newspapers, as well as local radio and local TV stations. (If you go to their websites, it’s usually easy to find contact details for them.) Additionally, I would send this press release to other local charities, and perhaps national magazines and websites that cover animal welfare stories. Depending on the importance and your story — you could even send it to national newspapers and TV stations.
I hope this article has given you the essentials for writing your first press release, and I also hope it inspires you to take action on this!
Spending time writing and sending out a press release can be a fantastic use of your time. And compared to placing expensive adverts in newspapers and on radio stations — press releases are one of the cheapest forms of advertising available to you. And it gets better… Readers or listeners who come across your story as an editorial piece, are much more likely to be persuaded by it, compared to if they saw a paid ad by you. This is because the majority of us struggle to believe in what most ads claim.
Personally, having written dozens of press releases over the last few years, I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how many of them (approximately 75%) have made it into print, onto radio, and even onto TV. You just need to find the right story, with the right angle, and then send it to the right people.
There’s loads more I could say about writing press releases, so if you have any questions — please drop me a line!