Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ll agree when I say that writing press releases is a tough task. Rather than offering something potentially helpful, like you would with a landing page, for instance, you’re asking for a favor. And most people just don’t do favors without some type of personal gain.
It’s no wonder most entrepreneurs loathe the task, and actively hand it off to outsourced freelance copywriters who although capable, also dislike the task.
This 1-2 page document shares news about your business with the press, and essentially presents journalists with information they can then use to write news articles. Unless it’s actually newsworthy, it’s a waste of time for them to read it, thereby making your request for publicity obsolete.
On one hand, you have to ensure you provide enough juicy detail in there to capture journalists attention, otherwise they won’t care about the press release…
But on the other, you have to leave out just enough detail that promotes an air of mystery. You want to be approached by the media outlets, you want them to ask you further questions and get the remaining detail from you. It’s how they can craft better pieces, which in turn provides you with better exposure.
Tack onto that the careful balance of skilled writing and clear language use and you have yourself a surmountable task. Talk about working for a conversion rate!
The good news is that this is a one-stop shop resource guaranteed to break down the strategy, and make you a better press release writer.
Let’s go over everything in detail, so you can pat yourself on the back sooner than later.
The When & Why of Press Releases
Much like with anything else, there’s a time and a place for press releases. Typically, you use them when you want to share something particularly newsworthy. It’s not something you do for just about everything business related. It’s not a tool to use whenever you want the boost of some free press.
Plus, press releases are like pants: one size certainly does not fit all. Just because you wrote one, it doesn’t mean you can swap out information and reuse it for another announcement. That’s why there are many different templates, but we’ll touch more on this later.
For now, let’s consider what makes an announcement newsworthy:
Anytime a large number of people is going to be impacted by an announcement.
An announcement that’s relevant to what’s happening in current news.
An announcement that features a big name that’s well known.
That means anything like award announcements, product launches, big name hires, or partnerships are fine options.
So, what makes press releases so integral to any business? Why should you care to use them?
Well, for one thing, without press releases, you’re at the mercy of journalists research skills and willingness. You’d be running your business hoping that someone out there finds your website, takes a look at your business, and realizes that you have a valuable story to tell. Then you’d be hoping that they have the willingness to cover that story themselves.
Why hope when you can send them a press release to make them aware of you in the first place? At least then you’re being proactive. Even if they don’t cover your story, you at least tried. Plus, now they’re aware of you. Who’s to say they won’t look into your business anyway, and maybe find another story that meets their interests instead?
Journalists are well-connected people as well. Just because they may not want to cover you, it doesn’t mean they can’t forward your press release to someone who may be willing to write a piece on your announcement.
Another major reason why you should use press releases is that it helps build relationships. You’re putting your name out there publically, and you’re reaching out to people directly. You’re offering information that may be of interest and use to someone, in exchange for some traffic and visibility for your brand. That lays the foundation for a mutually beneficial relationship.
If all goes well, and your stories are always successful, it’s entirely possible that you could forge connections with journalists. Suddenly, when you need coverage, you could just casually drop an email to a journalist friend, rather than having to go through the formality of mass emailing a press release.
And all of those articles being written about you? Well, you’re controlling what’s being put out, so you’re essentially managing your own image. And because there’s so much coverage about you, there’s a boost to your SEO.
If these aren’t enough reasons why you should care to use press releases, then nothing I say will hit home. The truth is that although many aspects of a business are crucial, few have the potential impact and outreach that this simple 1-2 page document holds.
Press Release Format
Establishing Your Angle
The key to writing a successful press release is to provide information, provide a story, that people actually want to read about. Unless it covers this fundamental need, no one is going to want to write about it, let alone publish it. In this day and age, it’s all about likes and shares. If it doesn’t have any engagement, it’s deemed unworthy.
And too many of those cricket pieces can really damage a publication’s image.
So, before you begin writing anything, you need to find an angle. With a press release, your audience is members of the media, it’s journalists, so you need to add enticing things like exclusive research, breaking news, relevant content that has to do with anything that’s currently trending in most outlets, and finally, emotional stories.
The latter can be anything shocking, graphic, violent, sexual, or even cry worthy in nature. The likelihood of that being the case with your business is slim to none, but we’re covering all of the bases here.
So, what are some examples of enticing elements that capture the press’s attention?
Surveys and polls
Newsjacking, which is when you inject your brand into current news stories, like Philips Hue did with their story about seasonal affective disorder.
Whatever you do, make sure that you are aware of current topics, be cautious about how you present your brand within that context, and be fast to capitalize on it.
Writing A Headline
Consider this your first impression. It’s the first thing anyone is going to read, so it has to be good. Otherwise, there’s no initial peak of interest.
Just like walking into an interview, people get judged before they even utter a word.
For instance, say you’re the one conducting the interview. You’re looking to bring in a marketing consultant, so you can essentially create a road map to your dreams. And when you see the consultant walk in the room, you already know it’s not a great fit.
Because the consultant walked in wearing a beanie, a hoodie, and dirty shoes. He clearly didn’t care what he looked like for the interview, he just wore whatever he found when he rolled out of bed. In fact, speaking of which, he’s late. He’s roughly fifteen minutes late, with no apology or explanation.
If this guy were a headline, he’d be overlooked. He doesn’t capture your attention from the start. And even if he does, it’s not in a positive light. In fact, the second he walked in, you mentally said no, well before you realized he doesn’t know what chatbot marketing is. Oh, and he doesn’t believe in creating video content.
You see, it’s made even more important by the fact that journalists get plenty of pitches on a daily basis. Their inboxes are never clean. They can pick anything they want: direct leads, product launches by big brands, interesting interviews, scandalous news, etc. So, in order for your headline to not be overlooked… Well, it needs to bring it.
That seemingly simple one-line sentence is anything but. It’s what determines whether you get media coverage or not.
So, here are some tips to make sure you have it covered:
Write many versions, walk away, write some more versions, walk away, then come back and select the very best one. Seriously, good writers rarely settle on the first thing that they write. In fact, most will write and rewrite things several times before they get that knowing feeling in their gut.
Remember you’re not writing something creative, nor something the public is going to read. It doesn’t need to be eloquent or particularly filled with amazing storytelling elements. The only one who needs to make your story compelling is the journalists. No, what they want from you is a short summary of the event in a direct manner. Keep it as simple as possible.
Keep it vague enough to inject mystery. I mentioned it in the very beginning of this guide, if you recall. The careful balance of juicy detail, while leaving enough out to cause mystery. Journalists are naturally curious people, and they’re used to digging further the minute there’s something left unsaid.
Writing Your Lead
This is the first 35-45 words that summarize the most important parts of your press release. It’s what journalists read right after the headline, and it helps them determine if they even want to invest in reading the rest.
Think of it like lead magnets, hence the name. Lead magnets are created under the content marketing umbrella, promoted as free and helpful, and help entrepreneurs obtain hundreds of email addresses. Unless that magnet is something people actually want, however, you’re wasting your time.
A good rule of thumb with the lead it to cover the classic: who, what, when, where and why. If you can provide answers to these questions, then you have a pretty good lead.
Here’s an example to give you an idea:
“Apple Inc., an American multinational tech company specializing in electronics and computer software, has announced that it will be price cutting the new line of iPhones due to lower sales. This is largely attributed to consumers upgrading less, and opting instead to upgrade older models.”
Notice, this covers all the W’s in just 45 words:
Who - Apple
What - Lowering prices
When - With the new line of iPhones
Where - Multinational means globally
Why - Because people are upgrading older devices
Writing Body Paragraphs
This is the meat and potatoes of your press release, but unfortunately for you, only a handful of journalists will ever get to it. Unless, of course, you have a pretty newsworthy story on your hands.
Still, that being said, as a general rule of thumb, in the grand scheme of things, not many people will get to the body paragraphs. Most journalists will ignore your email, and whoever doesn’t may read the lead and decide it’s just not for them, or the publication. There are many factors to consider, many of which are outside of your control.
Essentially, you have to be a pessimist, and yet, still prepare for the best possible outcome. You have to write well, and in an order that elevates your chances of success, despite knowing that the odds are ever against you.
But I digress.
Body paragraphs should be relevant. They should stay on topic, describing event details and the brand, without ever going overboard. After all, you’re not writing a novel, you’re not using flowery language to tell a story, you’re just making it possible for the journalist to write a good piece on it.
So, it’s easy if you think of it as presenting the most important information first, and ending with the least important aspects, always assuming your audience will never read your press release to the end.
Here’s the flow:
Most pressing information. This is where the lead goes.
Body: the information in more detail, with facts and generally useful information. Think arguments, controversy, evidence and the like. Just make sure to present information from most important, to least important.
Tail: the extra information that journalists could essentially do without. It’s the sprinkles on a sundae―you can do without it, but it does elevate the experience, doesn’t it?
Pop quiz time. What do journalists love more than a story? Hint: it’s not images, although that is helpful. It’s also not big names, although that certainly helps boost the story.
No, it’s quotes. Direct quotes from people involved.
And the reasoning is simple, really. When you’re telling a story, it feels rather incomplete without any quotes. It’s like being told a story by a narrator, and never giving the main characters any dialogue. It feels hollow, and it leaves you with a rather… unpolished feeling.
It’s this feeling they are trying to avoid at all costs. They have editors to submit their work to, it has to be as close to polished as possible before it makes a certain desk. So, if it makes it there without quotes… Well, it better be good. And those stories don’t happen often enough.
Of course, not just any quote will do. Ideally quotes need to meet specific criteria. Things such as getting a quote or two, or more, from someone directly involved in the story. A direct source who is in touch with the story’s “main character” is also acceptable.
Whatever the case, the person needs to have some sort of connection, authority, or importance within the context. Think company founders, close family and friends of a victim, or someone who is being sued for something scandalous. This gives the story credibility, rather than planting the seed of doubt and speculation in the reader.
This is of the utmost importance, since dabbling in doubt can actually cast an entire publication in a bad light. News should be rooted in truth, only verifiable facts published. Direct quotes from people who speculate things are fine, because they’re quotes, not outright proclamations of unverifiable truth.
Writing A Boilerplate
The boilerplate is basically standard copy that describes what your organization stands for. It’s factual data, marketing goals, company projections, etc. all consolidated into a paragraph.
That’s right, one solid paragraph, no more, no less.
That means every sentence, every word, should be completing a mission. And everything altogether should be working toward the same objective: becoming a good boilerplate.
That means it has to be specific. If you run a company that creates computer software, say so, don’t settle for I.T. or tech company.
Just don’t get too carried away. Keep the specifics legible to the public, assuming they lack industry jargon knowledge, because they probably do.
Furthermore, the boilerplate should use data. Actual, factual, verifiable data. Consider it a source that the journalists can use in their articles, making their stories that much more compelling. Details like when a company was established, and what its revenue looks like, or even what projections they have for the year, are all fine examples.
Finally, keep it short and sweet, otherwise it comes across like you’re bragging. Remember, factual data often means you’re listing off achievements, because if you intentionally want media attention, then… you have a positive story on your hands, right? No one willingly writes a press release to share negative details.
To help ease this, write from the standpoint of what your brand is, rather than how great it is. And keep it to no more than 150 words. This should keep you in line without too much of a hassle.
Adding Contact Details
Not to point out the obvious, but you need to add contact details to your press release before you send it off. Otherwise, people will have some burning questions, or seek further details, and then not know who to contact.
Which means, if they really want your story, they’ll call around and talk to just anyone available. And then, well, your story is kind of out of your control. Suddenly, the news pieces feature information that you may not have otherwise wanted shared.
You don’t want that, as it can ruin other product launch events and detailings, which in turn hurts anyone you’ve chosen to collaborate with. It would speed up their marketing, ruin everyone’s metrics, and even make some landing pages obsolete.
So, add in something like this at the end of your press release:
Marketing and PR
Writing A Press Release
Before moving forward, let’s do a quick recap. The following is an outline of your press release format. Treat it like gold, follow it down to the letter, and you’ll reap some great rewards in the years to come:
Headline - clear, concise and simple, without lacking personality.
Lead - direct summary of who, what, when, where and why.
Body Copy - inverted pyramid (of sorts) for information, beginning with the most pressing, to the least important details.
Boilerplate - clearly avoids jargon and bragging, yet still incorporates data and notes on what the brand does and is hoping to accomplish in the near future.
Media Contacts - who do the journalists contact with any questions, concerns, or comments?
Sometimes it’s easier to write a good press release when you can read some good ones, written by other companies. It’s how you can learn by reading, and certainly how professionals such as content marketers and marketing consultants determine what to strive for in terms of public brand reflection and representation.
Here are some great examples of real press releases by companies you know and love:
Congratulations, you’re almost done. But as with anything that’s being read by several, maybe even hundreds of eyeballs depending on your contact list, there are some loose ends to tie up.
For instance, what are your goals with this press release? Do you want journalists to write about this because you want more customers, or because you want to establish media connections you can later count on?
This is very important to ask yourself, as it will determine if you’re writing a product press release or a non-profit one. Although the format stays the same, the way you go about it is different.
For example, if you want more customers, you should target a smaller, niche website that appeals to your demographic. The press release would have more impact there than at a generalized publication.
Now, if you want brand awareness, you need to do the opposite and target the big publications with larger readerships.
Another tip is to put yourself in the journalists’ shoes. What would you want to read if you were on the receiving end of the press release? What details would captivate you, and what kind of information would you ideally want incorporated? Maybe you’d be thrilled if you read a direct quote from a company founder?
Thinking like a journalist may not be your go-to now, but it should certainly be. Not only do you get insight on your own writing, you also get a sense for what will work, and what won’t.
Distributing A Press Release
Distribution takes one of two forms: either you self distribute using email to send out your press release to journalists and media outlets…
Or you use a press release distribution service of some kind.
Let’s go over both.
When you distribute personally, you forgo complications. You’re in charge, you’re in control, and because you also wrote and edited the press release, you also got to complete the entire task from beginning to end.
But there’s a price to pay for that independence, which will largely factor depending on your brand’s overall goal…
It’s a time consuming endeavor that requires you to have a lot of contact information on hand. If you don’t, you can only reach out to so many people, hence limiting exposure.
And again, if your goal is to gain brand exposure and visibility, well, this isn’t your best bet. You’d have to find contact details for bigger publications, send off the press release, and hope that they like it enough to cover the story.
If you want the best odds in this situation, you would find power in numbers.
On the other hand, if you want more sales, distributing yourself would be perfect. You don’t need exposure, you need to email smaller, niche publications, remember? You can find contact details much easier for smaller publications, and chances are, because every niche industry is small by comparison, you already have a few contact ideas in mind.
This means that personal distribution isn’t for everyone. Sometimes, you really need to use a service, such as PR Newswire, for instance. They distribute your press release to thousands of news outlets and agencies in a small fraction of the time it would take you to do much of anything alone.
Of course, there’s a cost involved. You are looking at hundreds spent on a single press release outreach, and absolutely no personal contact with journalists, unless they reach out to you in response, of course.
It’s not a great solution for smaller companies with smaller marketing budgets. Better to save that for advertising resources like Google Ads and Facebook Ads. Social media is a cheap, effective way to advertise products, especially if they’re visually captivating.
These distributions services are not a great solution for anyone who wants sales rather than exposure. But it’s certainly a tool that should be used at some point, when the time is right.
Best Time to Send
Now, as with most things in life, timing is everything. Two people meeting at the wrong time can doom them from the very beginning. And someone mentioning a job opening just as someone is about to share their job loss woes is immaculate timing.
So, logically, timing also affects your press release.
Ideally, you want to send it out when it can gain the most traction. That means Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays.
Because on Monday, journalists deal with the most hectic day of the week. They’re having to pull content for the week, check countless emails, write several drafts, you name it.
And on Friday, well, it’s the end of the week. That means deadlines are coming due, and everyone is running around the office frantically. There’s possible small fires everywhere, and someone is surely losing their hair.
Then you have to consider things like holidays and extended weekends. The longer they’re away from the office, the less likely they are to check your press release.
As for time, obviously morning emails are best, ideally between 8 and 9. If you can’t manage that for whatever reason, aim for no later than 2 in the afternoon. Anytime after that is null, and will carry over to the next day…
But your email will be buried below the smarter business owners and PR reps who got up early and sent their emails the morning of. Remember, inboxes go chronologically, with older emails being listed below the newer ones.
And as a final note, keep time zones in mind. The times listed above are standard go-to’s for all parts of the world in their time zones. That means if it’s 8 in the morning and you’re sending off your press release to publications, make sure it’s also 8 in the morning where they’re living/working too.
If you’re in New York, but you’re sending off a press release to San Francisco, wait until 11 in the morning to send it, since there’s a 3 hour time difference.
Writing is no easy feat. It’s not for the faint of heart, and it certainly isn’t for people who are afraid of how they are perceived by the public.
Business owners in particular should understand this, as they start entire business endeavors based on audience personas, essentially giving people what they want.
And copywriters, they’re used to giving brands the copy that they ask for. It’s how they run their own businesses, assuming they’re being outsourced. A freelancing business is a solo endeavor of hard work and networking.
That being said, writing a press release gets easy over time. As long as you follow the format, and keep practicing, your releases will improve. Soon, it will become second nature, just a small part of a weekly to-do list.
And remember, if you lack the time and energy, or you simply don’t see yourself writing something like this each and every time you have a story of note to share, consider hiring a marketing consultant. They’re well-connected professionals, which means they can teach you the ropes, and connect you to some talented copywriters.
So, which part of the press release format do you find the most challenging, and why?
Don’t hesitate to let me know in the comments section below. I love hearing from you all!