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How to Write a Effective Press Release

A press release is a document sent to the media, Used to explain the message you or your organization wishes to convey. Think about the audience you’re writing for and focus on the key information you need to put out a press release, This is very important.

Why a Press Release?

The aim of a press release is to get as many journalists as possible to publish your story, whether online, on the radio, or in print. Everything else follows from that.

What You Need to Know Before You Start

  1. Journalists are busy people. They have deadlines and other stories to write. The easier you make their lives, the more likely they are to use your press release as the basis of a story because it will be quicker for them and they can then move onto something else.
  2. Journalists are not usually experts in your subject. The specialist press may have more detailed knowledge but, as a rule, assume that you need to explain everything. Even if the journalists are expert, their readers probably aren’t. You need to explain difficult terms and concepts and not use jargon.
  3. Journalists are not interested in you or your product. They care only whether your story will interest their readers or viewers.
  4. There will be days when your subject will be news but, on other days something bigger will eclipse it. It’s not personal. Nor is it the journalists who decide, and they will probably be as cross as you if their carefully-crafted story is displaced by more important news. This can work both ways – some organisations and governments may release press statements during major news events in the hope that their bad news will be eclipsed and therefore have less of a negative impact.

What This Means For a Press Release

In practice, these four things mean that there are some fairly simple requirements for a press release:

  • It needs to be short and concise, preferably no more than one page.
  • It needs to stand alone, without any supporting documentation. Someone reading that one page needs to understand enough about the subject to be able to write a short article on it.
  • It needs to be written in easy to understand language. Think carefully about the target audience of your press release and write accordingly. Avoid jargon whenever possible unless your target publication/s are industry specific when it may be appropriate to use industry specific jargon.
  • It needs to tell a story. You need to show the journalist what story you want them to tell. If you don’t, they will make up their own – and it may not be the one that you want. They may do that anyway but, as we said before, they’re busy people so probably won’t have the time.
  • It needs to provide information about where journalists can get more information if they want to write a more in-depth analysis or feature. This should include your contact details, preferably a phone number, and links to relevant documents or web pages.

What Should Go Into a Press Release?

Press releases need to tell a story, ideally one with a human interest angle. To help decide what should go into your press release, answer the following questions about your news:

  • Who? Who are the key players?
  • What? What is new?
  • When? What is the timing of this?
  • Where? Where is this happening?
  • Why? Why is this news important?

As a starting point, writing down the answers to these questions can be helpful. It’s then a matter of crafting the answers into short punchy sentences that tell your story and convey your key messages, ideally within the standard journalistic limit of 25 words.

The Structure of a Press Release

Over many years, corporate press releases have generally evolved into a fairly standard structure.

Start with a title that could be used as a headline for your story. This should be short, to the point, and ideally able to be used as a Twitter update along with a link. Your headline should convey the value of your story to the reader.

Your first paragraph is the most important and should summarise your key message explaining “who, what, where, when, why?”. Keep this paragraph short and punchy.

Following your introductory paragraph which sets the scene, include two or three additional paragraphs that explain the story in more detail, then a quote from someone senior in the organisation saying what effect it will have.

Ideally, a press release will also have a quote from an important stakeholder, or, for non-commercial organisations, a representative of service users such as the chief executive of a voluntary organisation, explaining how much they like the proposal or story.

The press release then closes with a concluding paragraph that sums up the main message.

A final section, Notes for editors, includes information about how people can get hold of any linked publications, or when the change will come into effect, and the contact point for further information.

Start with the most important information

When writing a press release, include the most important information at the start. This helps to catch the journalist’s attention and mimics the structure of press articles which are written to be edited from the bottom up without the key message being lost.

Disseminating a Press Release

You are probably most likely to email your press release to a journalist. When doing so, remember these important points:

Think carefully about the subject line of your email since this is key to getting your press release read. A release with the subject line “Press release: see attached” and no other information is likely to be deleted immediately. Often, your headline is suitable as a subject line for the email.

Don’t send the release as an attachment; instead include the text of the press release in the body of the email. You are trying to make the journalist’s life easy and this way they can immediately read your content without having to waste time opening an attachment.

Follow up your email with a phone call to ensure that the journalist has received it. Even if they do not wish to use the press release this time you might get some feedback that will improve the chance of getting your story reported next time.


Timing is often key to a successful press release, it is important to think carefully about when you would like your story published.

At the top of your press release you should clearly indicate whether it is for immediate release or under embargo until a future date.

Responding to Bad News:
Emergency Press Statements

If a press release is designed to get a story into the press, there will also be times when what you or the organisation wants to do is to kill a story stone dead.

Under these circumstances, the organisation may hold a press conference or issue a press statement. This usually happens in response to stories in the press, or questions from a journalist about something that they have uncovered.

The stories or allegations may or may not be true, but the organisation wishes to put a different angle and or present their point of view.

Although every situation demands a slightly different response, there are some rules to remember:

  • In its simplest form, a press statement may be that there is no comment to make on the stories, or ‘nothing to say at the present time’. While this is probably not going to make a story go away, it doesn’t add any fuel to the fire and gives the organisation time to investigate further. Issuing such a statement also prevents the press from reporting that you, or your organisation, refused to respond.
  • The most important aspect of any emergency press statement is that it doesn’t make the situation any worse.
  • Before you say anything public, make sure that you have thoroughly investigated the situation, and have the facts at your fingertips. Only then can you decide on the appropriate response.
  • You also need to be ready to change your response if the facts change. Flexibility is all.
  • Do not lie to the press. With Google available, you will be found out very quickly and this will make the story even bigger.
  • If your organisation has messed up or done something wrong, the best thing that you can do is apologise quickly and make amends. Ideally, the CEO, or a Board member with responsibility for the subject area, should apologise in person.

Apologising is not admitting liability.

It is perfectly possible to put out an apology that runs something like:

Organisation X regrets any difficulty which its customers have encountered as a result of situation Y, and is committed to helping them to overcome those problems by doing A, B, and C.

Government departments regularly put out press statements which say “We have read the stories about situation x with horror. Our thoughts are with the families of those concerned”. It says nothing incriminating, but it helps show that the organisation is aware of the situation and cares about those involved.

In Conclusion…

Remember that you can influence, but not control what journalists write about your organisation, and what any particular news organisation chooses to publish.

You do, however, have total control over the messages that you issue. If you issue wisely, with a view to the story and those receiving the information, you will be more likely to influence successfully.

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