The Art & Science of Writing a Press Release
What Exactly is a Press Release?
A press release is a document that you distribute to media outlets to inform them of timely company news that you intend for them to publish and distribute to their subscriber base.
Using this "earned media" channel can be extremely beneficial to your company, as you can reach a much wider audience than what you might otherwise be able to reach with your own channels. And the added bonus is that aside from a bit of "sweat equity" on your part, it's free of charge to use.
When Should You Use a Press Release?
Before you start looking for every last bit of company news you can cover with a press release, there are a few things you should ask yourself first:
Is it newsworthy? Does the information you're sharing appeal to a general audience, particularly the subscriber base of the media outlet(s) you intend to send it to?
Is it timely? Is the news "fresh" or has it already been covered elsewhere before? And if it has been covered previously, how is this update any different?
Is it self-serving? Is the information purely commercial in nature and being shared to gain publicity, or does it add value to the wider audience that will read it?
Why is it important? Does the information you're providing impact the local community, introduce a new technology or advancement in innovation, touch on societal issues, or create a new way of thinking about a particular subject?
If you're not able to clearly answer these questions in a positive way, then it's possible your news would be better served to your audience on your own channels, such as a website update, social media post, or customer email update.
What Should You Include in a Press Release?
While we have created a template for you to use (download available below), an overview of the basic elements you should include in your press release are:
Your company name and logo: be sure to include your company name and brand logo or use your company letterhead if it's suitable for use.
Release terms: this will either be "For Immediate Release" or "Embargoed for Dated (or Timed) Release". In most cases your release timing will be immediate (so the media outlet can publish the news at their earliest convenience), however you may wish to send to the media in advance of an event or contract start date to allow them time to prepare editorial coverage. If this is the case, use "Embargoed for Dated Release" as the release terms and list the acceptable publishing date / time (more on this below).
Main Headline & Sub-Heading: your headline should succinctly describe the main theme of the release, and be highlighted in larger bold font centered across the page (and be no more than two lines of text). Your sub-heading, if needed, should briefly describe your second theme and be a single line of text centered below the main heading in a slightly smaller font.
Location & Date of the release: list the location of where the news is being issued from (city, province or state, and country if internationally distributed), as well as the date the news is made public. In the case of embargoed release terms, the date (and time of day if time sensitive) should be the date you allow the media to publish the news.
Introductory paragraph: this immediately follows the location and date, and is one or two sentences that provide a high-level overview of the news described in the headline. An additional sentence can be included to cover the sub-heading if needed.
Supporting paragraph(s): include one or two supporting paragraphs that provide additional details related to the headline and sub-heading and will further inform the reader.
Quotes from notable parties: include one or two quotes from the most senior representative of the parties involved, being sure to list quotes from government entities and customers ahead of your own company's quote.
Background or supporting information: in one or two paragraphs below the quotes, provide any additional information on the program that will answer any further questions the reader may have.
Boilerplates: include an "About [Company]" boilerplate for each company noted within the release, listing customer or supplier boilerplates ahead of your own.
Contact information: list the name, title, company (if different than the company issuing the release) and contact information for the person who can best answer questions about the news being released. You can also list the contact information for your company's media representative if different than the main information contact.
Photos & captions: include low-resolution photo thumbnails (with captions) that visually support the news. Keep in mind the photos may not be positioned directly across from your news (such as in a table of contents or letter from the editor), so include your company or product name within the caption whenever possible. High resolution photo files should be made available upon request.
Press Release Template - Download
To see how all of the elements listed above are positioned within a standard press release, download our Press Release Template at the links below:
MS Word Template:
Where Do You Issue a Press Release?
There are several ways you can get your press release to the media, including using a wire service (through paid subscription), emailing to a media contact database, uploading to publishers' websites, or sharing on your own channels.
The simplest way to distribute a press release is to use a wire service, where you can simply upload your file(s) to a web-based platform and the wire service distributes to its network of publishers based on the criteria you select (such as regional or industry-specific publications). Examples of wire services include the Associated Press, Reuters, Newswire and CNW, however the subscription fees associated with these services may be cost prohibitive depending on how many releases you intend to issue per year.
A more economical way to issue press releases (although a bit more time consuming) is to develop an internal list of media contacts that relate to your industry or region, and email them directly with a copy of your release. The benefit of emailing to your proprietary contact database is you can better track the distribution, which can be particularly important if you need to issue a correction or retraction. An added bonus is it helps to build relationships directly with the editors who can help you increase the reach of your news in the future.
Some media outlets require that you submit via upload on their websites (which can be extremely time consuming for widespread news), however may be worth the effort if the publication is well-regarded in your community or industry and highly likely to publish your news.
One of the easiest, most-direct and economical ways to distribute your news is through your company's owned media channels. Make sure to update your website with any press releases, send out to your contacts in monthly newsletters, and share widely on your social media channels.
Who Should Put Together Your Press Release?
Depending on the size of your company, putting together a press release can be a group effort. The information, or "news", is often generated by sales, operations or product development teams who are announcing new contracts, advancements in technology, or product improvements.
Add in the marketing and communications folks who draft the release, the executives who provide quotes and final approvals, the various customer / supplier / government representatives and other relevant stakeholders, and you've got yourself quite a collaboration.
In a smaller organization, there may only be one or two people involved with putting all the details together. If this is the case for your company, you may wish to engage a communications agency to help with the writing and distribution of the release.
No matter how many people you have helping put together the release, try to have someone with strong writing skills prepare the final draft and have someone with intimate knowledge of the content do a final review of the document for technical accuracy.
Even with the ever-increasing number of options for distributing company content online, strategic use of the press release can help your company reach a wider audience and gain community support for your company. Having your news published in reputable media outlets can also help validate your company as a subject-matter authority while providing you with well-respected content links you can share with your audience.