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How to write press releases that get published – Part 1

The time-tested and trusted media release is probably the most used and perhaps respected form of communication in media relations. Respected of course only subject to it being well-written, thought-through and its content indeed constitutes news.

Nose for news
The main criterion for a media release (also loosely called ‘press release’, or ‘news release’) is that it must contain news and not marketing jargon. Journalists are interested in news (that’s what makes the media tick over) and not marketing bumf.

An event in your company that may be very important to you, may sometimes not necessarily be something a journalist considers newsworthy to share with readers, listeners or viewers.

Upon evaluating a news release, journalists ask: “Why is this news?  How does this impact me and my readers?”  As Don Crowther so aptly presses this point:

“The media wants news.  Who cares that so and so just got promoted, that you have new graphics on your website, or that your widget that’s been out there for 12 years is now available in shocking pink.”

5Ws & H
When starting your draft, apply the 5 Ws & H used by all journalists.

  • Who is it about/who does it affect?
  • What happened/what is the announcement/what impact will it have?
  • Where did it happen/is it available?
  • When did it take place/will it be available?
  • Why did it happen/is this so great?
  • How did it happen/will this benefit people/make life better?

Try and answer these questions in detail and sift through your answers before you start writing.

Write a headline that relates to the story.  You can do this once you have completed drafting your release.  Keep it as short and interesting as possible.  Headlines should grab journalists’ attention.  Someone highlighted to me last week that a headline should be short enough for a Twitter update that will allow for a link to the story as well.

Some media releases brand a subhead below the headline.  This gives you another chance to capture the reporter’s attention.  Subheads are longer than headlines, but much shorter than the intro. If you have numbers and percentages in your release, here is a good place to highlight them.

Intro & Body
Your first paragraph should, in one sentence, summarise the gist of the announcement – it should compel the reader to want to read further.  It must be gripping, succinct and ideally no longer than 25 – 30 words.

The intro “sets the scene” and the body offers further details.  The release should ideally be no more than 400 words (about one A4 page).  One-and-a-half page releases are common, but should never exceed two A4 pages.

Position the most important news as high up as possible.  This should include the key message(s) you wish to impart.  Follow this rule because it helps keep the attention of your reader, and also because when sub-editors are under pressure on deadline, they tend to simply cut the story from the bottom.

Write in the third person.  Do not use technical jargon – explain it in lay-terms so that everyone can understand.  Use simple words.

Your releases should have the same template, which should clearly indicate it is a “media/news release”.  It should include your company logo, the date, and contact details for further information.

Many releases also have a “boilerplate” – a stock paragraph that describes your company in a nutshell.

In my next post, I will offer further tips on crafting a media release that will attract journalists’ attention. Until then, this article can give you some more insight.