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How to Write a Great Press Release

How to Write a Great Press Release
Credit: Zerbor/Shutterstock

Between social media and resources like Help A Reporter Out (HARO), today's journalists have countless ways to track down story ideas. Of course, that makes it tougher for brands to get noticed by traditional means of media outreach. A press release for every company milestone and announcement just isn't an effective route to coverage anymore.

"Press releases are, to some extent, a thing of the past," said Sabina Gault, CEO of Konnect Agency. "Publicists … used to be able to use releases as pitching tools. Nowadays, they are more a source for information."

However, that doesn't mean the press release is completely dead: Widespread media announcements can still get results and raise brand awareness; it's just a matter of choosing your topics, angle and timing carefully.

Follow these tips from public relations professionals to make sure your release is not only well-written, but well-read, too. [See Related Story: DIY Public Relations Tips for Startups]

When deciding whether to write a press release, it's important to think about the big picture: Are journalists going to find your news interesting enough to share with their readers, or is it only interesting to you and your company?

"The purpose of a press release is to announce something newsworthy, such as the launch of a new product or the opening of a new location," said Cara Downs, director of consumer media at SSA Public Relations. "You don't want to get press release-happy and tire out the media."

"Journalists receive thousands of press releases, [so] ... it is best to reserve your press releases for important news only," added Gault. "If you bombard the media with non-news releases, they will lose interest in your brand altogether."

To avoid ending up in a reporter's trash folder, most PR professionals advise save press releases for major announcements like new products or services, industry recognition or special events.

The first lesson most journalists learn about news reporting is to cover the "five W's": who, what, where, when and why. These basic pieces of information make up the core of a news story and get the facts across in a clear, concise way. While a reporter may spread the W's throughout the first few paragraphs of an article to make room for a catchy lead, your release should include them all up front.

"Always answer the five W's in the first paragraph of your press release," said Stephanie Burke, a senior account executive at Highwire PR. "Most people's attention spans are incredibly short. It's key to get the most important information at the top of the page; that way, the reader takes away a solid understanding of your news."

It's also important to remember that your press release is not an advertisement. According to Downs, small businesses often make the mistake of misrepresenting opinions as facts in press releases. She advised putting anything that could be construed as opinion in quotes, and attributing it to a company executive.

Though your press release may have the proper messaging and detail, it takes a truly amazing pitch to entice the journalist to want to read your press release, said Gault.

"Never use the press release as the pitch itself; rather, use the press release as a supporting document to your pitch," she told Business News Daily.

David Johnson, founder and CEO of Strategic Vision PR Group, agreed, adding that a solid opening is crucial to your release getting picked up by media outlets.

"The most common mistake that small businesses make in writing press releases is thinking that the entire release will be picked up," Johnson said. "It won't be. Usually what is picked up, if anything, is the first paragraph. That paragraph needs to pass the 'smell test' of the reporter. If it doesn’t, the press release won't receive coverage."

Johnson also advised including a "boilerplate" description (one or two sentences describing your company), contact information in case reporters have further questions, and links to your social media platforms.

The "why" in the five W's typically addresses why an event is occurring or why a decision is being made. But there's another "why" you need to consider: Why should people care about your announcement?

"The content should reflect how and why your news is important, and should always link to strategic, long-term company goals," Burke said. "A good rule of thumb is to think the way your audience does. If it doesn't seem appealing from their point of view, it's probably a sign to rework the release or hold off until you have a stronger story."

If you do think your release will capture your audience's attention, make sure your content is interesting enough to hold it.

"Original and sharable content is key," said Alexa Hoffman, senior product manager for PR Newswire. "We encourage the use of multimedia, calls to action and social media features to enhance engagement with what you're creating."

Some source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.

Nicole Fallon

Nicole received her Bachelor's degree in Media, Culture and Communication from New York University. She began freelancing for Business News Daily in 2010 and joined the team as a staff writer three years later. Nicole served as the site's managing editor until January 2018, and now leads Purch's B2B copy and production team. Reach her by email, or follow her on Twitter.