The Basics of Press Releases

Quick Tips

Choose a single topic that is interesting and timely.

Make sure the story is relevant for the publications you send it to.

Put the most important information at the beginning.

Keep it brief: one page is plenty for most releases.

Provide a phone number in case the journalist needs to call you.

Want to generate some publicity for your business or organization? How about a press release? Whether you want to publicize an upcoming event, or just familiarize the community with your organization, you can get a lot of mileage from a carefully written press release.

Reasons to Send a Press Release

There are lots of reasons to send a press release, other than actual “hard news.” Maybe you’re launching a new community program, offering a workshop or expanding your product line. If people would want to know about it, it’s newsworthy to someone. The trick is to figure out who the “someone” is!

Where to Send It

Think about who might find your story interesting, then decide what type of publications they would read. Small community publications are a great way to reach local residents who might want to try your revolutionary carpet-cleaning service. Business newspapers are perfect for publicizing your sales workshop. Trade magazines are great for sharing information with professionals in a specific field: painters, programmers, farmers, etc. Don’t forget online publications and email too; just be careful not to spam anyone.

Carefully Select the Publications

For maximum effectiveness, carefully select the publications to which you will send the release, avoiding those that would consider your story irrelevant. Your city-wide paper may only print stories that are especially interesting or timely. Smaller, more focused publications will be more likely to pick up your story.

Anybody Can Write a Press Release

If you work with a large company or a high-profile organization, press releases are probably best handled by seasoned “PR people.” For everyone else, you can write the release yourself. It doesn’t have to be elaborate—just clearly written and factually correct.

Formats for a Press Release

Check with the publication to find out what format to use for the release: email, uploaded file, etc. Also find out the name of the journalist you should send it to, and how he/she wants to receive it: email, snail mail, fax.

When putting the release together, the information is the most important thing. Don’t worry about a showy presentation; some journalists actually prefer plain paper instead of snazzy letterheads. Use double-spaced text and wide margins, and include a name, date and phone number.

For specific tips on formatting your press release, see the related How To article Formatting Your Press Release. There’s also a great article about a simple press release on eHow.

Writing the Content

Write in third person and stick to the facts. Remember, it’s a new article, not a sales pitch. Focus your release on one specific topic, such as: “A Smart New Way to Save for College,” rather than “All about Investing.” Summarize your story with a headline, even though the journalist may not print your headline with the story.

Try to answer “who, what, when, where and why” in the first sentence. Organize your information “from the top down.” Start with the most important stuff and end with the least critical. This enables the editor to cut off one paragraph at a time, if necessary, while keeping the most important information.

Keep it Brief!

When you get to the end of page one, STOP. Don’t use a second page unless your story is especially newsworthy or compelling. If you have additional information that would be useful to the editor or reader, include it on a separate page. Also attach a brief overview of your company or organization (called a “backgrounder”).

Photos and Other Graphics

If you have visuals that clarify your information, or make your story more interesting, include them with your release. Check with the publication to find out what format they will accept: color, black & white, file formats and sizes, etc. When sending photos, try to be more creative than the boring cliché of the ground-breaking shovel dig. Instead, show how your story relates to your audience; show kids playing in your new child-care center, rather than the director cutting the ribbon.

Encourage Reader Response

If you want readers to take action, make sure you give contact info in the text of the release: phone number, email address, website URL, etc. “Call 404-555-5555 to reserve your space for the seminar.” To increase reader response, you might offer an incentive; “For a list of carpet cleaning tips, visit Acme’s web site at www.acmecarpet.com.”

Follow Up

Once you send a press release, you must plan for the possible impact on your organization. Be prepared to efficiently handle any media inquiries, increased business, phone calls, etc. This is especially true if you are publicizing an upcoming event.