How do you write a press release? Read our guide below on how to write an expert press release that gets you media coverage.
What is a Press Release?
Why and when should you send a press release?
Key elements that your press release should include:
Key blockages to press release success:
How to distribute your press release
Press release checklist
What is a press release?
A press release is a short and compelling statement or story which is sent to members of the press. The goal of a press release is to get media coverage of an event, announcement or story. In order to get media attention, the press release must first catch the eye of the journalist reading it. As journalists' inboxes are inundated with press releases daily, it is essential that your press release stands out and follows a media-friendly template.
A press release should contain the essential information for a journalist to use to write their own story. It should also contain the information in the main body of the email.
A press release is made up of:
Contact information of the PR (name, phone number, email address).
Summary - give an outline of the topic at hand below the headline to give the journalist the most important information of the release.
The first paragraph should include key facts like location and relevant times and dates. This should give the journalist the key information that they need to write a story.
General information - including background information that answers any questions that the journalist may have.
A press release should not sound too much like a sales pitch, but still get the story across in a truthful and positive way.
When and why should you send a press release?
There are many occasions when writing and sending a press release can be very beneficial. The main goal of a press release is to notify the media of something that is happening which is in the public interest. Sharing positive news stories, announcements and partnerships are great reasons to send a press release. However, if you are facing a crisis, having a plan to counteract bad press or make a statement can have a major impact on the future of the company.
You should share a press release when you:
Want to make an announcement
To share some good news about your company
To make a statement about something that has happened
To promote your business
To share an important campaign
When beginning a new venture
When facing a PR crisis
A press release is a great tool to get some coverage of your company, event or announcement in the media for free.
However, it is not an advertisement and should not be written as a sales pitch. It more than likely won’t get picked up if it reads like this so ensure that the language used is factual and accurately reflects the situation it covers. It should contain a newsworthy angle and appeal to the interest of your target audience.
See how you can find the perfect journalists to send your press release to with MediaHQ.
Key elements that your press release should include:
This is your licence to get engagement. Without this, you will fail. A great headline is the most important part of a press release. Without a stand-out headline, a journalist will skip right over your release in their inbox. It is important to think about the elements of your story that are the most newsworthy and approach it from this angle.
What makes a great headline? To write a great headline, get into the mind of both a journalist and a reader. Write as though it is a headline in a newspaper and think of a line that would stand out to you as a reader. Use visual imagery to paint a picture of the story and don’t be afraid to use shocking language to make your headline jump off the page. Use language techniques like alliteration and colloquial language, especially if you’re pitching to regional media.
Headline formula = Raw Idea + Hook. The formula for a great headline is taking the raw idea of your story and finding the hook that gives it an edge. Take a look at your press release and find the most attention-grabbing aspect of it. Use this in the headline to make it stand out. As well as grabbing the journalists’ attention, it makes their job easier as they can then use this line for their story, saving them time and making them more likely to use your release.
Some examples of great headlines sent through MediaHQ:
- “PFS is Hiring 50+ More Staff & the Owners are Investing €50 Million into its New Irish Base”
This headline from Prepaid Financial Services uses repetition of the number 50 and highlights the key achievements from the press release to capture the attention of the reader while also providing key information. This press release garnered significant coverage across RTÉ, The Irish Times and The Times UK.
- “Dogs Trust reminds people that “A dog is for life” following an alarming number of surrender requests this year”
Here, Dogs Trust plays on emotion while conveying a very serious message about a high number of surrender requests from dog owners. This press release was sent in November, as Christmas is a time notorious for impulse dog purchasing. The timing of the press release as well as the emotive headline worked in tandem to gain coverage for Dogs Trust from The Irish Independent, TheJournal.ie and the Irish Examiner.
- “Astronomers Publish New Map of the Sky Detecting Thousands of Previously Unknown Galaxies”
This headline from UCD stands out from the crowd as it contains exciting news of a new astronomical discovery. This headline gives the key details of the story including the number of previously unknown galaxies and grabs the attention of the reader with a strong hook. This release sent through MediaHQ gained traction across Forbes and the Irish Examiner.
- “ŠKODA Brings Older People Back to the Workplace”
Skoda Ireland used community spirit in this headline and combined positive news for a population with positive news about their company. This headline worked well as it portrays Skoda in a helpful light while also making an interesting news piece. This headline garnered coverage across Independent.ie and the Business Post.
- "€1bn National Recovery and Resilience Plan to support climate action and jobs"
This headline from the Green Party combines a large investment announcement with the positive actions of climate action and job creation. Job creation and investment make excellent news pieces and this headline captures the reader's attention straight away with a strong hook.
Strong first paragraph - Who, What, When, Where, Why and How.
Opening your press release with a strong first paragraph will give the journalist most of the information that they need to write their story. Think of this paragraph as the information hub of your press release and use it to answer any key questions that the journalist may have about your story. Who or what is the story about, when and where did or will it take place and why and how did it come about or happen? Answering these questions provides key context to your story and outlining them in the opening paragraph makes it easy for the journalist to pull key facts to include in their story.
An example of a strong opening paragraph can be seen in this press release from Irish Water:
Green-Schools had its Poster and Video Competition Awards online today, with a virtual ceremony shown on screens in schools and homes all around the country. Participants were also treated this year with a presentation from the award-winning Cartoon Saloon. This year the three Dublin regional winners were: Ramona Craddock-Conlon from St. Marys Donnybrook, Darius Pantazi from Scoil Aonghusa Senior in Tallaght and Joely Kennedy from St. Josephs Secondary School in Rush.
The opening paragraph lays out the name of the competition, where it took place and what technology was used, who presented the awards and the winners and their schools. The press release then goes on to further discuss the details of the winner's projects and includes some quotes. From reading just the first few lines, it is easy to get the full picture of the story.
Great quotes: This is where you show personality.
Including some quotes from those involved in your story, whether it be an announcement, rebrand or otherwise, can be a great way to get a personal side of the story across. It helps to ensure that you have control over the angle of the story and adds some personality to an otherwise quite factual piece. They can be used to strengthen a story, giving some extra insight from primary sources or those with a deeper insight on the topic.
Here are some great quotes from press releases sent through the MediaHQ platform:
Geoffrey Bourke of Irish Water, said: “Once again this year, we were blown away by the imagination and effort put in by the thousands of students all over the country who submitted entries to the competition. It is truly inspiring to see how deeply these young people understand the value of water. They are setting a great example in showing how we can all play our part in safeguarding this precious resource. Irish Water is proud to support them through our sponsorship of the Green-Schools programme.’’
“Hacker is just a term for a person who can apply a skillset to a problem,” explained Dr Niall Smith, Head of Research at MTU, one of the universities with students taking part.
"If you have a business idea that’s scalable and has the potential to address a global problem, the Cassini Hackathon will deliver hands-on experience of how the rapidly growing space sector can give you a competitive edge in ways you might not yet imagine." Quotes such as this one from the National Lottery can be extremely useful to journalists, as they are a first hand account from a spokesperson that can be copied and pasted into an article.
“As there was no winner of the jackpot last night, Saturday night’s jackpot is now set to roll to an estimated €7.5 million. We are expecting excitement to grow ahead of the draw as the jackpot has been rolling for almost six weeks now. We encourage all of our Lotto players to buy their tickets early and to continue to follow the Government health guidelines in place while doing so.”
Use the rule of the inverted pyramid
The rule of the inverted pyramid outlines the way in which a press release should be written so that it brings the most benefit to the journalist reading it. The inverted pyramid outlines a method by which the top of the pyramid contains the most substantial information, answering the key who, what, where, when and why questions. The information at the top of the pyramid, or press release, is what you should want the story to lead with. The second section should cover important details that have not been previously mentioned, with the third section or final paragraph containing general and background information.
The purpose of using the inverted pyramid method is to allow the journalist to get a strong idea of what the story will be about from the opening line and first paragraph. This means that information that is less vital to their knowledge comes further down and they will have a basic understanding without needing to read that far.
Key blockages to press release success:
There are a few reasons why some press releases get great success and some don’t get picked up at all. Here are some reasons why your press release may not be making the news, even if the story itself is newsworthy.
The structure of a press release is highly important and can influence the chance of your story getting covered or ignored. If your press release is too long, this is off-putting for a journalist as they will have to wade through a wordy email to find the key points that they want to work their story around.
To avoid this, keep your release short and sweet, only including the relevant information. Not following a structure and putting your press release together in the wrong order can also impact your chances of getting coverage. First impressions count, so if you have a rambly summary of your story at the top and the key information at the bottom, a journalist may not make it that far before moving on to the next release in their inbox.
Errors and typos can have an influence on the traction of your release. Making simple spelling mistakes or errors within your press release can hinder your efforts, as it reflects on the time and effort put into writing the release. As a communications specialist, effective language is important and it is worth asking someone in your department to proofread it for mistakes before sending. It is easy to miss mistakes in your own work, so getting a second perspective is essential.
Long Approval Process.
Having an extended approval process can be a major blockage in the success of your press release, especially when it is time-sensitive. As a PR expert, it can be difficult when many others are involved in the sign-off process. Maybe there is a committee that is heavily involved but has no experience in public relations, making suggestions that don’t align with good PR etiquette.
If each press release has to be approved by a busy CEO, this can eat into the timeframe for your story's release, meaning it goes out too late to be published. In cases like this, it is important to build up trust and prove that you are capable of getting it right without the long wait for approval by a CEO or committee.
Lack of instinct due to not enough press releases being sent.
Instinct is something that comes with experience and when you only send press releases every once in a blue moon, it can be difficult to find a natural rhythm in the writing process. As press releases demand to meet certain criteria and structures, it is essential to practice writing releases on a regular basis to sharpen your instinct and improve your media presence.
How to distribute your press release
Once you have mastered the art of writing a press release, the next step is to send it out to journalists so that it has the chance to make the news. There are two key ways to distribute a press release, sending it yourself using your list of contacts and a variety of tools, or through a media contacts database. Sending releases to your lists curated on a spreadsheet can be time-consuming and hinder your desired coverage.
Using a media contacts database can give you access to topic-specific lists and journalists by topic. Refining the list that you send your press release to and targeting those who can reach your desired audience is the analytical way to get your story into the news while reaching your target audience.
Here are a few steps on how to approach press release distribution:
Find journalists who may be interested in your release or pitch.
Create a list with these journalists.
Write a catchy subject line.
Research the right time to send your press release or pitch.
Know when to follow up.
Building media relations is an integral part of press release distribution. Without a strong network of journalists, your story is less likely to make the news. You can do this by connecting with journalists both online and in-person, creating lists of topic-specific journalists and knowing when to follow up with them, offering to answer any questions they may have. Timing your press release is also an essential aspect to consider.
As discussed above, the Dogs Trust press release was so successful as a result of both emotion and timing. It was sent out in the month leading up to Christmas, at just the right time for people to consider changing their actions. A successful press release garners action or thought from the public and timing can have a major impact on this.