How to write a press release
Purpose of a Press Release
The first step in writing a press release is to get clear about the purpose of the press release. It is important to understand that newspapers, magazines, etc. are not in the business of giving you free publicity. Their business is to provide valuable content to their readers, listeners, viewers to that they can sell advertising. So if you want some media outlet to run your story, it must be a story that is of interest to their readers. They do not care about you or your story. The only thing that they truly care about is content that will raise their ratings.
The reporter is generally very busy and has more opportunities for stories than he has time and space to fill them. So the more of his job you do for him, the more likely he is to respond to your press release.
Decide on what you wish to accomplish with the press release. Do not attempt to accomplish multiple goals with one press release.
After you have decided on what you wish to accomplish, the next step is to decide how you wish to accomplish the goal. You could be very controversial, you could have some fad (like the mood ring) or you can solve a problem. What ever you decide to do, the one thing you do not wish to be is bland. Bland does not generate interest in the readers.
While you may not choose to be controversial and you may not have some line on the latest fad, you can solve a problem. This is by far the easiest way to get free publicity. Solve a problem that is of interest to the readers.
Format of Release
The mechanics of writing a press release are simple and straightforward.
- All press releases should be on 8 ½ X 11 paper
- In the upper left hand corner, the release should have the release time. Most will be "For Immediate Release". If the press release is time sensitive, then you can put a time qualifier such as "For Release One Week before Valentine's Day."
- In the upper right hand corner is the contact information: "For further information contact: Full name and phone number."
- You need to have a very powerful headline. This tells the reader what the release is all about and why they should continue reading. Without a good headline, your release will get filed in the circular filing cabinet. A good guideline is to make an outrageous claim that you can back up. Remember the headline is not about you, it is about something of interest to the readers. An example of a headline might be "Don't buy another ________ until you know these six facts about buying _______." Or "A Startling fact about ________________."
- The next part of the release is the body copy. It should capture the essence of your story in two or three sentences. Do not write out your full story.
- The next section should contain some quotations by you or some third party about the story. Then there should be a few sentences that establishes your credibility.
- Then invite the reporter to call you
Why write a short release?
There are a number of reasons you should not write your full story. First the reporter will probably not read it. She is too busy. Second, if they do read it and decide to run with the story, your story will never be more than you include in the press release. But if you get the reporter to call you, there is a better than average chance that they will write a much larger article with some interesting slant that you never considered.
One thing you must do is prepare a Q & A sheet about the story. It is called a Q & A sheet but in fact it is only questions you want the reporter to ask you to "draw the story out". Reporters love this because it saves them the time to think up questions. Do not send this with the release. Only send when the reporter ask for it.
While it is tempting to send press releases by email, don't. The preferred method of receiving press releases is by fax. What you prefer does not matter. Do everything you can to make things easier for the reporter.
Writing a press release is straightforward and simple. Just remember that it is all about providing content that is useful, informative and valuable to the reader of the newspaper. If you try to make it about you, you will not get the publicity.
When the reporter calls for the story, be sure to have something of interest to offer to the reader. For example, you could have a free booklet about the subject. The reporter does not want to field calls from her reader. So they will be happy to make your contact information part of the story. Just make sure what you give is of value. The more interesting your content, the more likely you are to get the publicity.