Writing a Press Release: A Step by Step Guide to Spreading the Word

Your small business should always be looking to generate interest. Writing a press release has long been a way of drawing attention to companies and promoting new products and services. Putting together a good press release, though, is a delicate task. You need to balance getting in key facts with keeping the writing attractive and catchy. Your story may only get a few seconds of a journalists attention, so you need to make sure you are writing a press release that will sell them on the worth of your news in that brief time.  

It may not be easy, but there is a definite set of guidelines that will help you to succeed in writing a press release that makes it to the papers. The guide below will show you the way.  

1. Be picky about what you write about

Every development in your small business is important to you. The problem is, not everyone will see things with the same enthusiasm. You might not like it, but you will need to accept that some things are just not worth writing a press release about.  

A good way of judging whether an announcement is news worthy is asking how this news will affect others. Journalists will often look at the human impact of a story, so if the only person affected by your news is yourself, it is unlikely to impress the journalist reviewing it. Better for you to spend that time on growing your business.  

2. Answer who, what, where, when, and why?

These questions are the key points that readers want to know from your story. That means they should be the points you build around when writing a press release. Have these answers ready before you start so you can more easily and, more importantly, concisely, construct a good story.  

You should aim to briefly explain what is happening, who is involved, where and when this is happening, and why it is important. This should be explained as early as possible so you will increase the likelihood of grabbing the interest of the journalists you approach. A perfect press release will sum these points up within the first sentence. Everything else should simply elaborate on what you say at the start.  

3. Make the copy relevant

You might scoff at this advice as too obvious, but writing a press release for your local newspaper should be different to what you write for a specialist industry magazine. The audience for these different publications will have different priorities and interests and you will need to focus the writing to more effectively grab their attention.  

You should do research into what publications you should aim your story for. Pick the audience that will be most interested in your business and your news stories and aim for the media that best supports them. Read up on the type of content each publication typically runs and how you should adjust your story to fit their focus and style. It is also worth looking into their publishing deadlines and how they schedule work to find the best time to submit your story.  

4. Don’t overdo it

Your press release is unlikely to demand a full page spread in your chosen publication. Facing the reality that you may only get a few column inches is key to writing a press release that makes as big an impact as possible. You should make sure your press release is no more than 500 words at the absolute most.  

Ideally, you should have said everything you need to say in the first paragraph. You can go into more depth later on. Bear in mind, however, that editors will typically cut from the bottom up. Keep all the important facts and information towards the top of your press release. Save space when writing a press release by not adding any company information. Your limited space should be saved for the matter at hand.  

5. Write a snappy headline

Always best to leave this as the last step of writing a press release so you can use the rest of the content to help. Your headline needs to get across the content of your story in one line to not only head up your press release but to make sure journalists take the time to read it in the first place.  

Don’t get stuck on trying to be clever with your headlines. Your focus should be on making sure journalists can see why they should read the rest of your press release. The best tactic is to simply state what it is you are looking to promote. If it is a new product, simply say your company has a new product. Editors will come up with the clever headlines if they think it is important.  

6. Important formatting tips

It is important that your press release is formatted properly to give you the best chance of having your story picked up. Proper presentation helps keep your content clear and helps the journalist read and edit the writing more easily.  

Start with the basics. Make the headlines bold and double space your writing. Head your press release with information explaining if the story can be released immediately or only after a certain date. After the title, lead with the date and location of where your news is coming from before going into the bulk of your copy. Signal the end of the press release content with “###,” which is a journalistic standard.  

Adding a boilerplate after the press release is important. You can share relevant facts about the company here that the journalist can include if necessary. You should also offer contact information for yourself or for the relevant department if they are up trusted with PR.  

7. Getting it out there

The best way of contacting a journalist with your press release is to send by email. Use the subject line to share your headline and copy the press release into the body of the email rather than adding an attachment. These are unlikely to be opened by a busy journalist. If you are keen on adding images it is, again, better not to add them to the email straight away. Add a ‘Note to editors’ at the end of your email that lets them know that photos are available for the press release on request.    

Finally, don’t be afraid to chase after your press release. Journalists are busy and an email may get lost amongst the many others sent their way. Make a phone call to follow up your email and check it was received and to try and push your story that little bit more.