How to write a great press release

How to write a great press release

Writing a press release can determine the success or failure of your PR or media campaign. A press release has some basics that are simple to master and often become the basis for the very story you hope will be published.

By Ray Hanania

Writing a press release can determine the success or failure of your PR or media campaign.

A press releases consists of some basics that are simple to master and oftentimes a good press release becomes the basis for the story you hope will be published or conveyed by the mainstream news media.

Media will often use a release as either a basis to cover a topic, or as the guiding format for writing and reporting the story. The better the release, the more the coverage or republication. The news media oftentimes will not use the release word-for-word, but they will use parts of the release word-for-word because it originates from you, the source.

Attribution is important. And the basics need to be answered — Who, What, When, Where, How and Why — but a good release actually tells a story is isn’t just a “note” to encourage media coverage.

A great press release should be able to stand on its own without ever having to be edited. It should be able to be used as the final story.

Fireman fighting a fire on the roof of a house
Fireman fighting a fire on the roof of a house

A good press release consists of:

  • a good title (of about 6 to 8 words)
  • a summary/introductory paragraph of two sentences
  • a lede sentence of no more than 35 words that concisely leads the reader to want to know more
  • basic facts about the subject of the release (Who, What, Where, When, How and Why)
  • quotations from one or more sources involved in the subject
  • Contact information on how the media or interested party can get more details or questions answered

Of course, the most important quality of a good press release is the content and the writing itself.

In today’s online world where information is even more competitive that it has ever been in the history of humankind, a well written press release can be powerful.

Press releases can do several things: Tell a complete Story; entice the media to cover a topic or issue; inform the public about an event; provide information.

On mistake that many organizations make is to think that their organization newsletter is a press release. It is not. In fact, a newsletter may be good to alert people about something but it is not reprintable the way it is submitted.

Many online newspapers and online blogs want your press releases, but they want it written. They don’t want a note that tells them they have to contact you for more information.

They also don’t want a press release that is only self-promotional, patting yourself on your back and telling everyone how great you are.

Most people, including editors at print, online and broadcast media, will only read the first few sentences. And if those sentences are not compelling and open the door to a compelling story, they will not read further. Your release will die. All of the effort you put into it will be wasted.

So, go the extra mile.

Make your lede sentence interesting. Focus on something that is compelling about the topic you are trying to promote.

And then, inside the release include all that self-promotional fluff. Don’t over-do it, though. You should always have a “boilerplate” description of your organization that concisely and effectively describes who you or your organization is and what you do. It should include how to contact you. It should include some history.

This boilerplate information is critical and is often republished over and over again in stories about your group. You probably notice that when the media writes about a topic often, some of the information is repeated from story to story.

That’s the information you want to define for the media. Don’t let the media define you for the public.

It’s a war and a give-and-take struggle. You will push and they will push back. But if you don’t provide the information, they will create it for you from their perspective and based on what they think is right.

That’s how false and inaccurate information becomes “reality.”

Finally, a great press release also include a good photograph that helps convey the importance of the topic you are trying to promote or convey to the public.

If you use a photo of people, don’t make it unfocused. The best photo is an action photo that shows someone or something that reflects your topic or goal.

Are you announcing a convention or conference with speakers on the fight against illegal Israeli settlements? Include a picture of the key activists who are organizing against those settlements, or a picture of a settlement that is being protested.

Include a picture of several of the keynote speakers who will be at the conference standing together either talking to each other, or facing the camera posing for the camera. You should never have more than 3 people in a picture. You want people looking at the picture to know immediately what it represents.

A picture tells a thousands stories, but you want the story that most represents you or your event to be the one they see and understand.

You also must own the rights to the picture. Hire a good photographer and take good pictures. Include a “caption” for the photo. Don’t just let the media decide what to write. Make you you provide everything you would like to see published in the story and with the photos.

A story of a house burning is a compelling story but oftentimes will not be republished in detail.

A story of a house burning is more compelling and will be republished if you include a photo of the house while it is burning.

That’s the kind of news the media wants. That’s the kind of news the public wants to read.

Finally, don’t write a press release to make yourself happy or satisfied. Write a press release that will interest the public that you want to read it. You already know everything about the topic. Now you want to share it through the media with the public.