Write a press release

We don’t have space here to cover more than the basics, but get these things right and you’ll be well on the way to satisfying editors’ needs, and in the process give yourself the best chance of achieving good press or broadcast media coverage.

Getting noticed, getting read

We’ll take it as read that you’ve already decided who your target audience is, are clear on your communications objectives, have an idea for a news release and so on. You’re now poised to write that masterpiece and unleash it on the world.

  • What’s new? Ultimately your story has to say something that hasn’t been said before, or it’s not news and won’t be of interest to most publications.
  • What type of media coverage are you aiming to achieve (based on what your target audience reads)? Be realistic! What’s important to your organisation may not be as enthralling for the FT or the BBC. The local papers will be interested in different angles to the nationals and the trade press.
  • Identify the target publications and read them so you’re familiar with the kind of story they cover and their tone.
  • Write a strong headline. If it’s not compelling, readers will stop there! A sub-heading can be useful to clarify the context or add important extra news.
  • The opening paragraph should carry all of the important news, and answer the ‘so what?’ question. You need to capture the imagination of the reader and give them reasons to keep reading.
  • Make sure you answer the who, what, when, where, why and how of your story. Don’t leave obvious questions unanswered.
  • Include less important detail until the end. Editors with limited space will sub down your piece by cutting from the bottom; another reason to get the best stuff in early on.
  • Quotations are commonly used to bring the story to life and give a human element. Keep them short and to the point.
  • You can include further information and provide context by including a ‘Notes for Editors’ section at the end.
  • Write in the third person, reporting the plain facts, not making a sales pitch; nothing destroys credibility faster. Avoid hype.
  • Check spelling and grammar obsessively, including names of people and organisations. Is the release honest and truthful if taken literally?
  • Include contact details of someone who will be available at the time the release goes out, for instance to supply a picture.

Final rule: Look for opportunities to break the rules! Too many press releases are written to a formula. Ring the changes and you could make your release stand out from the hundreds of others your recipient will receive.