Press releases are an incredibly important part of PR and marketing, and remain one the most efficient ways of delivering news to the media. Press releases have been a mainstay of the PR world, and the first press release was said to have been distributed in 1906, following a tragic train accident in New Jersey. The rail company’s publicist, Ivy Lee, issued a statement to journalists, and due to the accuracy and honesty of his statement, it was published by papers including the New York Times.
Today, press releases can be just as impactful as Ivy Lee’s. Unlike paid marketing, press releases are a reliable option because of their authenticity, generating earned coverage. Press releases are beneficial for both brands and journalists, efficiently increasing a brand’s exposure and reach almost instantaneously, while making it easier for journalists to receive news about businesses, political organisations, and other entities. Furthermore, releases can be embargoed to keep a story under wraps until a suitable time. As press releases are largely formatted ready for publication, they can save time for journalists, while also allowing brands to distribute a story with a favourable angle towards them.
Press releases are issued for various reasons. Usually, brands issue press releases to update the public on their latest news, whether it is a new product, hire, event, or award win. For example, the announcement of the latest iPhone model, or a series of upcoming concerts, or the signing of a football player are all events that would typically merit a press release.
However, press releases are not always intrinsically newsworthy. More often than not, press releases are issued for minor pieces of news. While a good story will always make for a successful press release, it takes an author who understands what makes a press release good to turn just about any story into a headline.
Planning a press release
1. What makes a press release newsworthy?
A well-written, detailed story is a large part of drafting a good press release, but making it eye-catching and easy to read is what elevates it to a great release. Do your research – understanding what the press release is about is key, so make sure you know all the keywords and points of the release. Though perhaps the most basic step of all, it’s also important to remember to include the 5 W’s. Without these details, editors will be reluctant to publish any release. When drafting a press release, always ask yourself who the story is about, what the story is, where and when it occurred, and why the story matters.
The most crucial factor in making a story newsworthy is understanding why the target audience should care. The first thing to do before drafting is to identify who the target audience is, for both readers and potential journalists. Then, if you can, make sure you answer why the release is timely, relevant, and impactful. Why is a senior hire beneficial for expanding a business and its services on a local or regional scale? Or how does an ESG report reflect on current events and trends in the world? Highlighting a story’s topicality, locality and impact reflects its importance and gives editors a reason to run the story.
2. Crafting a headline
Once you’ve done that, it’s time to think of a headline. While headlines must be attention-grabbing, they don’t need to be clever or intricate. In fact, a simple headline is the most striking. Always lead the headline with the brand before tackling the ‘what’ (and sometimes the ‘where’ and ‘when’ aren’t even necessary). To determine the ‘what’, pick out the keywords of your story. If a company has made a public donation to a specific charity, that’s all the headline needs to contain – X company has made an X donation to X charity. Of course, any specific details that make the story unique should also be included – if the donation is the company’s first, make it clear. Ultimately, the author needs to understand the perspective of the editor and reader to select the most important details for the headline.
3. Structuring the body
The rest of the press release follows a relatively familiar template. The introductory paragraph should explain the 5 W’s of the story, while the main body should tackle the context of the release. The context includes secondary details such as any background of the parties involved and what makes the story significant and newsworthy.
The last thing to include in the body of a press release is a quote. A well-crafted quote should add perspective to the story, and allow the brand to use its voice. Authentic voices are valuable in quotes, and should not come off as PR. Instead of leading with a line such as ‘we are pleased’ or ‘we are delighted’, quotes should use statistics to explain why the story is beneficial to its audience. Avoiding cliches helps quotes to appear more honest and natural, in turn lending credibility to the story.
4. Finalising the details
Finally, the press release should end with a boilerplate, contact details, and any further information that would be useful for the editor, including images. This will encourage journalists to learn more about the brand, and to get in touch for further details or updates, increasing the chances of future stories getting coverage. Also make sure to proofread the release, confirm any details, and check that the formatting is clean and easy to read. Once the final touch-ups are done, it’s time to think about distribution.
When distributing press releases, don’t forget the role of digital marketing. The impact of press releases can be maximised by sending them when journalists are most likely to be reading their inbox, with the most effective times Monday to Thursday mornings. Once the release has picked up coverage, make sure to shout about it! Sharing the news on social media helps boost social media engagement, while giving the release a broader audience.
What you shouldn’t include in a press release
Cliched quotes are just one of many common mistakes made when drafting press releases – as earned media, quotes represent the opportunity to come across as genuine Others include typical errors and inconsistencies in copy, such as slipping into first person. While a press release reflects the views of the brand, use of the first person should be saved for the quote.
Last but not least, it’s vital for the press release to be focused and succinct. It can be too easy to go into great detail on the context of a story, or waffle on about its relevance. The body of a press release should never be longer than a page, and the most newsworthy information should be as early in the press release as possible. Journalists often do not read entire press releases, which is why it’s so important to be eye-catching and informative without sacrificing brevity. Including photographs is one of the best ways to make a release stand out. Press releases with images are viewed 1.4 times more than text-only press releases, not to mention editors will be thankful if you source the pictures for them!
At Sapience, we have many talented creative writers with a wealth of experience in writing press releases across various sectors. If you are looking for an agency to draft and distribute your releases, please get in touch.