What Is A Press Release?
Having worked at a public relations agency, I’d written my fair share of press releases even before I started by copywriting business, Endeavor Writing. Press releases continue to be a popular request from the small and medium-sized business owners I serve.
I field a lot of questions from my clients and from other business owners about how to effectively incorporate press releases into an overall marketing strategy. What I’ve discovered, however, is that many small and medium-sized business owners have an incomplete idea of what a press release even is.
Before looking to include press releases into a marketing strategy, it is imperative that a business owner understand what a press release is used for, the style in which it is written and how it is constructed.
So, buckle up, turn your concentration levels to High, and let’s get learning about press releases.
A press release in its simplest form is an announcement written in the form of a hard news story. Things are happening to a business all the time, and in some instances, the business wants to spread this news to their clients, potential clients, stakeholders and the media.
Common press release topics are:
- A new product launch
- The hire of a vice president
- Sponsorship of a community outreach program
- Results of an important scientific study using their products
- A re-vamped website
- An industry award
A press release is not an article and not a blog post. It is written in the manner of a hard news story, which focuses on facts and information, not subjective statements and opinion.
You wouldn’t go to the national news section of the New York Times website (cause who actually reads physical papers anymore) and read a story that went something like this:
“The senate took up a new climate change bill today. The debate was really boring and no one paid attention. We all know the bill isn’t going to pass.”
Maybe something like this would be found on the opinion page (hopefully written with much more insight and wit), but definitely not on the hard news pages. Likewise, a press release shouldn’t contain subjective or markety content.
The reason for this is simple. One of the original intents of a press release was to be picked up by mainstream media outlets. Press releases were thus written in a way so that they could easily be added whole-cloth to a newspaper without consumers ever being the wiser. (It’s not really that shocking, is it.)
Things have changed drastically in the marketing world over the last decade, and the purpose of the press release has evolved with it. No longer is it strictly a tool for garnering media attention (though this continues to be a primary purpose among others). I’ll go into this more in my next blog post. For now, let’s stick with deconstructing a press release, so you can see exactly how it is written.
Press Release Format
Unlike articles and blogs posts, a press release has a highly standardized format. Over the years, these standards have started to fuzzify a little, but, for now, at least, they still stand. If you ever decide to attempt a press release on your own, you’ll need to adhere to this standard if you ever want to submit your press release to a newswire or press release distribution site.
Top of the press release
The very top of the press release includes the contact information of the person who will responses to the press release. If the press release focuses on a highly newsworthy item, the contact person may get calls and emails from journalists who want to conduct interviews and write stories. The contact information should include a name, phone and email. The contact person’s position in the company is optional.
It’s also important to include the phrase “FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE” at the top of the press release, signifying that the information is allowed to be distributed. I also like to include the company’s logo at the top of the release for branding purposes. If you use a newswire service to distribute your press release, they will include your logo and “FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE” for you. (More on press release distribution services in a future blog post)
The press release headline should impart the gist of the news in one short, clear statement. It doesn’t have to be a full sentence. The shorter and more impactful, the better. To get a good idea of what a press release heading should look like, check out some of the top newspapers in the country. Scan the article headlines, and you’ll see what I mean. In some cases, you may want to add a fun twist to the title related to the contents of the story. For instance, I once wrote a press release about a company called Grill Charms™. The company’s CEO was featured on the ABC reality show “Shark Tank”. The title of the press release was, “Grill Charms Hooks An Investor In The Shark Tank”.
The sub-head of a press release is a single statement or sentence that expands upon the headline. Basically, whatever important details you couldn’t fit into the heading go into the sub-head, although you want to make sure and keep the sub-head down to a single sentence.
With my Grill Charms press release, the sub-head was, Barbeque Accessory Start Up Brings Multiple Investors To The Table On ABC’s Hit Show
The very first thing in the body of the press release should be the city where the news took place (usually the home base of the company) followed by the date that the press release will be distributed. I was taught to include the state if the city was not generally well known and to write the date as abbreviated month and day (ex. OCT. 05). When writing the body of a press release, think of it was a news funnel. The most important news goes at the top, and as you go down the funnel, the story should expand to include all the additional facts and details of lesser importance.
Again, take some time to read hard news stories in your favorite paper, and you’ll see this same style used.
The first paragraph should plainly and comprehensively explain what the news is. There’s no need to try to be cute or go overboard with dramatic lingo. Your job is to impart the gist of the story as clearly as possible and then to expand upon that in the following paragraphs. Sorry to keep harking back to my Grill Charms press release, but I think it serves (pun!) as a good example of what I’m talking about.
(To view the press release click HERE and scroll down. The Grill Charms release is the first sample provided)
In the first paragraph, I state that Grill Charms was featured on the Shark Tank and got multiple offers from its panel. In the second paragraph, I highlight the company’s president, Leslie Haywood, who was featured on the show and explain more details about the offers she received. The third paragraph describes what Grill Charms are, and the following paragraphs add supporting details about the company, product and Leslie’s appearance on the show.
Most press releases stick to one page, or about 500 words. This roughly translates into 4- 6 paragraphs of content. The last paragraph should add any wrap up details about the company, including a note that more information can be found on the company website.
Most press releases include at least one quote from a top figure in the company. Oftentimes, this is the president/CEO, especially for small and medium-sized businesses. The quote is the one area of a press release that can be subjective – because it is being attributed to someone with a stake in the company. When I help my clients develop quotes, I ask them to think about and react to the news item. If they won an award, oftentimes they want to mention how proud they are and that the award provides proof of the quality of their product. If the press release is about a product launch, then perhaps the company’s president will speak to how this product will positively impact the lives of customers. Quotes shouldn’t be too long or effusive. If they are overly markety, readers will ignore them and reporters won’t put it into the story.
In some cases, two quotes may be necessary, especially if the news relates to two people. For instance, if a company hires on a new sales VP, the press release may feature a quote from the company’s president as well as a quote from the new hire.
Usually, the quote goes toward the middle of the press release after the main news items have been covered.
A boilerplate goes at the very bottom of the press release. I prefer to add three centered asterisks (***) at the end of the press release and then write add the boilerplate on the next line, so it’s clear where the press release ends and the boilerplate begins.
A boilerplate is simply a quick summary of the company behind the press release. Most companies should already have a boilerplate, though not every small business does. The boilerplate usually includes when the company was founded and by whom, a sentence describing the company’s mission statement, a brief mention of its major products and contact information.
On the press release page in my Endeavor Writing portfolio, you can see an example of a boilerplate on the second sample for the company Snug Attack™.
To get a sense of what different press releases look and read like, you can see examples of press releases I’ve written on my website as well as see real life press release newsfeeds from the major distributors. For example, HERE is a link to PR Web’s news center where you can see the latest press releases they’ve distributed.
This is only the beginning
So there you have it. You should now have a basic understanding of what a press release is. However, knowing the composition of a press release is only one part of the equation. If you’re considering adding press releases to your marketing campaign, you also need to understand how they’re used – especially in the wild wild west of our current online marketing world. I’ll address this fun issue in my next blog post. Stay tuned!