Basics of press release writing
Got a story to tell the world but don't have a public relations budget? Maybe it's time for a bit of DIY PR. In this blog, we'll cover the very basics of writing a press release. While we'll aim to provide information and advice on writing your news in a way that grabs attention, we take no responsibility for the results. It is possible to write your own press releases but there really is no substitute for an experienced professional. With that said, let's take a look at the basics of any good press release.
Firstly, you need a news story. If you haven't already, I would suggest reading our blog: "what makes a news story". A news story is exactly that - something new to tell the world. It might seem obvious, but it can be overlooked if you're too keen to just be in the newspaper. A press release about the services your company offers, for example, is not news. And anything too sales focused is only likely to get your press release sent to the adverts team at any news outlet. They'll give you a call and say you can be in the newspaper for £750 +VAT (or whatever price they charge for ads). This is not the same as getting your press release published as editorial (which is essentially free).
Once you've got your story, there are a number of ways to get it out there, but here we're focusing on the mighty press release. This might be a good time to read our "The power of the press release" blog, if you haven't already, so you know why they're still so important. Turning what can be a jumble of information into a coherent and compelling news story takes a lot of practice - you will get better with time. You're aiming to write like a journalist and, if you don't know what that looks like, the best thing to do is pick up a copy of the publication(s) you want to appear in and read it cover to cover. Pay close attention to how the stories are written - even the little details, such as the use of upper case letters, how quotes are written, how job titles appear. All very important.
Next, when you come to writing your press release, there are a few essentials to include:
The headline - the first thing anyone reads but probably the last element you'll write
The first line - equally if not more important than the headline, this must grab the reader's attention
The main body - all the necessary details of the story
Quotes - every story needs at least one
Notes to editors - photo captions and all the additional bits journalists might need.
Writing a great headline is not as easy it might seem. Even journalists can be pretty poor at it, relying on their subbies to come up with something attention grabbing. You can make a career out of writing headlines alone. Don't worry, though, you don't need a "Freddie Starr ate my hamster" to make your story fly, but you do need something compelling. Keep it relatively short - five to eight words - and test it by reading it to others. If they're intrigued to know more, you're on the right path.
The first line
Don't give too much away in the first line but, equally, you need to deliver the biggest hook. Why are you writing your story? Get this across succinctly and don't feel the need to cram in too much detail. The idea is to get the reader to want to know more, so they read on to answer any lingering questions. "An 80-year-old daredevil will leap off a 100ft bridge to raise funds for the fight against dementia". How can an 80-year-old do this? Why would they leap off a bridge? Which bridge? What fight against dementia? Raise as many questions as possible with your first line.
The main body
Here's where you get into the details and start answering those questions. Don't feel the need to overload each sentence, but start with the most important details and lead from there. Using the first line example above: next I would introduce the 80-year-old daredevil by name and how they plan on surviving this leap from a 100ft bridge (bungee). You still need to better identify the individual, so in this instance by naming their care home, but for a business release simply naming the business would suffice. Next name the bridge where this feat will take place and what charity they're doing this for. Then you can get into their reasons and start adding quotes. Exactly how you introduce all this detail will depend on your writing ability but, if you're considering writing your own press releases, you must already be a pretty confident writer.
Every publication has their own house style, which includes how to write quotes. It's worth writing them in your press release how the publication you're targeting writes them in their news stories. Always include the name of the person quoted and, if applicable, their job title. As a rule of thumb, these should come before the quote - e.g. Joe Smith, a plumber from Scarborough, said: "**here's your quote**". The quote itself can include superlatives, emotional reaction, first person account, all the things usually excluded from the rest of the press release.
Notes to editors
Every press release needs a good, related photo to accompany it - without exception. Even if it's just a head shot of the person you've quoted, a photo is a necessity. The notes to editors is where you put your photo caption. Name every person in the photo in order from left to right and, if necessary, include their job titles. The notes to editors is also where you want to bullet point any links or additional bits of info a journalist might need if they wanted to bulk out the story or provide references. In the example above, a link to the charity website would be a good one to include.
Finally, make sure your contact details are added at the bottom, so they can contact you if they need more information. Every time you issue a press release, be prepared for a journalist to call to ask for more details.
There is clearly a lot more to press release writing, if you want to delve into greater detail, but here we're providing a general overview. If nothing else, hopefully it gives an insight into what's needed, so maybe you can gather the necessary details to provide to a professional to write it up for you, saving time and money. If you are planning on writing your own press release and have any questions or if you'd like further detail on any aspect of the process, please feel free to leave a question in the comments.
Next time, we'll take a closer look at pitching your story to the press, once your press release is written. Keep visiting our website, follow our social channels or sign up to receive email notifications to stay up-to-date with the latest.