How to Write a Killer Press Release: The Definitive Guide

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Commanding media attention in 2024 and beyond means nailing the essentials of press communication. Press release mastery is not so much about touting your company’s innovation as it is about satiating the journalist’s appetite for high-value content.

By: Dellvin Roshon Williams, Founder at DRW

ress releases and media pitches are essential components of public relations practice. The two go hand-in-hand. The role of a press release is to help journalists, bloggers, and influencers understand what is particularly noteworthy about your announcement.

Media pitches direct editors and publishers to your press release to further highlight why your announcement is of interest to their readership, thereby deserving coverage.

Press releases tell you WHAT. Media pitches tell you WHY.

If your goal is to build an effective communication strategy, mastering the fundamentals of media placements makes a set of tactics available as you build out your long-term strategy.

I do not attempt to present a definitive guide to press release writing in this post. Instead, we present a set of insights about the press release and its role in amplifying your efforts to reach buyers directly and drive business.

As an agency owner, I also understand that in the age of new media, the “client-to-PR-person-to-all-journalists” approach, while still relevant, must make equal space for online newsrooms and consumer-centric brand journalism content. More on that later.

But first, . . .

What Is a Press Release?

A press release is news on a subject in which your company:

  • Announces winning an award
  • Reaches a fundraising milestone
  • Enters into new partnerships
  • Hires a new executive (CEO, COO, CFO, etc..)
  • Unveils new products and/ or services
  • Announces a major merger or acquisition
  • Announces a press conference or upcoming event
  • Share information about industry-leading research
  • Announces/responds to information about political candidates
  • Releases information that addresses a crisis in brand communication

Releases help your brand gain the awareness needed to build a positive on and offline reputation with prospects and clients. That is why writing an effective press release helps you stand out.

“A press release provides an opportunity for you to share your take on why a product is special, respond to claims made by others, explain why your organization is important, etc., rather than only allowing others to define you.” – Mickie Kennedy

But press releases in and of themselves are not enough to get the kind of media attention that you are looking for; publishers of all kinds are under immense pressure to meet editorial deadlines so they can get content out to their audiences; and – if done right – your release should grab their attention…

… one that cuts through the clutter and more effectively leverages relationships and reputations with journalists, bloggers, and influencers

… one that empowers you to drive sales by combining PR with SEO metrics and web traffic

… one that pulls media to you rather than pushing information out to them

But that is a blog post for another time. Now let’s take a brief look at the history and types of press releases.

History of the Press Release

The modern press release was created by a man named Ivy Lee.

On 28th October 1906, more than 50 passengers were killed in a tragic Pennsylvania Railroad train accident in Atlantic City, New Jersey. That train was owned by the Pennsylvania Railroad Company – one of Lee’s clients.

Perhaps foreseeing future crises in corporate behavior, Lee saw the railroad tragedy as an opportunity to “tell the truth because sooner or later the public will find out anyway.”

The Public Relations agency Parker and Lee was founded just two years prior. Lee – the agency’s eponymous co-founder – understood early on that – to borrow a phrase from …  – “putting lipstick on a pig” was not the best way to handle the situation.

As PR legend would have it, Lee convinced the Pennsylvania Railroad company to issue a statement explaining how and why the tragedy took place; he submitted a statement to the New York Times; and the NYT printed the statement word for word, from the perspective of the Pennsylvania Railroad Company.

Furthermore, Lee is said to have convinced the company to also provide specially designated trains to transport reporters to and from the accident site.

Thus, the modern press release – also known as a news or media release – was born.

And for more than 100 years, PR pros have been using releases as a core component of their media strategy, evolving along the way.

Types of Press Releases

Press releases are necessary because they are sources of high-value content for journalists. Not all releases, however, are created equal. The types of press releases you use change according to their function in your overall communications planning. They include:

Standard Releases

Standard releases are your run-of-the-mill press releases that include the basics: headline, dateline, opening paragraph, body paragraphs, boilerplate, and contact information. Depending on your industry, standard releases are also accompanied by high-resolution images and/or videos.

Media Advisories

Media advisories are issued to generate buzz around events like press conferences. The focus here is not so much on sharing specific information as it is about garnering media interest in the event, with details to follow.

Embargoed Releases

Embargoed releases contain specific information released to the media before a press conference. Examples include the text of political speeches, data, or statistics. This information is not to be used until after a specific time is given, typically outlined at the beginning of a release.

Phew! Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s make you a PR superstar. Here are three keys for unlocking press release mastery.

Key #1: Know Your Audience

The old method of mass emailing editors and journos is not only outdated but also a complete waste of time and energy. Most editors’ and journalists’ inboxes remain flooded with dry email pitches with releases from PR pros seeking media placements for their clients; …

Cision’s State of the Press Release examined more than 1000,000 press releases and surveyed PR pros about their press release practices: Here’s a bit of what they found:

  • Approximately 42% of respondents say that their biggest challenge is ensuring that they reach the right person.

  • Over 30% of respondents say that their biggest challenge is making them stand out from other releases.
  • Only half of the PR pros surveyed use press releases to position their brand as thought leaders or experts in their respective industries.

So, how do you move the needle?

When you’re planning to get coverage from your releases, here’s how to accelerate your chances of attracting the right kind of media attention

Define your business goals

Is the end goal of your business to increase web traffic? Drive sales? Or maybe you want to become an influencer? Whatever it is, think about what you want to achieve for your business and how media placements can get you to your destination faster.

Target only the right media

If you’re a business looking to sell to other businesses, then a pop culture celebrity-focused publication won’t help you. Identify the newspapers, magazines, podcasts, and radio and TV stations that cover the topics in your market, specific to your niche.

Build your media persona

Who are the journalists who would be interested in you based on your story? Who do they write for? Where are they on social media? Find out who the decision-makers are in the publications that you want to target. Find out what kinds of stories they want to tell.

Below is an example of what a media persona should look like. Although optional, having a media persona will help you build an effective list of journalists that should be incorporated into every campaign you create.

Simple enough, right?

You might be shocked to learn the number of PR pros who get this wrong. The key to doing good PR is mastering the basics. If you can start by learning about the interests and passions of the editors and journalists who would be interested in telling your story, then you will be ahead of the game. But that’s only the tip of the proverbial iceberg. Enter SEO.

Do your keyword research

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is the continual maintenance of your website’s ability to rank high on search engines.

In today’s digital environment, SEO helps you to succeed because it also builds your website’s domain authority and contains relevant links that help hyper-target those you are looking to serve.

Now, there are several subcategories of SEO – chief among them is content. SEO copywriting involves creating content around keywords that you want your business to rank for; it strategically inserts keywords into pieces of content so that your content gets eyeballs. And eyeballs mean traffic. Thus, keywords are vital for becoming a core component of your online PR strategy.

In our case, we are talking about press releases.

Writing an effective release as part of your wider comms strategy, however, requires an objective; objectives require goals.

Let’s say you run a small Dubai-based Lifestyle PR firm. You plan to launch a campaign showing how effective your AI-powered software is at measuring and evaluating client media coverage. You then set a SMART goal that looks something like this:

This is where incorporating keywords can turbocharge your content’s visibility. There are three types of keywords you should know: head, body, and long.

Key #2: Keep It Simple

A good press release is between 300-500 words. Anything beyond that wastes time. From “For Immediate Release” to Boilerplate, make sure that your release is correctly formatted and includes quotes only when relevant to the story. Remember: this is a press release, not an advertisement.

More importantly, the press release is not about your product or service; it’s about the journalist.

Hear me out . . .

Loving your product or service and what it brings to the world is not enough. The job of your press release is to provide information that is both of interest and useful to the journalist and gives a brief but compelling summary of the thing you want covered. Ask yourself the following:

. . . Do you have a story to tell?

. . . Is your story newsworthy?

. . . Can your organization become a consistent source of relevant information in your industry?

. . . Have you shared information that is easy for journos, bloggers, and influencers to understand?

. . . Have you summarized the information in a way that is as concise as possible?

The 5 Ws of a press release

If you’re having difficulty answering these questions, then you might want to use what we in the media business call the 5 Ws. The 5 Ws are:

  • What. Cut to the chase. Make sure that the headline and opening paragraph include what’s important about your information.
  • Who. Who is the source of your news, and who will be affected by your release?
  • Where. Where is your event being held or your announcement taking place?
  • When. When in your release include dates, times, periods, and time zones.
  • Why. Done right, the what, who, when, and where of your release will point you to the why. It is important that each paragraph builds upon the previous paragraphs they are in complete alignment with the headline and opening paragraph and fully support your why.

Don’t forget your boilerplate

A boilerplate is a brief paragraph that provides background information about the person or company issuing a press release. This provides the reader with a basic understanding of your organization without having to do any further research. The boilerplate should be followed by any relevant contact information for the press. Include the issuer’s title, phone, email address, and company website.

Key #3: Write In a Narrative Style 

To understand the impact that narrative-style press releases can have on your business, we need to distinguish the story from the narrative. Stories are specific narrations that link a set of conflict-driven events (i.e., plot and timeline) that cause meaningful change in a person or an organization’s life.

The narrative writing style emerges from journalistic storytelling techniques to (re)frame not only how we see the world, but how we interpret, present, and understand patterns of human behavior that occur in said world, over time. Connected stories build narrative; Narratives construct experience.

Brands must build their narrative, and there is nothing better than leveraging stories and customer experiences to achieve that goal.

Sharing these experiences helps you connect with your prospects and clients on a deeper level. Sharing stories helps brands showcase their unique perspectives, which connects consumers with them, especially the ones who have gone through the same. Consequently, it creates a sense of understanding and trust between the brand and consumers.

The writing style of your release has an impact on how editors view the newsworthiness. A narrative writing style can even bring the 5Ws to life. Reginald Moody, professor of Communications at the University of South Alabama argues that:

  • News editors prefer press releases written in the narrative style over press releases written in the inverted pyramid style.
  • News editors find press releases written in the narrative style more interesting and more enjoyable than press releases written in the inverted pyramid style.
  • News editors find press releases written in the narrative style more interesting and more enjoyable than press releases written in the inverted pyramid style.

And although every story – and by extension every narrative technique – is not for every brand, it is an indispensable leadership tool. Surprising as it may seem, not many CEOs, PR pros, or Communications executives have a background in the narrative.  That’s why brand behemoths like Nike feel it necessary to designate senior executives as “corporate storytellers.”

“Because like people, brands have personalities, seek meaning, and speak in a specific, clearly defined tone of voice. The problem is that, like people, all brands are born unique; most, however, die as copies.” – Dellvin Roshon Williams

Understanding who you are determines not only the kinds of values you and your brand possess but also how those values are used to communicate across the public and resolve conflicts, as they arise.

Communicate your vision more impactfully

Training your team in the art of effective public relations writing is a powerful way of keeping people united and motivated toward a common goal. Strong storytelling is impactful for precisely this. Storytelling is something you can’t afford to ignore in building trust and confidence with the people you are looking to serve.

Meaningful, purpose-driven copy allows you to amplify your reach through clear, accessible messaging. That accessibility builds deep emotional connection, which becomes the foundation of meaningful engagement between you and your audience.

Press Release Do: create a visual universe and storytelling framework in your writing that shows your team how their work is bringing the vision to reality.

Press Release Don’t: reiterate the company vision or mission statement. That’s, well… that’s boring.

Build a more relatable brand

Storytelling is one of the most powerful ways for a brand to connect with its target audience. Building your copywriting skills allows you to leverage the connective capacity of stories to inspire your target market. Whether it’s advertising, brochures, videos, or blogging – if it’s infused with the company’s brand story, you can create the emotional connection needed to pull your audience in and win them over.

Press Release Do: focus on connecting with the lifestyle, habits, and values of your target audience

Press Release Don’t: be afraid to infuse personality, humor, and your core mission into your writing.

Position yourself as a thought leader

Cut through the noise. Be bold. Garner attention. Strong copywriting lets you do all of these. Be willing to share your true beliefs, especially if they are not mainstream. Authenticity is hard to come by in the business world; those who are courageous enough to write honestly can set themselves apart, creating the foundation for aligned business partnerships and opportunities.

Press Release Do: write with courage, conviction, and a bit of irreverence now and then

Press Release Don’t: be provocative for the sake of attention

Essentially, good copywriting is clear and compelling. It paints a picture that people can visualize. It inspires. It intrigues. By mastering basic copywriting principles, you and your team will be on track to develop ad copy that captivates attention, pulls the reader in, and connects with the kinds of writers, editors, and influencers who want to tell your story. From there, you’re on track to reach more of your ideal customers and increase your sales.

Additional Press Release Writing Tips

Press releases should be no more than two pages. If the press release is longer than one page, each page should end with a completed paragraph, and “MORE” typed three times across the bottom of the page. The last page of the press release should end with the numerals “-30-“or “###” typed across the bottom.

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