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Writing Press Releases

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An Introduction to Press Releases

New and useful information are the key facets for creating effective press releases. On a daily basis, press releases are used for a number of reasons (e.g., apologizing for a product recall, announcing a new charity, recruiting plaintiffs for a class action lawsuit). Although press releases are issued every day, there is an expectation that the press release will contain some new information given or valuable information that readers will want to or need to know.

While most companies and people who use press releases feel their information is newsworthy, it may be more useful to consider the target audience (i.e., the reader of the press release) when making a decision on the news worthiness of the press release. Since the press release will be judged by an editor or director of a given media outlet, it is important to understand that the time and space available for such releases are limited. This means if the information in the press release is not new or useful—it will not likely be printed or aired—even if the release is well written. To better assure that your press release is given maximum consideration, you should follow a few basic requirements.

Press releases: Basic requirements

First, you should ask yourself, “Is there serious value in the information I want to disseminate?” If the answer is “yes!” and you know the information will impact people’s lives, you probably need to craft a press release. While press releases are not obligatory, if used properly, they can increase the coverage of your information among your target audiences.

Once you have decided that you need a press release, you should draft your release to include information that is easy to comprehend for journalists who will use your material to reach your target audience.

What is “easy to comprehend?” Try answering the five W's and H questions from the complimentary perspectives of the person writing the release and the target audience.

The 5 W and H questions


From the perspective of the people writing the press release:

Who are the people that want the release? Is the whole company making the release (e.g., “Vanish Travel Company sponsors annual fund raising marathon”), or is the release from a single division or person (e.g., “The president of Widget Keys announces new company holiday”)?

From the perspective of the target audience:

Who do you want to take action on the release? Who does your news affect or benefit? In the case of the marathon, it is likely to have all able runners as its target audience. For the company holiday, the company workers are likely the target audience. If the holiday is related to a local event or pays respect to people unrelated to Widget Keys, the press release may have a wider target audience outside of Widget Keys.

TIP: Consider that there may be secondary audience members outside of your target audience, but write specifically for your target audience.


From the perspective of the people writing the press release:

What information are you trying to announce? Is the information new? (e.g., “Widget Keys announces keypad malfunction. All platinum home security systems will receive a new panic button to replace faulty button on current models.”)

From the perspective of the target audience:

If the information is technical, you may need graphics to help clearly convey your message. For example: What qualifies as “platinum home security?” What if there is more than one security pad in a home? What are the signs of a faulty switch? Clearly, a technical announcement such as this one may require more information than can be clearly conveyed in a short press release. In these cases, it is best to include contact information for customers to use so they can learn about replacement strategies.

TIP: Always include all forms of possible contact information, such as facsimile and telephone numbers, websites, emails, postal addresses, and other services like bilingual customer support.


From the perspective of the people writing the press release:

Where is this new information most relevant? Is the announced information needed in all geographical locations, or is the information mostly useful in confined, specific locations?

From the perspective of the target audience:

Where do I need to be to be affected by the press release? For example, the target audience of a price increase for services in a specific region of a country will want to know exactly which stores will have the price increase. Other people will want to know that their prices are not going to change.

TIP: Some situations call for two press releases, one for the areas affected by the announcement and another for areas unaffected by the announcement.


From the perspective of the people writing the press release:

When is the information going to become useful, or when will the information become useless? Understanding timelines on information is important. If the information has a start date, (e.g., “Vanish Travel Company sponsors fund raising marathon”) it is necessary to have that date clearly identified on all press releases. Also, allow for maximum time for preparations. Some releases have time frames, (e.g., “Widget Keys announces complimentary upgrades on home security systems from February 2014 until September 2015.”).

While the “February 2014 until September 2015” seems clear, when are the true start and end dates? A more precise date will be appreciated by the news outlet and the customer. For example a more specific time frame is: “February 01, 2014 until September 15, 2015; all dates are according to Eastern Standard time.”

From the perspective of the target audience:

When will I have to act on this information? Telling the target audience as much information about when something needs to happen is paramount in successful press releases. There is a huge difference in announcing a marathon’s applications are due in a week’s time, and announcing the marathon will occur in a week’s time.

TIP: Be certain that not only the date is clear but also the action that needs to occur is clear.


From the perspective of the people writing the press release:

Why is this important news? What will make the target audience care about our announcement?

From the perspective of the people writing the press release:

Why should the customer care about this press release? The customer may think, “This another publicity stunt,” or “Is this information truly important?” Sometimes this is hard to tell, depending on how the press release is read by reporters. For example, the recall of an automobile for safety reasons is very serious and should be taken seriously by most people without finding a reason for people to care about their own personal safety. However, it is not always clear why someone should care about a bake sale at a local school. This is where clarity and focus can help a writer guide the reader to the main point.

TIP: Put the main idea and purpose of the press release in the beginning of the release.


From the perspective of the people writing the press release:

How did this come about?

From the perspective of the target audience:

One of the main uses of press releases is to explain how something occurred. Sometimes a press release is crafted in a way that places responsibility on a specific person or division of a company. Other times the release will be designed to show that the fault lies outside of a company, but the company making the release is doing all they can to improve the situation (e.g., a company apologizing for a chemical spill that occurred because of a natural disaster, and not directly because of human error).

TIP: Remember to keep the information relevant to the target audience, and not to use a press release for placing blame or pointing fingers. News and media outlets will not likely use your release if there is propaganda or self-serving details included in it.

Once you have answered the 5 W and 1 H questions, you should begin the rough draft of your press release. The short answers you have to answer: who, what where, when, why, and how, are useful beginnings that will need to be shaped for maximum effectiveness. Writing with brevity will catch the eye of editors as being clear and straightforward. Adding a few sentences for editorial flare might improve the sound of the press release, but it may confuse editors about the tone and voice of the press release.

TIP: Preserve the integrity of your press release by including only the essential and relevant information needed by the target audience.

While this sounds simple, it can be a rather tough choice between necessary information and gratuitous details. Drafting several copies of a press release is standard operating procedure for most companies. In fact, many press releases are crafted several months in advance of their release—if you don’t find the right words on the first pass keep drafting and have other people read your release to check it for clarity and brevity.

Press releases can be sent to media outlets well in advance of their release. These press releases are put under embargo. This allows media outlets to prepare stories that might help viewers and readers understand the content of a release before they release the information. Sometimes, media outlets will want to raise awareness of its audience by helping them become sensitive to something that will be announced soon. For example, a news outlet might spend a week broadcasting short vignettes and research reports on the importance of a local river on the ecology of a town because a press release on trash disposal reform is on embargo now but will be announced soon.

TIP: Do not use embargoed press releases. Media outlets do not usually like to hold onto embargoed releases, unless there is a clear need for it. Sending an embargoed press release leaves the chance that media outlets will not use it in their news cycle.

Press releases: Know your media

As mentioned earlier, it is important to stay brief. Try to write no more than 50 words for your release, and try to make sure each sentence is meaningful. Make the target audience interested in the information of the release, but also consider the venue of the press release. For example, you may need to write several press releases depending on the outlet you choose for your press release. If you use an audio only format for your release, it may not be productive to announce long strings of numbers as may be the case in a product recall. You may need to consider if you require another version of your release for black and white media as compared to color media. Knowing how your target audience will receive your information is an important consideration for how you write your press release. Consider a press release that is made on television. What if the president of a company will be permitted to read the announcement? This means the announcement will have to consider pronoun usage.

Here is an example of different pronoun usage:

Non-personal: “Widget Keys continues their efforts to improve home safety for their customers.”
Personal: “At Widget Keys, we continue our efforts to improve home safety for our customers.”

When thinking about the target audience, remember that the diversity of knowledge amongst the target audience requires consideration. For example, what knowledge do they have about the company? Is there a need to understand jargon to understand the press release?

TIP: Be sure the language used in your press release describes the relevant topics according to the target audience. Specialist and engineers may easily comprehend technical graphics included in a press release put in a field specific magazine, but this may not be the case for press releases placed in a local newspaper.

The architecture of press releases: How to structure your information


1) Title for attention. Give your press release a relevant and memorable title. Remember, though, press releases are not advertisements.

Needs improvement: Great deals and charity, too! Over 50% off antique railroad watches at Middle Town Auctions, this weekend only.
Improved: Time waits for no one. This weekend only, antique railroad watchmaker partners with Middle Town Auction to raise charity for local schools.

While the Needs improvement title for the charity auction does seem somewhat catchy and immediately appeals to the target audience with an announcement of “charity” right from the start, it has some very clear problems. This press release title has useless information and appears to be more of an advertisement for Middle Town Auctions than an announcement of a charity event. There are also the claims of “great deals” and “50% off,” which are not predictable at an auction. For example, some auctions sell items that have a minimum bid, and others items will never seem like a “great deal” no matter how reduced the price may be. Including this sort of information might be important to Middle Town Auction, but it does not belong in the title.

TIP: Put this information kind of information in the “Notes to the editors” section (see point 7, below), not in the title or lead of your press release.

Conversely, the Improved version includes a catchy, relevant title, “Time waits for no one” but immediately shifts to the important information, “this weekend only” and who is selling what and for what reason. There could be more information, like a time and an address, but remember this is merely the title of the press release. Using only relevant, and useful information in your title will show media outlets you are considering the target audience’s perspective.

2) Timing of release. Consider if your release is for immediate release or embargoed? Always indicate at the top of the release if it is under embargo, or if it is, “Ready for immediate release.” Be certain to clearly indicate all relevant dates.

3) Contact information. Be sure to include contact information so a media outlet can contact the appropriate person for clarification or further questions. The media contact may, or may not, be the same person as the official contact person for the company—always include a media contact address, phone, and email.


4) Presentation. Press releases are easier to read when they are double-spaced. Using wide margins can help give reports space for taking notes. In short, consider how you can help facilitate the media’s use of your information.

5) Brevity. Keep paragraphing to a minimum, the longer the draft the less likely the media personnel will want to read your draft. Always try to get you point across in under a page, more than 2 pages will likely be seen as a news article and not a press release.

6) End your press release. Be sure to close your press release with the words “Ends” and do so in bold typeface. After this signal for the ending of your press release, write, “For further information, please contact” and list your contact details or those of person(s) responsible.

7) Extra information. If you happen to have extra information (e.g., a note indicating that you or your company has recent photos the studio could use if they need visual support), or further elaborations on your main points, put them in a section you label, “Notes to editors.” Be sure, however, to put this extra information AFTER your contact information.

Additional OWL resources you may find useful

Journalism and Journalistic Writing

Media Ethics

Creating a Headline, or Writing a Lead Sentence

Clarity in Writing

Visual Rhetoric: Overview