A press release is a one- or two-page document that companies and individuals use to share news with journalists and the public. Simply click send, and it's submitted to media outlets, which will consider circulating your news—for free.
However, writing a press release that gains public attention isn’t straightforward. For every press release that’s published, there are a dozen that are ignored.
Whether you’re a professional writer or a business owner, writing a press release requires developing a story that readers will find compelling and worthwhile.
<div class="tip">Need help putting together a press release for your company? Hire one of Compose.ly's press release writers to get started.</div>
When do you need a press release?
Press releases are a crucial part of the marketing strategy for companies looking to increase their brand exposure. As such, they come with no shortage of benefits.
Effective press releases can:
- Begin a mutually beneficial relationship with journalists.
- Legitimize a business and establish its credibility and authority.
- Generate additional content to share on social media or file.
- Keep you top-of-mind for your current and future customers or audience.
Press releases are especially valuable for crisis management. Use them to stay ahead of negative media attention.
By delivering useful, relevant content to the right people at the right time through press releases, you'll be able to position yourself as a leader in your industry.
So what are you waiting for?
Follow our step-by-step guide on how to write an effective press release.
1. Get your timing right
If you send a press release two months after an event happened, it’s unlikely to be published. That's because timeliness is one of the tenets of newsworthiness—what editors use to decide if a subject is worth including in a publication.
Some news items are known in the media as "evergreen" pieces, which means the story is newsworthy at any time. (Think of an evergreen tree in a forest—it’s never short of leaves, regardless of the season.)
But if your event happens on Christmas Day, it'll be old by the new year.
With that in mind, time the release of your news according to the following guidelines:
- For events: Send press releases about events that you'd like to invite the media (or public) to several days in advance. If no one from the press attends, don't let that stop you. Send another press release the day after the event, as a wrap-up.
- For times of crisis: Send a press release immediately. It's crucial to explain issues that could affect your business in your own terms as soon as possible.
- For a specific time and date: Draft time- or situation-specific announcements early to obtain more favorable coverage. This involves "embargoing," a request to outlets not to publish your news until a specific time or condition is met. If you wish to embargo a press release, write the embargo date clearly at the top of your press release.
Knowing the news cycle of the publication you're submitting to is essential, so your press release isn’t lost in the shuffle. According to industry experts, the best time of day to submit a press release is a few minutes after the top of the hour, during business hours. Never send something at 5 p.m.—and certainly not 5 p.m. on a Friday. Your timing should be considerate as well as strategic.
2. Do your research
Before you begin drafting a press release, research is a must.
This step is crucial because each news organization has unique submission guidelines—so you’ll want to familiarize yourself with your target organization’s submission process to increase your chances of getting your press release published.
What exactly does this outreach research entail?
- Figure out your target audience and how they receive their news. That means investigating industry publications, local newspapers, blogs, industry newsletters, television news stations, and anything in between.
- Once you know what publications to target, find out who the best person to direct your press release to is. News agencies and media outlets tend to list their journalists and their areas of expertise online; if not, consider giving them a call.
- Consider maintaining a spreadsheet of media contacts with whom you develop relationships.
- Be strategic about whom you send your press releases to. For instance, don't send all of them to the same people every time. Doing so may mean your future outreach is ignored.
3. Focus your message
The question isn't what to write about; it's what not to write about.
The bar is pretty low when it comes to material for press releases. Community newspapers and online blogs, for example, are always looking for stories to feature. Unfortunately, this tendency can result in articles about mundane subjects.
This doesn’t mean a press release is warranted for any little event or change in your organization, though.
If you find yourself exaggerating the significance of something in your press release, it’s probably not worth writing about. Labeling any news as “exclusive” just to generate buzz will backfire and annoy readers.
So what should you create press releases about then?
If you're proud of something and think others should know, then write a press release. Examples of subjects you might like people to know about include:
- Important hires
- New services or products
- Business events
- Major business milestones
- New partnerships
Consider whether the story addresses or resolves a conflict that readers—especially those that frequently read your target publication—would care about.
4. Start writing
Once you've come up with a topic to pitch, the next step is to work on drafting your press release.
Follow these best practices to make your copy engaging and informative:
- Write a concise but compelling headline—it should grab the reader, not bore them. Follow this with a descriptive subheader that provides more detail.
- Answer all the "who, what, where, when, and why" questions.
- Use a professional and straightforward tone. As exciting as your news may be, you should avoid exclamation marks, superlatives, and clichés.
- Limit your word count to no more than two pages. Aim for 500 words or less.
- Include a quotation or two in your press release, but make sure they serve a meaningful purpose. Quotes can help establish authority, express gratitude, or connect with customers, but require proper attribution, including full names and titles.
- Brush up on AP style—this refers to the Associated Press guidelines that most publications follow.
- Remember to proofread your work and edit it for spelling, grammar, and clarity.
- Finally, include a call to action at the end of your article, e.g., directions for calling your business or finding it online. Alternatively, describe upcoming events in the last sentence of your press release.
5. Use the proper format
In addition to strong writing, formatting your press release correctly is vital.
Try to limit yourself to two pages of typed copy, including all the information at the top before the story itself, single-spaced with a simple font.
More importantly, the format style rules that journalists expect include:
- At the top of the page, write "PRESS RELEASE" in all capitals, and center it.
- On the left-hand side, let the recipient know when you want your news to be published. If it's immediately, write "FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE," also in all capitals. Otherwise, add the embargo information.
- At the top—before the actual news story of the press release—include any captions and information about any photos you have attached.
- Before the headline, include your media spokesperson’s contact information.
- Don't forget the boilerplate! That's a paragraph that includes all the basic information describing your company. Share your history, mission, values, and activities here.
- Traditionally, the end of press releases was signified by adding pound signs in a row like this: ###.
6. Click “send” and distribute
The best press release will mean nothing if you don't get it in the hands of those who have the final say about whether to publish it. Thus, distribution is crucial for press releases.
To increase the chances of your press release being published:
- Cut and paste it into the body of the email. Do not add it as an attachment, as a technical issue may prevent the recipient from opening it.
- Limit the number of photos you send, as editors may disregard emails that take too long to load.
- Consider using news wire sources. You can pay many companies to distribute your press release to a wider audience, including PR Newswire, Business Wire, eReleases, and PR.com.
Besides outreach, you can publish your press release on your own website. This benefits your SEO strategy and allows publications to easily syndicate your work. Create a “News” or “Press” section on your website specifically for these announcements rather than including them in your blog.
7. Follow up
Perhaps your press release didn’t garner any attention in the media.
If that’s the case, don't give up. Take the initiative instead with these follow-up strategies:
- Politely follow up with publications via email or even by phone to learn why your release didn't make the cut.
- Let them know that you want to provide valuable information for them and that you’re open to criticism.
- Take notes about how you can craft a more successful press release for them next time.
- If you’re working to develop a relationship with a journalist in your area, ask them to lunch and use the opportunity to learn how to craft more effective press releases.
Successful Press Release Examples
Looking for examples of effective press releases?
Here's a story from Whataburger, published in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey in 2017:
Here’s what makes it an effective press release:
- It features an evocative image: Whataburger’s battered sign against a rainbow lighting up a dark sky.
- The press release details changes to Whataburger’s regional services in the wake of Harvey, including available menu items and times of availability.
- It includes a video that can be used by television stations, making it easy for media outlets to pick it up and broadcast it.
- Whataburger describes its community service work without boasting.
Or, take a look at Adidas’ press release announcement about partnering with Beyoncé:
What makes this press release example a good one?
- At 301 words, the announcement is simple and to the point. Directly below, its boilerplate briefly describes both Adidas and Parkwood Entertainment, Beyoncé’s entertainment company.
- Short as it already is, the press release features bullet point takeaways in its sidebar, making it even easier for readers to see the main takeaways.
- Adidas capitalizes on the singer’s fame to promote its own values, such as its “philosophy that puts creativity, growth and social responsibility at the forefront of business.”
Depending on which publications you target and what news you offer, press releases will naturally differ in information and tone—as showcased by Whataburger’s response to Hurricane Harvey and Beyoncé and Adidas’ partnership announcement.
Not all press releases hit the mark though. For instance, this announcement from Blue Cross and Blue Shield and Lyft falls short:
The headline informs readers of an exciting new partnership between Blue Cross and Blue Shield and Lyft; however, it's too jargon-heavy. “Transportation deserts” is not an intuitive term to the average reader, after all.
The subheader that follows doesn’t help much, either. “Mitigate the powerful effects of social determinants of health” sounds impressive but is overly complex for the average reader. Moreover, it does not offer any concrete takeaway for readers who are unfamiliar with public health.
Your marketing and outreach strategy can benefit from incorporating press releases—especially if increasing brand awareness is a priority.
To get started, spend time with your marketing team brainstorming what kind of newsworthy events can or will happen throughout the year. For maximum impact, plan a timeline so your press releases never compete with each other for space or time.
And when you are mentioned in the press, celebrate! Share it on all your social media platforms, as well as your website… And then get ready to write your next one.
This article was written by Compose.ly writer Suzanne Wentley.