Write a great Press Release in 30 mins
Revision 2 – 24th Jan 2023
Over the years as a journalist and news editor, I have read thousands of press releases.
I’ve also sat in offices (and even gardens) and ripped apart press releases written by people, businesses and organisations as I tried to help them turn the words they had drafted into something journalists might actually consider.
Until now, I’ve never written down a step-by-step approach on how to do this because every press release is different and so that direct experience helps. But I want to start helping as many people as possible to get this right, so I’ve tried to come up with a formula that anyone can use to write press releases that journalists will want to use.
I guess you are wondering then, “how do you turn a story that you want to get across into a press release that journalists want”?
Well, let’s start with the story…..
1: Think about your objective
What are you trying to sell? What are you trying to get across or, get people to understand?
Spend at least 3 minutes writing down a single “perfect” sentence that sums up what you want people to do. Just one sentence. What is the action you want them to take?
2: Research the outlets you want to approach
Think of media outlets you might want to get your story into.
It can include traditional and social media such as blogs or podcasts, or any sort of feed. Everything is “media” these days.
Find at least one to practise the following steps with.
3: Who consumes that outlet?
Look at the outlet and think about what type of person consumes the content that the outlet makes.
Who are they?
Young, old, busy, plenty of time, rich, poor?
If you had to guess just one type of person who really, really likes this content who would they be? What would they look like?
Write down 3 things that would describe them. No fewer. It’s fine to just guess if you just don’t know.
4: What stories do they run?
Look through the outlet’s website (or watch/listen to them) and look for where they have covered a story like yours before.
It doesn’t need to be an exact match, just the general topic area.
What sort of stories do they normally run about your topic? What is the angle and approach they take?
For example, let’s say they are covering the environment. Do they cover it from a scientific approach, perhaps looking at the economic data or do they take a more emotional “global climate crisis” approach? Do they use lots of facts or do they focus on emotive phrases?
Do they create in-depth articles, or short 2-3 paragraph blog posts or 15-second Instagram reels even? How do they cover it?
Look for a few times they have mentioned this topic and then look for patterns in how they cover it. How do they “normally” cover this topic area?
5: Who likes to write it?
Is there one creator or journalist at this outlet that you can see always seems to cover the topic? Or, if there are multiple people, what are their different styles?
Who sits in their office and says, “give me that story as I love those!” Or, the editor goes, “Helen you love these ones, can you cover this again?”
Who covers it and what is their angle? What can you tell by reading their content about the approach they like to take? What aspects of the topic do they focus on?
Read lots of things by the journalist to see how they craft their stories and the sort of angles they go down so you can pitch your story to them.
Stalk their social media to see what opinions and biases they might have and use that. Focus on adding that into your pitch and approach to them.
The goal is to try and see how they think and what makes them tick.
Then you can approach them by saying, “Hi, I saw this piece you wrote about <X> and my client is working on that or doing something in relation to that.”
Journalists are human too and ultimately we all like to have other people support our view of the world and provide more material that justifies to ourselves that we are right.
6: What you want -> what they want?
Thinking about what you wrote down in step 1. Look at your story again.
Every story is made up of lots of elements. There could be a case study, a particular angle you yourself have, a criticism, an aspect that supports other people’s views, etc.
So what is it about your story that could best fit with this outlet and that reporter/creator?
In other words, based on what you now know about what they like, which bit of your story do you think would most connect with them?
For practice, try and find at least 3 things about your story that would match what they like. We’re not talking about the facts but the angle the theme or the way you are presenting it such as with great photos. Do they like photos?
Break down your story in your head and think of 3 ways you could match what they like with what you have.
The goal here is not to ignore what you want but to find ways to connect what you want with what they want. If you can do that, if you can bridge that gap then the story you present can “carry” the rest of your message.
7: Tailoring your story
Let’s start working on the structure of your press release.
I want you to look at your story and this time pull 4 “interesting” statements or facts out of it that might be exciting or interesting to this outlet.
I’m talking about facts this time, not an angle, or spin. Even in opinion pieces, people want some evidence.
I’m also talking about real facts. “Our CEO thinks” or “Groundbreaking new research” is not a fact. What interesting hard facts can you deliver?
Again, remove any mention of the CEO or your client. Remove fluffy words like “amazing” or “new opportunity”. Unless your CEO or client is a global celebrity they are not a “fact”.
Also, remove any calls to action or anything that even hints at sales or promotion. Journalists don’t run adverts (unless you are paying).
Have you found 4 statements that would make people sit up and go, “oh that’s interesting!”? Then move on.
8: Which is the most interesting?
Pick the most interesting fact/statement. Pick the one that stands out as the most enticing.
Here are a few questions to help you identify this.
- Which statement/fact is most “timely” either because this “thing” has just happened or because everyone is talking about this topic right now in your topic niche?
- Does this statement/fact add to an existing story that is being talked about by this outlet, or the media in your topic area, that they keep coming back to?
- Does this statement/fact challenge the established conventional view of the topic? Does it add a new possibility, a new approach or completely turn the old way of thinking on its head?
- Is your fact SEO friendly? Are people searching for this information about this topic?
- Is it a shocking statement?
- Is it truly innovative? Does it take an existing story which is already out there to a new level?
I really want you to keep this to one fact.
Your story is going to be based on this “top fact”. This is going to be the “story”.
The more “stories” you try to cram into a press release the more effort it will take for a journalist to decipher it and the more chance it will have of ending up in the bin.
The other facts will support the main story.
9: Why you?
Let’s add a 6th statement to your list.
Why are you the organisation/person to put out this statement/fact?
Why should we care about what you say? What is your credibility?
Your name alone, unless it’s very well known to the outlet, is not enough, so what is special about you? Have you been doing this for 10 years, or 100 years? Have you discovered something new?
Add an extra statement about why you are the perfect person to put out this news.
10: Order the rest of the facts
We know our top fact now, so let’s order the rest of them.
I want you to order the other 4 facts in order of which is most interesting.
Think about it this way. I want you to knock me over with the first fact. Just as I get up to find out more about that first fact feeling a little weaker from the punch, I want you to knock me out again with the next one and so on until I can’t help but want to use this story.
11: Weaving in your call to action
The ideal call to action is one you don’t need to write because it’s a logical next step.
It’s done by making an interesting story which leaves the people you are trying to reach wanting to know more or get more. It’s made up of the arguments to take action but without the actual call.
Sadly many people still write press releases like adverts and as you would expect most go straight in the bin.
Try to imagine your press release is a conversation with a friend.
In that conversation, you are not allowed to tell them what you want them to do. So what facts, problems, and insights could you share with them that make them conclude your action step is the next thing to do but without saying it? And what order would lead them to that conclusion. If you start off with your main fact to get people’s attention. What would come next and then next and then next to lead that way?
12: Covering the basics
The facts have created the structure of our story. Now let’s add in the “color”.
If your facts are not already answering these points then add them in now.
- Who is doing this?
- What are they doing?
- When are they doing it?
- Where are they doing it?
- Why should I care?
- Why is it interesting or exciting?
14: Add the evidence
We’ve got all we need to create a great press release now, so now let’s back up the points we are making.
For each fact, what is the evidence that backs it up? Your aim here is to add no more than 1-2 bits of evidence that backs up or supports that point.
For example, if you discovered a brand new type of widget, how did it happen? Was it an accident? Did a new material come out that made it possible but you improved on that?
Add in quotes from people. A quote supports a fact. A quote is not “Mr Smith is very proud of the company”. A fact is, “Mr Smith said, by mixing chemicals A and B together we have started to change the whole approach of the industry. In 3 years things will be very different.”
Check its length.
A press release should only be as long as is needed to “sell” the story to the journalist.
If it’s over 2/3rds of a page of A4 it’s way too long. There is nothing wrong with putting extra information in a supplementary sheet but this is not your press release.
It should take no more than 1-2 minutes to read. That’s 300-600 words.
And before you ask, the goal is to get all this you’ve been working on into that. It’s got to be short, punchy and packed with interesting info.
14: Adding some color
Feel free to add back a little color now but don’t use too much.
For example, if you want to use “groundbreaking” ask yourself why it is. If you know add it back in make sure you explain why it is groundbreaking. There are so many unsupported hyperbole statements like this in press releases.
Create a new document somewhere.
At the top write the words “PRESS RELEASE” in capital letters.
Next, if you hoping that a journalist will not publish this story until after a certain time or date, write the word “Embargo:” and the date and time. Remember, there is no law involved. Embargoes are requests, nothing more. They work better when you know the journalist.
Next, write the headline. Make sure you can read it in no more than 2 glances. A headline is a short sentence that gets your attention. It’s a summary of your top primary fact.
Now write your first fact and its supporting evidence.
Then share the remaining facts in the order we discussed sharing the who, what, where, why and when.
Then add in your credibility proof but make sure your credibility isn’t too far down depending on the length of the rest of it.
16: Contact info
I can not emphasise this enough.
Add contact details for a person who can answer any questions that a journalist might have within 30 mins.
Have your phone, and email on and if someone rings and says, “can you go live on TV now”, say yes. If you are not known to reporters, you will not get a second chance. It’s that simple.
I threw lots of press releases in the bin because no one answered the phone to check something or worse, the person sounded uninterested and said they’d check if the spokesperson might be around at some point. Journalists see themselves as doing you a favour. They don’t have time or patience if you are not ready.
Sadly, chances are no one will ring but if they do and you’re not ready, they won’t ring again.
So add contact details, with all the ways to get hold of you. Phone, email, LinkedIn, etc and monitor them.
16: Supporting media
From your research on the outlet, do they need and use photos, video, or audio? Might they interview you on live mobile video from your factory floor?
Arrange it. Offer everything you can.
You are trying to make your offer of a story irresistible.
17: Does it tick the boxes
When a journalist (or any creator) picks up your press release they already have a mental checklist in their mind of what they need to run it.
Maybe their checklist looks like this.
- It’s just happened
- It’s to do with a topic I cover
- It’s a new idea that challenges existing ideas
- The person saying it has a lot of experience with it
- Do I need a story on X this week?
- etc, etc
The point is, does your press release tick off their boxes quickly?
Does it provide them with the facts they need to be able to say, “yes that fits”?
If you can provide the things a journalist needs to run the story, they WILL run it. It’s not a question of, whether they will or not. If it meets their needs they WILL run it.
So does your press release do that?
If so, send it and stand by your phone just in case.
Image credit: Photo by Suzy Hazelwood