How to Write the Perfect Press Release Part 6: Formatting your press release
It doesn’t really matter.
Or not as much as you might think, anyway. The most important thing is the story. If your story is good enough, it will get published. No journalist or editor in their right mind will turn down a great story just because the press release they received wasn’t laid out properly, and didn’t follow the standard format.
Remember, the newspaper, magazine or website you send your press release to is just as interested in printing great stories as you are in giving them one. So don’t get too caught up in worries about the way your press release sounds. That said, if you bury your great story under a pile of badly-written, unfocused rubbish, you could find yourself without the coverage you need. So here’s how to set out your press release:
>>> The Headline
The temptation here is to try and make your headline something clever and witty – something creative that will make the reader smile and think how clever you are, and to maybe use a pun or two if you can come up with them, just like newspapers do.
That’s the wrong way to do it.
The most successful headlines – for press releases at least – are ones which tell the story as succinctly as possible. Ideally, you should try to sum up the entire release, or as much of it as possible, in the headline. So, if your press release tells the story of how your business has won a national award, make your headline something along the lines of “Local business wins national award”.
No, it’s not going to win you any prizes, or impress the editor with your writing abilities. They’re probably not going to offer you a job on the subs desk. But none of that matters. The purpose of a press release headline is not to show off your writing skills, but to inform. If the newspaper wants a witty headline, they’ll write one themselves – that’s what they’re getting paid for, after all.
Remember what we said about those busy journalists, who don’t have time to read every last press release that lands on their desk? Cut them some slack here. Help them out by making sure that they know what your press release is about at a glance. Don’t make them guess what your story is about.
Of course, if you’re able to be informative and clever with your headline, so much the better. Go for it: write a great headline and you save a sub-editor the job. Just make sure it tells the reader what the story is about.
An embargo prohibits anyone from publishing your press release, or the information in it, until the date you specify. It goes underneath the headline, and it tells the editor whether they can print the release immediately, or whether they’ll have to wait.
In most cases, your press release will be “For immediate release”, so write those words under your headline, and you’re good to go.
There may, however, be some occasions when you’ll want to use an embargo. Say your press release names the winner of a competition you’ve been running – but the winner themselves won’t find out about it until the prize ceremony, which is after your local newspaper’s deadline but before the paper is published. You’ll still want to get the press release to the media in time for them to print it, so you’ll use an embargo under the headline, stating “Embargoed until 7pm on Thursday, May 9th” or whenever the winners will be announced.
Like the headline, the first few sentences of your press release are of vital importance – often, they’re all the journalist will read. Your press release can stand or fall on your opening paragraph: if it’s interesting and informative, and persuades the reader to read on, you’re onto a winner. If it’s filled with waffle, forget it.
This may sound daunting. You basically have only one or two sentences in which to sell your story. Difficult? Well, not really.
If you’ve got the right story, writing your introduction shouldn’t be too tricky. Again, the purpose here is to inform – so don’t worry about fancy language and flowery descriptions: just stick to the facts.
As with your headline, your introduction should summarise your story. Ask yourself this: what is the story really about? Is it about a competition you’ve launched, an event you’ve organized, an exciting new discovery you’ve made? Write two sentences (three at the most) explaining what your story is about. That’s your introduction. Everything else in the press release is just detail: the body of the release should simply expand on the point you’ve made in the introduction, filling in the who, where, why, what, when and how.
We’ve already touched upon what the body of your press release should contain. In short, you want to answer the 6 classic questions:
In general, it’s a good idea to keep your press release as short as you can. It’s tempting to write screeds and screeds of text explaining the ins and outs of your business and how it works, but try to resist this, as it just means that the journalist who receives the release has to work harder to get to the salient points.
When you write, always bear in mind that one important question: why should anyone care? Imagine the story you’re telling has absolutely nothing to do with you. If you were a complete outsider, what would you want to know about? When you’re describing your new project or event, talk about the benefits it will offer to the people reading the story. Don’t talk about how it will help your business: no one cares.
A note on style: Press releases are generally written in the third person: refer to yourself using your name, rather than “I” or “me”. This is how the newspaper will present the story, and it sounds more authoritative.
>>> Using quotes
Now that you have the facts down, you may want to add just a little bit of interest to it. One good way to do this is by adding quotes.
Newspapers love to quote people. The main reason for this is that people tend to be most interested in other people, and what they have to say. Paragraphs filled with facts can be very dry: a quote from a real, live person adds credibility to what you’re saying, as well as adding interest.
It’s not compulsory to add quotes in your press release. You’ll have a better chance of getting it published, however, if you do. Look at it this way: if a journalists is interested in using your story, she’ll almost certainly want to find a suitable quote to go with it. If you’ve already provided one, you’ll save her some work: and that’s a persuasive way of getting her to use your press release!
But who should you quote?
Given that the press release centres around your business, the most likely person to quote will be yourself. Quoting yourself in a press release can seem odd, but don’t worry: just write down what you would say if you were speaking to the journalist in person. You can use your quote to add some extra detail to your story, thank the people who have helped you with whatever the subject of your press release is, or simply say how pleased you are to see your new project come to fruition.
If your press release involves someone else: another business or partner agency for example, you may want to quote them too. Let’s say, for example, that the project you’re publicising in your release was made possible thanks to sponsorship from another business. It could be a good idea to have a quote from them, too, saying how pleased they are to be involved, or something along those lines.
>>> Ending your press release
Once you’ve written the body of your release, type the word “Ends”. This indicates (surprisingly enough!) that the main part of the release ends here. But you’re not quite finished yet.
One of the most important parts of a press release is the part that’s most often forgotten: your contact details.
Even with the best will in the world, there may well be something you’ve missed out, or something you just haven’t thought of that the journalist will want to contact you to discuss. If you’re very lucky, they may want to contact you to arrange to take photos.
You can put your contact details in the body of the press release. If you’re running a competition or similar, you’ll need to do this anyway, so that people know where to send their entries. You should also put these details at the end of the release, though, so that they can be found instantly.
>>> Notes to Editors
The notes to Editors section of your press release is the very last thing you’ll write, and its purpose is to give the newspaper any background information that you didn’t include in the release itself.
Notes to Editors are normally presented in a list, and can include facts, figures, website addresses and any other information which may help the journalist put the story together.
If, for example, your business sells accessories for pets, you may want to give some statistics on how many pet owners there are in your area, or in the UK. If you’re holding an event to support The National Kidney Association, you could include a link to their website plus some information about kidney disease (stick to the very basics though!)
This is also the place for any of those little pieces of information that you really wanted to include in the body of your press release, such as how your business got its name, and why you started it up in the first place. Try to stick to the bare minimum with this type of information too: if anyone wants to know, they’ll ask!