Writing a press release to share your company’s (or client’s) news can seem like a daunting task.
You’ve got to get the messaging right, make sure not to bury the lede, source quotes that reporters will want to use… and that’s all before you even have to distribute and pitch it.
If you want to write a press release that journalists will actually report on, you’ve got to get a lot of things right. In this guide, we’ll show you the same process we use at TCF to get our clients featured everywhere from the Wall Street Journal to Glamour, as well as hook you up with a downloadable press release template so your pitch looks like it came from a pro.
First, let’s cover the basics before diving into how to write a press release.
What is a Press Release?
A press release is a written announcement of newsworthy information. Typically, a press release is written on behalf of a company or person and is distributed to media outlets (via newswire) for publication consideration.
Press releases span topics ranging from new hires and new product announcements to upcoming events and major milestones.
What is the Purpose of Writing a Press Release?
The aim of a press release is to entice reporters to use the information for upcoming articles, thus generating press for the company releasing it.
When writing a press release, it’s important to present the information in a way that is digestible and reusable.
This means that the press release should be concise, written in clear, comprehensible language and broken down into short, to-the-point paragraphs.
In terms of reusability, the contents of the press release should be presented as newsworthy, so journalists will want to pick it up. The purpose of a press release is to inspire a story, so it’s up to you to transform the information you’re relaying into an engaging narrative with a who, what, when, where, how, and why it’s so important.
Providing the exact words of the person closest to the story adds an extra layer of appeal to reporters, because it gives them easy access to original quotes without having to schedule an interview.
How Long Should a Press Release Be?
No more than a page — generally around 400 words, though some will be longer, especially if they include a feature list, or something else that artificially increases the length.
Press Release Writing 101: Make it Newsworthy
In order to get media coverage from your press release, your news must actually be… well, news. No journalist is going to be interested in your new website design or client you’ve recently signed (unless it’s a national brand — and even then, it’d be an iffy pitch).
But wait, how do you write a newsworthy press release?
The bottom line: it has to be something that would be of interest to the readers or viewers of the media outlet.
Here are five angles we’ve seen work especially well:
- Unique statistics (more on this later, but it’s solid gold from a pitching perspective)
- “First of its kind” stories
- Partnerships with other brands for specific purposes (especially with a charity angle)
- Good deeds, funds raised, major milestones (1 million downloads, etc.)
- Fun gimmicks — provided you can pull them off as well as Denny's and Siftrock:
In June 2018, the popular restaurant chain Denny’s sent out a press release about a limited time menu item as a working doc with the CMO’s edits (most notably “more exclamation points”) still visible.
According to Denny’s account supervisor, “at least half a dozen outlets” responded to the release to ask if the statement was real. Not only did the menu item (not something particularly newsworthy) get attention from reporters, but the stunt put Denny’s in the spotlight of several major PR media outlets, including PRWeb.
In the same year, Siftrock — a B2B data and automation solution — put out a press release titled “The Top 6,829 Marketing Tech Solutions of 2018.” Not a very interesting story, right?
But the clever young company put their own spin on it. They listed the press release “FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE (WITH SARCASM)” and described the accomplishment in a fun, self-deprecating way:
“For a 3rd consecutive year, our logo occupied a couple pixels on the Martech 5000 supergraphic. You'll have to zoom in 10x to find us, but we are there!”
Once you’ve got your angle, it’s time to write the press release itself.
7 Things You Should Include in Your Press Release
This is the most important piece of your press release, because it determines whether or not the reporter will read more.
Write it like the headline of a news story. Titles should be no more than 100 characters and contain the name of the company or person attached to the release.
This is a 170-character or less overview of the contents of the press release. It’s recommended you use keyword-rich search terms in this section.
③ Region (Usually Company Location)
Simply list the city and state related to the release (this is typically the city or state a company or person in question is located).
④ Publication Date
This is the date you're planning to publish the press release, not the date you first became aware of the news.
⑤ The Press Release Text
This is the body of your press release, which you can break into the following sections:
- Original quote
- Supporting text
- Supporting text
- Supporting text
- Original quote
⑥ Company Boilerplate/ Bio
Include a short biography of the company or person attached to the press release. Emphasis on short: your boilerplate should be about 50-100 words in length.
⑦ Contact information
A quick sentence letting the reader know who to contact for further information regarding the release and how to contact them.
Make sure you write the press release as if it’s a news story.
The goal here is to make the journalist’s job as easy as possible. When you write a release like a news story, you’d be surprised how many reporters will just copy/paste paragraphs of your release (sometimes loosely reworded). This is great, because it allows you greater control of the messaging.
Ideally, you’ll include quotes from two different people in your press release, so the journalist has two sources baked in.
Want to Know How to Write a Killer Press Release? Use Unique Stats.
One kind of press release that is sure to catch reporters’ attention is one that features unique and original statistics. You can pay a survey company to get you these stats, or mine your own internal data for interesting stories. If you’ve got a large email list, you can run a poll to get enough responses to pitch around.
At The Content Factory, we’ve been helping The Alternative Board (TAB) — an international provider of business owner advisory boards — create industry-specific surveys that have led to newsworthy statistics and media coverage in leading media outlets, including Inc., Entrepreneur and Adweek.
"#PR tip: Want to send a press release that stands out from the pack? Run a great survey first." - The Content Factory
The PR Power of a Good Survey
For example, in 2015, we helped TAB run a survey of no more than three hundred business owners about the impact of social-awareness on small business. From the raw data, we were able to create a press release with a powerful story: Socially-Driven Companies Have A Competitive Advantage In Business.
Raw Data Isn't Enough — Look for Meaningful Insights
After poring over the survey results, we found a data point we knew would be clear, interesting and newsworthy:
Entrepreneurs who strongly agree that their company “is built around positively contributing to society” are more optimistic, fare better than their competition and represent a stronger personal vision.
On the strength of that result, we were able to generate a feature for TAB in Adweek and earn the site the number one spot on Google for the keywords "Socially Driven Business" and "Socially Driven Company."
The same year, The Alternative Board put out a press release for a survey on what business owners wish they did differently at the beginning of their career. The press release generated over twenty pieces of high-authority media coverage and continues to find homes in media outlets like Business Insider and Entrepreneur.
If you ask interesting questions, you’re likely to get interesting answers. Then, you can pitch this data to journalists.
"#PR tip: Ask interesting questions & you’re likely to get interesting answers. Pitch the best insights to reporters in your #press release." - The Content Factory
How to Pitch Your Press Release to Journalists
Press release distribution services cost hundreds of dollars and likely won’t get you the results that you’re looking for.
We asked Dan Tynan, former editor of Yahoo! Tech and current reporter for The Guardian, how often he scrolls through press release digests.
“God, no. Do people actually do that? Wow. I have a sudden vision of some pathetic freelancer desperate for stories to cover. That just makes me want to hug a puppy.” – Dan Tynan, Journalist
Even if you put out a press release on a distribution site, the only way it’s going to get a reporter’s attention is if you pitch them directly.
So you might as well just publish the press release on your website, send that link to reporters and promote it across your social networks. This is not only the more cost-effective approach, but will also drive relevant traffic to your site.
But wait — how do you pitch journalists? Here are a few tips on doing just that:
1. Establish relationships with reporters before pitching to them.
This is a big one — and it takes time.
If you haven’t already, start getting to know relevant reporters now, so they’re warmed up by the time you’re ready to put out a release. A great way is to interact with them on social media.
Share their content, like, retweet, compliment, ask questions, start conversations, heck, if they live nearby, buy them a cup of coffee. Nothing will get your email to the top of their inbox quicker than a personal connection.
2. Be specific. Don’t pitch blindly to reporters. Don’t buy media lists.
Do the groundwork of researching the reporters who cover topics similar to what you’re trying to promote and make sure what you’re pitching to them is relevant. You can easily end up in the spam folder if you’re continuously pitching off-the-mark content or sending mass emails.
A great way to start a pitch is by mentioning an article the reporter has written in the past that is relatable to the topic you’re pitching.
For example, the following pitch opening got an immediate response from the reporter:
Based on your article This is How Employees Really See your Company Culture, I thought you might be interested in The Alternative Board (TAB)'s latest survey results on company culture. According to the research, 93% of business owners agree “promoting company culture boosts productivity and creativity.”
The example above shows that the person pitching is familiar with the reporter’s work and genuinely trying to provide helpful content that matches the reporter’s beat.
3. Create an enticing email subject line.
This is a pretty obvious one, but your subject line has to sing — if it doesn’t, reporters won’t even open your email. Some particularly effective subject lines we’ve used in the past include:
- New Productivity Survey Reveals Why 84% of CEOS Work Overtime
- New Survey Reveals What Makes Strong Company Culture
- Survey Shows 1/2 of CEOs Have Been Victims of Cyber Attacks, Yet 1/2 Are Still Unprepared
The above examples summarize everything the reporter will find in the pitch, while leaving a few questions only opening the email can answer.
The subject line should be strong enough to be the title for a news story. The more your pitch comes off as a news story, the more the reporter can envision bringing it to life as one.
4. Create a clear pitch with a strong message.
As mentioned in #2, open the pitch by introducing yourself to the reporter and reminding them how you know them (from Twitter, previous collaborations, that coffee date, etc.) then explain why the topic is relevant to them with a link to the release.
Outline the major points of the press release as clearly and concisely as possible.
Your pitch need not be any longer than 250 words. Bullet points and short paragraphs are your best friend here. Provide the reporter with a few ways they could use the information for a story that would appeal to their readers.
Complete the pitch with clear instructions for contacting the right person for further information.
5. Send pitches the right time of day, the right time of the week.
This can be tricky, because different reporters work from different time zones and on different schedules, but generally no one wants to receive an unsolicited email on a busy Monday morning.
Aim for later in the week, sometime in the afternoon, when things on their end are more likely to have slowed down.
Feeling overwhelmed with writing a press release that gets picked up?
We get it — this stuff isn’t easy, which is why so many businesses are still sending out milquetoast press releases that are failing to land placements. It’s an art and a science, and while everyone can get better with experience, not every business has that time (or money).