Writing Press Releases
by Dawn Copeman

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Recently I was hired by a local firm to rewrite their website and brochures. They had never used a copywriter before, having previously written all their materials in-house. Towards the end of our first meeting I asked them who was writing their press releases. They looked blank. "What are press releases?" they asked.

Press releases are one of the most effective means of advertising a business can use. Press releases are basically a one or two page announcement of a new product, new trend, new business premises, in fact anything that can in any way be described as newsworthy. Well-written press releases are loved by journalists as they provide them with much needed content, either as short news items or items that can be developed into longer articles. This is why press releases are so effective; they don't look like advertising but if done well they get lots of publicity for the client.

Precisely because press releases can be so effective, it is estimated that between 3,000 and 10,000 are written every day. Only the best will get published by the press. If your press release is going to make the news, you need to know how to write a successful press release.

Follow the Standard Layout of the Press Release

  1. Top Right Hand Side of Page - Company Name or Logo. This might take up more than one line; if it does, change your page margins to try and keep your press release onto one page.

  2. One Line beneath - on the left hand side of page type the words PRESS RELEASE in capitals in a standard 10 or 12pt font.

  3. Immediately underneath this goes the date on which the press release can be published. This is either IMMEDIATE or a date sometime in the future - e.g., November 2011 or Not to be Used Before 31 October 2011.

  4. The Title of the Press Release - should be centred on the next line in a larger, bolder font. Make sure it does not extend to two lines.

  5. Body of Press Release.

  6. At end of press release centre the word -ENDS- (complete with dashes). If your press release goes on to two pages, type 1 of 2 and CONTS at the bottom of the first page.

  7. After this, put in the NOTES TO EDITORS. This section contains fact-checking material to support any claims made in the text, such as details of surveys and references to scientific studies. It should also say whether any photos or samples are available and will contain the e-mail address, URL and telephone numbers and contact details for the company. All notes are numbered.

So, is that all there is to it? Well, no. This is how to set up a press release, but not how to get one published. As I know from my early, very pitiful attempts at creating press releases, following the format won't help you one bit if your press release is dull. To maximise your chances of publication, therefore, we have to look at the content.

Research the Content

Imagine you have been asked to write a press release about a new style of bath being sold by a local company. How could you write it so that it is newsworthy and grabs the attention of the journalists and editors who will see it? The answer is, you need to think creatively and do lots of research.

For example, one of the first successful press releases I wrote was about cocoa. Not the most thrilling of topics, perhaps, but I had learned by this point that the job of the copywriter is to make it so. The first thing to do is to learn as much as you can about the product or item you are being asked to write about.

Copywriters must be inquisitive and thorough. They must also go beyond the information provided by the client to ensure that their work is the best it can be. So for the cocoa piece I first of all read the information provided. It contained all the usual health claims for cocoa -- nothing newsworthy in that. But in digging around the company's website, I found that the profits from selling this cocoa were being used for community projects. I rang the firm and asked what exactly they were using the money for, and discovered that they'd already built a school. This seemed a useful nugget of information, and one that the company had not thought of mentioning.

That was one angle covered. But this was still not enough to guarantee publication. Next I did some in-depth research. By searching the internet and, specifically, press release sites (details below) I came across a newly issued press release from a university that claimed another health benefit of cocoa: that it helped to keep the brain healthy and active. Now I had not one but two newsworthy items for my press release. Now it was time to write it.

For your imaginary bath press release, you could look at the design of the bath -- is it good for backs? You could take the historical angle -- what was good enough for the Romans, etc. Or you could focus on the newly released study that states that showers are bad for your health. There are lots of angles out there when you know how to look.

Create the Content

Press releases are short but must be well written. Just as with any successful nonfiction article, they must have an attractive hook, followed by paragraphs that flow and are written in an engaging and easy-to-read style with facts sprinkled lightly throughout the text, then finished off with a good ending.

In short, a press release is the ultimate test of nonfiction writing ability. Plus, you usually don't have much time to do this. On a typical day when I worked for a food PR agency, I would get the details around 8.30am and have to submit my press release by midday or 4pm at the latest. Writing press releases certainly hones your skills!

For the cocoa press release I combined the health benefits of cocoa with its traditional drinkers, the elderly, to create the headline: 'A Cup of Cocoa a Day Keeps Alzheimer's at Bay'. This was followed by a hook: "Our grandparents know more than they are letting on when they tuck into their nightly cocoa; not only does it give them a good night's sleep, it is helping them to keep their brains healthy too." The rest of the article flowed with scientific facts about the known and newly discovered health benefits of cocoa, plus why the reader should buy this particular brand of cocoa -- "it has a higher proportion of flavonoids -- the health giving aspect of cocoa, than most other brands." As I stated in the ending: "...X not only keeps your brain healthy, it helps others too."

This particular press release was run, in many cases exactly as I wrote it, in several UK daily newspapers and many local newspapers. That's a great result for the client and a sense of satisfaction for me. As a copywriter, of course, I get no by-line and I only get paid once, no matter how many times my press release is used. It does niggle slightly, seeing your words with someone else's name attached, but hey, that's copywriting! And besides, as a copywriter you don't have time to moan, you're usually too busy researching and writing the next one.

To summarize, then, this is how to write a press release:

  1. Learn as much as you can about the subject of the press release. Ask for a product information sheet and company information. Dig further, research online, search press releases for related new discoveries or information that can in any way be related to your news item to make it more newsworthy and attractive to journalists.

  2. Plan your content. Craft an attention-grabbing headline, an intriguing but not misleading hook, and then work on your paragraphs so that they flow and are engaging and interesting to read. Where possible, keep to one page.

  3. Provide complete references to surveys, opinion polls or scientific studies in the Notes to the Editors, complete with details of when the survey was done, where the study was published, who conducted it etc.

  4. State whether samples, photos or interviews are available when compiling your notes to editors. Don't forget to provide the company's contact information.

  5. Submit first to the client for approval, then submit to press release sites or by e-mail or fax to local newspapers. Some press release sites will distribute your press release for free; others have a sliding scale of charges. Whilst a paid-for service will get your press release into more journalists' inboxes, it still won't guarantee that they will read or act on your press release; only you can do that by making the press release interesting to read.

Like most areas of writing, press releases can be intimidating at first, but once you have practised doing them a few times, they they become easier. To make it easier for you to learn the skill I suggest you try and create a press release for the new wonder bath. Then create some press releases for items in your home -- a paper clip, a pencil or a coaster -- to hone your skills. Finally, take a badly written release from a PR site (believe me, there are lots of them) and write it better. The more you do it, the easier writing a press release becomes. Personally, I find them to be one of the most challenging yet fun writing activities that I do.

Find Out More...

Creating an Author Press Kit - Debby Ridpath Ohi
http://www.writing-world.com/promotion/presskit.shtml

The Essential Components of the Media Kit - Ink Tree Ltd.
http://www.writing-world.com/promotion/mediakit.shtml

Seven Steps to a Great Press Release - Elizabeth Hanes
http://www.writing-world.com/promotion/hanes.shtml

Turning Press Releases into Publishing Profits - Brian Jud
http://www.writing-world.com/promotion/pressrelease.shtml

Helpful Sites: Press Release Distribution Sites

Daryl Wilcox Publishing
http://www.dwpub.com/
Sign up to the Response Source service to receive press releases in your chosen areas; great for research.

PR Com
http://www.pr.com/press-releases

PR Log
http://www.prlog.org/

24/7 Press Release
http://www.24-7pressrelease.com/

PR Fire
http://www.prfire.co.uk/

Copyright © 2011 by Dawn Copeman

This article may not be reprinted without the author's written permission.


Dawn Copeman is a UK-based freelance writer and educator who has published over 300 articles on the topics of travel, cookery, history, health and writing. An experienced commercial freelancer, Dawn contributed several chapters on commercial writing to Moira Allen's Starting Your Career as a Freelance Writer (2nd Edition).

 

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